The Philadelphia Phillies are a talented, spoiled, lackadaisical term.
That is the fan in the stands perception of the team that is seeking its fourth straight National League East championship.
The fans of Veterans Stadium make their opinion clear in the simple, old-fashioned Philadelphia manner - by booing until their lungs collapse.
Being a Phillie for the last week has been like living under Niagara Falls.Every hint of Phillie failure, even the mention on the public-address stytem of such hallowed names as "Schmidt" and "Lusinski," brings a cascade of boos.
Many a town will hiss a loser, but Philadelphia will hoot the pants off a winner.
The only creature in the Vet that still cheers constantly for the home team is, in a manner of speaking, not even human.
Phillie Phanatic is an enormous, green, cross-eyed, overweighmonster with a two-foot tongue.
Only he remains loyal - sticking his tongue out at the boo birds for their fickle lack of taste.
In a strange way, the Phillies hope that their fans' low opinion of their character is correct. Self-flagellation has been a fetish all season. Larry Bowa has sniped at his mates motivation. Mike Schmidt says, "I'm booing me on the inside while they're booing me on the outside."
However, one need not be around the Phils for long to sense their suspicion that they need more than a swift kick in the sliding pads to reverse this week's five-game losing streak.
Perhaps the Phils slumbered in the early going, secure in their knowledge that the National League East deserved its nickname: The National League Least.
But for weeks now the Phils have been trying to shift their Cadillac into overdrive. All they have gotten is stripped gears.
"It's how you end the season that really matter," Schmidt said. "No team can stay hot all year. That's the silver lining we keep looking for . . . that we'll catch fire now, when it means the most."
"No one can believe that the Phils won't win their division," said Los Angeles third baseman Ron Cey this week on the day that Chicago cut the Phils' lead to just two games. "They have much more talent than anyone else in the East. They're a sleeping giant that looks like it could beat you, 15-2, every day. We're perfectly willing to get out of town before they wake up."
"We're in that area of doubt that surrounds temporary failure," said Phils southpaw Steve Carlton. "Everyone likes to be critical, but I think our fans' negative reaction may have kept us down longer.
An athlete needs all the levels of encouragement he can get . . . fans, teammates, management, family.
Carlton left out "press," a subtle way to make a sharp point about Philadelphia's sharp-tongued media.
On the bulletin board is a snapshot of someone in a Philadelphia uniform throtting someone carrying a notepad. Caption: "Attention - Second notice. Proper handling of the press to be obeyed at all costs."
The details of that proper handling are left unstated. Bowa's response just a week ago was to suggest that every unfavorable column might, in the future, win a prize of one free knuckle sandwich.
Nevertheless, the problems are more fundamental than squabbles with the press, booing fans or even the Phils' Dutch-uncle manager, Danny Ozark, who seems at a loss for ways to artifically revive an unconscious team.
The whisper here is that the '78 Phillies are simply no match for the Bicentennial Blitz Kids of '76 or for last season's powerhouse that brought misery to this town by losing to the Dodgers in the playoffs.
Most obvious is the deterioration of Philadelphia's almost legendary bench. It has gone from ferocious to feeble. Last year the gentlemen of the pine were Tommy Hutton (.309), Dave Johnson (.321), Jay Johnstone (.284), Tim McCarver (.320), and defensive whiz Jerry Martin (.260).
Johnston, Johnstone and Hutton are now gone in deals that seem unwise in hindsight. Johnson, getting a clubhouse lawyer tag, asked to be traded. "Crazy Jay" Johnstone and Ozark were never well mated.
In the place of these worthies are two youngsters - Jim Morrison (.160) and Orlando Gonzalez (.133) - who should probably be playing every day in AAA.
The splinters in the Phillie bench would go unnoticed if the mainstays were having banner years.
Bake McBride, who hit .339 in '77 after being acquired in midseason, is battin .259 with no power and an awful-looking desperation chop swing designed to hit highbouncers.
The Luzinski-Schmidt attack has gone slightly sour, a problem so fundamental that it throws off the chemistry of the Phils' whole lineup. Luzinski has had homer binges (28) but his average is down 50 points to .260. Schmidt, who keeps tinkering with his swing trying to become a .300 hitter, has himself in his worst slump since he was a .196-hitting rookie.
Ozark has resorted to battting Schmidt leadoff, a bizarre move designed to take pressure off him. However, the pressure syndrome has a rippling effect. Each man who does poorly puts more burden on the others. The Phil offense, projected over 162 games, may fall off 150 runs from last season.
With the exception of hot Richie Hebner (.299) and Bowa, who has become an MVP candidate with his inspired play, every Phillie's offensive stats have fallen.
Naturally, loss of almost a run a game has infected the Phils' suspect starting pitching. Old-timers Jim Katt (4.85) and Jim Longborg (7-10) needed all those runs to look good.
Youngsters Larry Christenson (8-12) and Randy Lerch (4.07) have been mysteries - impressive-stuff pitchers who have not matured, despite being given every chance.
Had the Phils not acquired flaky Dick Ruthven from Atlanta for Gene Garber, the NL East pennant race might be a genuine dogfight.
In Philadelphia, the only thing Ruthven has aired out has been his arm, going 8-3 in 11 starts with a 2.44 ERA.