The populace had 30 years to get ready. But the Phillies still took them by surprise.
The World Series arrived in Philadelphia today, an unexpected guest in a town that has been stood up for the last three decades.
The Franklin Plaza Hotel, World Series headquarters for the Kansas City Royals, league officials and the press, opened for business last week, with 300 of the 800 rooms ready for occupancy. In August, when the hotel agreed to house the Series, the Phillies were in third place, six games out. There didn't seem to be any hurry.
Then the Phillies went and won the pennant. "We just didn't think it was going to happen," said Charley Stites, a hotel employe. "But it did.
"Nobody had any idea that this was coming," she added. "But my daughter knew. She's a Phillie fan. She said, 'Mom, you better get ready.'"
Lesson No. 1 in hotel administration, courtesy of Tug McGraw: "Ya gotta believe."
Royal first baseman Pete LaCock waited 40 minutes for a glass of water. League officials mingled in the lobby, with writers, and workmen carrying buckets of paint. Mrs. Ray Grebey, wife of the man who negotiated the settlement of the expected player strike last spring, was assured her room would soon be ready. They just had to bring in the beds. "That's all right," she replied. "I like functional decor."
Another guest was directed to the 16th floor. The elevators opened on a workman nailing down a rug. "Rolling out the red carpet?" he was asked. "Nah," he said, "just the regular one."
Baseball and Philadelphia, a parable: In the 1940s, when the Phillies shared Shibe Park with the then Philadelphia Athletics, there was a man named Smitty whose sole job at the stadium was to fetch beer for the sportswriters and fetch the elevator for Connie Mack. Every day, at the bottom of the eighth inning, Smitty rode the elevator down to field level and waited under the stands for the manager, so he could whisk him away to his tower after the game. One day, in July 1945, Smitty went down in the bottom of the eighth, put his foot in the elevator door and stood there waiting for the next 16 innings (the game, between the A's and the Tigers ended, 1-1, when it was called for darkness at the end of 24 innings).
Philadelphia has been standing with its foot in the elevator door waiting for the Phillies to go into extra innings since 1950, when they lost the World Series in four straight games to the New York Yankees, and their only other World Series appearance was 45 years before that.
The city has not always waited patiently. Many years ago, at the old Baker Bowl, they painted a sign on the right field wall that said: "The Phillies Use Life-Buoy." The crowd responded, "And they still stink."
In Philadelphia they once booed an outfielder named Gus Zernial when he broke his leg in left field. In Philadelphia they once booed Santa Claus at halftime at an Eagles game. In Philadelphia, Bo Belinsky once said, "They'd boo a kid at an Easter egg hunt if he couldn't find the egg."
"What is Philsdelphia's relationship to the Phillies?" Pete Rose was asked.
"Right now, it's a love affair," he replied. "A month ago, it was a hope affair."
And, like most affairs, it contains an element of ambivalence. Phillie fans can find reason to hope in the smallest shard of evidence. "Did you know," said one fan, "that Tug spelled backwards is gut?"
But they rattle easily. Eleanor,a buxom Phillie fan operating a concession at the airport, sold 22 Phillie hats between 6 a.m. and noon today. cThe 23rd sat atop her head; a Pete Rose adorned her bosom. "They came through with the ruling this morning," she said. "Usually, we're not allowed to wear anything but the standard uniform."
"Optimistic? Oh, my, dear, yes," replied Eleanor. "Confident?" Her face went blank. "Nah," she replied, "not really." The word is not in the Phillie vocabulary.
During the second game of the playoffs, with the score tied, fans at Veterans Stadium began to leave.
Harry Jaffe, a fan who had been sitting in the left field seats, tried to explain. "Some leave to beat the traffic," he said. "Some go to beat a heart attack. And the ones that stay are the ones that are beating themselves."
It is, said outfielder Greg Gross, the classic love-hate relationship.
True, said Tug McGraw. "But all the good ones are."
Some people are afraid of serious relationships; Philadelphia is afraid to commit itself to the Phillies. "I understand," said McGraw. "They want to really badly. But it is like I take you for a ride on a flying carpet and then I pull it out from under you and you fall on your back.
"I noticed it in the first five or six innings of the first playoff game. They were afraid to commit themselves emotionally to the game. The were afraid of just another letdown. It took a while, but they overcame it. Now we're all standing on the carpet waiting for the ride. Now there's no turning back. The carpet is launched, and we're all on it. We're taking off. We're going to Oz. I mean, I'm freaking out."
Bake McBride doesn't think so. "It'll be different for the winter," he said. "Next season it'll be the same old thing.
"When we're winning they're behind you. If you make an error, they boo you. If you make a mistake, it's like you're trying to make a mistake. It's amazing. They change like the weather."
McGraw disagrees. "This is the 100-year redeemer," he said.
"A lot of our fans are under 30," said Rose. "I don't remember 1950. I was eight years old . . . and a Cincinati fan.
"About 100 people came to me today to thank me and all we did is get to the World Series.That didn't happen in Cincinati. These people are still slapping themselves. They want to know if it's a dream."