by Walter Brasch
Newspapers are often a “court of last resort” for our readers whose problems can’t be dealt with elsewhere.
Thus, it was no great surprise to receive a letter from a young girl who was confused about the Philadelphia Phillies. In her short life, she had never seen the Phillies.
Her little friends, so she wrote me, said that the Phillies were a figment of her imagination, a team that was made up so that there would be something to anchor the National League basement. She says she was told that sportswriters went along with it because they always wanted to write fiction and needed something to do between calls from irate Little League parents.
Well, Virginia, your friends are wrong. They have been affected by the cynicism of reporters and the skepticism of a nation with no direction. They think nothing can be that bad unless it was made up. But, Virginia, the truth is that there are Phillies and, unfortunately, they are that bad. But, it wasn’t always that way.
The first game ever played in the National League was played in 1876 in Philadelphia. Of course, the Philadelphia team didn’t last a season, but if it did, it would have been a great team. In 1883, the Phillies showed up and never left-even if it seems that way now and then. In fact, since 1900, the Phillies have earned six of the top 20 spots of the worst records of any baseball team. That may or may not be why the Phillies tried to disguise themselves under aliases-the Philadelphia Quakers (1883-1889) and the Philadelphia Blue Jays (1943-1949). The Quakers, of course, are a peaceful people who don’t believe in battle; blue jays can be vicious. Neither name helped the team.
Your little friends may tell you the only reason the Philadelphia A’s and Connie Mack of the American League eventually left the City of Brotherly Love, whoich has the most rabid sports fans in the nation, was because they were tired of competing for tickets against a team that sold about as many tickets for losing as did the A’s for winning. But, you must believe that even in losing, the Phillies are real.
Not believe in the Phillies? You might as well not believe in their seven league championships, in the Whiz Kids of’ ’50, or the great collapse of ’64 when they were leading the league by six games with just two weeks to go, and then finished in a tie for 2nd. Only a Philly could pull that off. You might as well not believe in the Phillies of ’80 who won the World Series, the only time in a century that happened.
Not believe in the Phillies? You’d have to not believe in Mike Schmidt, maybe the greatest third baseman ever; you’d have to forget Garry Maddox, the “secretary of de-fence” who covered the outfield better than snow in February. You’d have to give up believing in Ed Delahanty, the first Philly to enter the Hall of Fame, or Chuck Klein who entered the Hall with a .326 average and statistics that would choke even the Nielsen ratings.
If there were no Phillies, there would have been no Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, who was sold because the owner needed the money. You’d not hear about Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts or Tug McGraw, no Richie Ashburn, Bob Boone or Del Ennis, no Larry Bowa, Granny Hamner, Jim Konstanty, or even “Puddin’ Head” Jones. Not believe in the Phillies? You might as well not believe in John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Mike Lieberthal, Jim Bunning, Curt Schilling, and Lenny Dykstra.
If there were no Phillies, there’d be nowhere for Jimmy Foxx, Pete Rose, and Dale Murphy to have gone at the end of their careers.
You’d have to forget about managers Dallas Green and Paul Owens. And, you’d have to not believe in Charlie Manuel, the manager with the most wins for the Phillies and who led the team in 2008-the year after it racked up its 10,000th loss in its history-to its second World Series title, only to be fired three years later.
Not believe in the Phillies? How could someone not believe in Harry Kalas, the Voice of the Phillies for almost four decades.
Not believe in the Phillies? You’d have to not believe that owners are poor judges of talent who can take great teams and trade them away, and then spend millions for a pitching staff that proved it could be competitive at the Little League World Series.
Not believe in the Phillies? You’d have to suspend your disbelief that a beer and hotdog can cost $11.50, and the cheapest seat, with a view of-well, actually, nothing-is $20. Your little friends with their little minds can’t comprehend the vastness of a team that is again about a decade or so out of 1st. In this great playing field of ours, we are but mere synthetic fibers on the Astroturf of life, unable to grasp the universe, let alone the origin of the Phanatic.
Yes, Virginia, there really is a Phillies. It exists as certainly as injuries, dropped balls, and parking lot jams. No Phillies? Thank God it exists, and will exist forever. A decade from now they may even again win a championship, and continue to make glad the heart of frustrated fans everywhere.
Somewhere, Virginia, the sun is shining bright. But, there is no joy in Citizens Bank Park, for the anemic Phillies have once again struck out.
[Assisting on this column was Francis Church of the New York Sun. Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigative analysis of the economic, political, environmental, and health effects of fracking throughout the country.]