Sunday, July 15, 2007


Somebody's got to finish first, even if its the first to be last. This post may be premature, but it not tonight (and they trail 3-0), then sometime in the near future, the Philadelphia Phillies will become the first major league team to lose 10,000 games.

This means, most of all, that the Phillies are an old team, founded in 1883. Play that long, the losses will pile up. In point of fact, divide 10,000 by 123 1/2 seasons, and the Phils have averaged 81 losses a season, which is drab mediocrity, no more, no less. The Devil Rays may get to 10,000 losses in my lifetime at their current clip.

But of course, for many years the Phils were less, much less, than drably mediocre. They WERE a symbol of wretched baseball, and if the Senators and St. Louis Browns hadn't been equally awful from oh, 1920-1950, they could have been THE symbol. Nowadays, the Phils are a frustrating .500 bunch, leading the majors in runs scored and bullpen catastrophes. In other words, normal.

Yours truly is a Phillies fan since forever, which in my case means I saw my first game in 1956. I got to see their only World Series win in 1980, which was more than many of the fans I knew growing up got to do. But the experiences of childhood are what shape fans, and I did live through some very creative horrible baseball from my Phils.

Where to start? Could it be when my boyhood hero Ed Bouchee got popped for exposing himself? That'll leave a scar on an impressionable child.

On Opening Day 1960, the Phillies got pounded by the Reds something like 8-2, and manager Eddie Sawyer began his post-game press conference by resigning. His stated reason was "I'm 49 now, and I'd like to live to be 50." Opening Day! One month later, the Phillies were swept in a three-game series 1-0, 1-0, 1-0. Sawyer knew his team.

The next year was Philadelphia's famed 23-game losing streak. It began before I went to summer camp and was still going on when I came back.

These indignities were a mere warmup for 1964. Six and a half games up with 12 to play. A ten-game losing streak started by a 1-0 loss on a steal of home with Frank Robinson batting. I'm pretty much over it now. Haven't broken anything when Gene Mauch's name is mentioned in years.

After that actually, things got better. There was the amazing detour of 1972, when Steve Carlton went 27-10 for a 59-103 team, singlehandedly preventing those Phillies from edging the '62 Mets as the worst bunch in history, but by and large, the Phillies reached the plateau shared with most clubs. Yes, there were tough times. Right, Mitch Williams? But Philadelphia baseball has not been a disgrace for a long, long time. Losing still happens. But it's not the franchise's DNA imprint anymore.

The great thing about Phillies baseball is this - no camp followers. It ain't trendy, and nobody roots for my team who doesn't do so for the same reason I do-they grew up around there. Jimmy Fallon's never going to star in a movie about Phillies fans, thank God. We haven't got John Updike. Hell, we haven't got George Costanza. Most merciful of all, nobody's tried to patronize the Phillies with the deadly adjective "lovable" artsy-fartsy baseball fanciers drop on the Cubs. When the Phils lose, it's 'cause they sucked. May it be always thus.

So 10,000 is the Phillies' only historic record. OK. Lots of teams don't even have one. A lot of good fans living and dead went through an unbelievable amount of aggravation to bring that record home. In 1883, the Phils wemt a solid 17-81. To the long-gone optimists who paid good money to watch that horseshit, and to all Phillies fans everywhere, I'd like to offer up our traditional prayer of comfort.



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