By Walter Brasch
I recently received 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 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, this year they are that bad.
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 2007, the Phillies became the first professional team to have a lifetime record of 10,000 losses.
Not believe in the Phillies? You might as well not believe in their two World Series championships and seven National League pennants, and the all-White Whiz Kids of ’50, the team with the youngest average age of players to win a league title. However, because of a broad streak of racism by the owners, and a refusal to draft Afro-American players, the Phillies became the last baseball team to integrate, a decade after Jackie Robinson became a rookie for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Not believe in the Phillies? You’d have to overlook their bottom half finish most of the next 25 years after the Whiz Kids Miracle, their record-setting 23 straight losses in 1961, and the Philly Phold of ’64, when they finished in a tie for second after leading the league by six games with two weeks left in the season.
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 Phillie 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 Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts or Tug McGraw, no Richie Ashburn, Bob Boone or Del Ennis, no Larry Bowa, Granny Hamner, Jim Konstanty, Cookie Rojas, Mike Lieberthal, or even “Puddin’ Head” Jones.
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. Not believe in the Phillies? You might as well not believe in John Kruk, Darren Daulton, and Lenny Dykstra. You’d have to forget about managers Dallas Green, Danny Ozark, Gene Mauch, and Charlie Manuel, who led the Phillies to five straight division titles beginning in 2007, and the 2008 World Series championship, but is probably now wishing he was back in Japan, where he was a star player.
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 years trying to build a great team. You would have to erase from your memory 26 professional ball players who this year are earning $172 million. You’d have to forget Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Blanton, and Hunter Pence, each of whom earns every two days more than a Philadelphia firefighter earns in a year.
You would have to forget that the millionaire Phillies have become poster children for every conceivable sports injury, and possess a won-loss record that not even the great broadcaster Harry Kalas could generate much enthusiasm for after a 102-60 season last year that ended not long after the playoffs began.
Not believe in the Phillies? 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, but the Phillies do exist.
Yes, Virginia, there really is a Phillies. It exists as certainly as dropped balls, parking lot jams, and overpriced stadium beer and cheesesteaks. No Phillies? Thank God they exist, and will exist forever. A decade from now--nay, two or three decades from now--they may again win a championship, and continue to make glad the heart of frustrated fans who make ice hockey crowds look civil.
Somewhere, Virginia, the sun is shining bright. But, there is no joy in Citizens Bank Park, for these citizens have struck out.