September 18, 2005

In Defense of the Phillies, Cont'd

And now for a not-so-brief sports rant on my adopted hometown:

Going into Sunday's action, the Phillies were a half-game out of the NL wild card lead, after winning the first two games of their series against rival Florida- the second of which came after they scored 10 runs in the top of the ninth to beat Cy Young candidate Dontrelle Willis 10-2. The Phils have remained at or near the top of the wild card race for virtually the entire second half of the season, and with two weeks to go appear in strong position to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

The Phils are a winning team that plays in a beautiful new stadium, has two of the hottest young stars in the game (Ryan Howard and Chase Utley), and has played engaging, exciting baseball all season, including the Willis game Saturday and a game in June that had one of the more exciting finishes I've ever seen in person.

So are fans in Philly excited about this? No, of course not. To the extent that fans can ignore McNabb/TO for two minutes to even address baseball, virtually all discourse on the Phils (whether among fans in bars or callers to the local sports talk station) is dominated by demands to fire the owner, manager, and GM, "blow up the team," start over, and/or simply ignore the team in favor of football. Or there's the "E-A-G-L-E-S" chants at Phils games- even when the Phillies are ahead late in games. Essentially, fans are treating the Phils as though they were 20 games out of a playoff spot, rather than right in the race.

Perhaps it's a preference for the Eagles now that football is underway, and perhaps it's the frustration over no championships since Pete Rose played for them in 1980. But the only conclusion I can draw from my brief experience in this town is that Philly fans have a good team that they should appreciate.

I've heard every argument, which I'll address one by one:

"The ownership doesn't care!" (Unlike most teams, they do indeed care enough to spend top dollar on free agents- Jim Thome, Billy Wagner, and Jon Lieber in the last two years. I'm a Twins fan who's dealt with Carl Pohlad's tight pursestrings for years, and I'd trade Carl for David Montgomery in a heartbeat; I'd imagine most small/mid-market fans would too.)

"They've gotta fire Charlie Manuel and Ed Wade!" (I'm not here, certainly, to defend Manuel or Wade, as the team can certainly do better than both. Charlie's made his share of miscues in games, sure- but how much of the derision of him has to do with that, and how much is his age, and his folksy, not-so-Philly demeanor? And besides, we have no idea what sort of manager Manuel is behind the scenes- and you don't fire a manager after one year if it's a winning, possibly playoff-bound season.)

"Shut up about baseball! Don't you know it's football season?" (Certain WIP radio hosts have gone so far as to yell at callers for even addressing the Phillies now that football season is underway. And yes, the Eagles have certainly been much more of a contender in recent years. But as nightman Paul Jolovitz, probably the station's sharpest host, pointed out the other night, the Iggles last won a league championship in 1960- or, 20 years prior to the start of the current Phillies drought.)

"They're just gonna blow it- they always do!" (Another team used to blow it all the time too- they're called the Boston Red Sox. But their fans continued to believe through decades of losing, and now they're also called World Champions. And another team with a franchise-long history of doing little else but "blowing it"- the Houston Astros- are Philly's primary competition for the wild card spot.)

"They've got so many lineup holes!" (Actually, they have two- third base and catcher- and that's about par for the course in the league- the Royals, for instance, have 6 or 7. And don't forget, the Phils lead the NL in on-base percentage, are third in runs, and they've managed to do both with their most accomplished offensive player, Jim Thome, missing the majority of the season.)

"They're so unlikable!" (I really don't get this one- the players don't make diva-like comments, they don't get in trouble with the law- outside of Jason Michaels' unintentionally hilarious Live 8 arrest- and no single Phillie is even one one-thousandth as loathsome as Mr. #81 of the Eagles.)

"This isn't even really a pennant race!" (This is one that WIP's Howard Eskin has favored lately, as though winning the wild card somehow doesn't count as a real playoff spot. Tell that to the Red Sox, Marlins, and Angels- the last three World Series champs, all of which qualified for the playoffs as wild cards).

So relax, Phils fans- you've got an exciting, up-and-coming team, playing in a gorgeous ballpark, that has managed to stay in a competitive playoff race despite a below-average manager, shaky starting pitching, a road-heavy September schedule, the loss of their best offensive player for most of the season, and hostile fans who have nothing but hatred, derision, and apathy for their own team. Go Phillies- I'll be rooting for you.

Posted by Stephen Silver at September 18, 2005 11:42 PM
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