"Foo-delphia," the natives call it. The town that isn't New York - but the climate's just as bad. A loser's town. Its heyday was the British occupation. Ben Franklin slept here. Its chief tourist attraction is a cracked bell. W.C. Fields said he preferred Forest Lawn, all things considered. A generation of vaudevillians noted it was closed on weekends. And not very open the rest of the week.
They used to have great baseball teams here. But nobody in Philadelphia cared. Connie Mack had to sell them off. Philadelphia preferred teams that were like the rest of the town - second rate. They's rather boo in Philadelphia. Excellence annoys them. Competence, even, bores them. They want somebody to blame, not praise.
The Phillies are a perfect team for them: not very good but good enough to get to where their incompetence shows up, and matters. Philadelphia loves the Phillies. Every strikeout, every two-base error. They come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The Phillies never disappoint them. They get in a World Series once every 50 years and lose it as fast as they can. Like Philadelphia, their team is just something to hurry through.
On paper, the Philadelphia team couldn't win in the old Pacific Coast League. They have no pitching. They don't have a 300 hitter. They have two first basemen. The average age of the pitching staff is about the same as the old soldier's home prostate ward.
This is a team a Philly fan can sink his teeth into. For Philadelphia, this team was a team made in heaven. It was born to be yelled at. It couldn't win a pennant in any league that didn't have the Cubs in it. The team moves just faster than junk mail. The manager forgot to put a left fielder in with a two-run lead in the top of the ninth last year. Phillie fans love that. Gives them something to throw beer cans at.
It is the view of no less a scholar than Frank Edwin (Tug) McGraw, who is an authority on the subject by virtue of having been a relief pitcher for both the New York Mets and the Phils, that it is a frustration that drives the anvil chorus of Philadelphia: "You've got to remember New York had the Yankees all those years - and that the Dodgers and Giants and, then, the Mets won. These people haven't won a pennant since 1950 and they had to live through 1964 and it has scarred them."
It was in 1964 tha the Phils had a 6 1/2 game lead at the end of September and just enough games left to blow that lead and then some. It was the biggest curtain-call pratfall in baseball history. Tickets had been not only printed but distributed for the World Series, hotels were booked, starting rotations discussed. Then the Phils disappeared like the Titanic.
The current manager, Danny Ozark, probably the most second-guessed creature this side of a man with two mothers-in-law, thinks the problem is overeducation: "The fans know a lot about baseball but they think they know more than they do. In fact, they think they know more than you do."
Ozark, who spent his aprenticeship with the Dodgers in the Alston years, the sweetheart-relationship years, thought at first they had mixed him up with Jack the Ripper. The press seized on his malaprops as proof Danny didn't know the infield fly rule thoroughly enough. The "fire Ozark" column was staple fare for the morning headlines. The cleanup man went on for four, the pitcher served up gopher balls all night, the infield thre double-play balls in the seats and the town had a solution: fire the manager.
The Phils were overmatched in the 1976 playoff series. But they took the first game from the Dodgers last year and had a 5-3 lead with two out and nobody on base in the third game. The poor patrons had to sit there and watch a pair of octogenarians bounce balls over the outfield and through the infield for a three-run Dodger rally and win, and they had to sit in the steady rain the next night as their hitters glumly took called third strikes and another playoff loss.
Even if it were a tropic paradise with swimming pools gleaming in the sun and hibiscus curled around the front porch and ukeleles strumming in the canoes out on the reef, this kind of steady disappointment would be hard to live with. But Philadelphia isn't Maui. It isn't even Fort Worth, to be truthful about it. It's a nice place to park the truck and change your socks or unload a freighter.
In L.A., the fans go home in the seventh inning, win or lose. Around the league, they boo the other guys. But Philly is the only town where they boo both teams.
They come to the ballpark thinking "Well, how willwe louse up this year?" They're all ready with "Ozark, yer a bum!" the first bleeder that trickles through the infield. Their All-Star third baseman is a man who has hit 190 home runs, some of them two miles long and eight miles up. He bears the brunt of the self-hate in the stands. Not that anybody escapes. You could cut the venom with a sword. They are insulating themselves against defeat with abuse, also with beer.
The way the Phillies lost the first two games of this NL championship series came as no surprise to the fans in the cheap seats. It was like going to a picture where you're read the book. Or to a mystery where you know who did it.
"Foo-delphia" wouldn't have it any other way. Their team which used to be known in the Sporting News as the "Futile Phils" or the "phoolish Phils" has not forgotten the act. In the first game, the third baseman let a soft hopper go through his legs. The center fielder got at least an assist on the two triples. When the pitchers weren't giving up triples and homers they were hitting batters.
It was as inartistic as a Bulldog Drummond movie, but the Phils, as usual, sank to the occasion. A pity, because the World Series could use a laugh. And the Phils against the Yanks could make the world forget Charlie Chaplin. A laugh an inning. God must have spent a weekend in Philadelphia once. That's why a burned fan stared heavenward as the sixth Dodger extra-base hit sailed into the stands in the sixth inning and roared," Us again, huh God?"
But then, this is Philadelphia. Even the British gave it up without a fight. And, as Robert E. Lee said when he retreated form Gettysburh: "Oh, well, this means we won't have to spend Sunday in Philadelphia."