"We never had this many people at a parade in Cincinnati, not even if you counted the squirrels and pigeons." -- Pete Rose
The sun shone brighter here today than it ever has before. All 105,000 people gathered in JFK Stadium this afternoon would have agreed: First prize, at least in baseball, is now two weeks in Philadelphia.
"Ben Franklin must be rollin' over for this one," said the glowing relief pitcher who now has had a merchant marine tugboat named after him -- Tug McGraw.
The Philadelphia Phillies are the champions of baseball today for the first time since their birth in 1883, and, by a delicious irony that only cynical, often burned Philadelphians might understand, they have the Phillies all to themselves. Nobody else seems to want them.
Other underdog champions who have won their World Series rings in far less valiant fashion than these Phillies have been appropriated by the nation.
The 1969 Miracle Mets, the last crew to win a title with so many visible holes in their hull and so much desperately needed good fortune, were adopted by the entire country, as fiercely as New York tried to hug them to death.
But, it now appears, nobody much, except Philadelphians, really has a feel for the Phillies.
Mostly, it has to do with suffering. The real kind.
Few teams in baseball history have accomplished more with less, or done it more dramatically than these Phillies. And few have been more worth examining and appreciating. But, they are a team that fits few existing tastes. They are as hard to pet and chuck under the chin as the barefanged attack dogs that ringed the Veterans Stadium field as the Phillies wrestled and pounded each other while barreling to their clubhouse after their sixth game triumph over Kansas City here late Tuesday night.
In the cheerful, youthful world of athletics, the Phillies are frequently neurotic, always complex and as psychologically kinky as the old grandfather who keeps complaining, to anybody who still will listen, about some insult he suffered years and years ago and can't forget.
When the Phillies clinched their division title, they held one of the most disturbing victory celebrations ever seen. They smashed champagne bottles into garbage cans so violently that players were ducking flying glass. The team split into three parts. Some, like Larry Bowa and Ron Reed, were filled with vindicated anger, screaming and cursing amid the spraying wine. Some, like Mike Schmidt and Tug McGraw, were just numb and perplexed, sitting almost silent at a far end of the locker room, looking at a side of their mates they knew well but would have been just as glad had it stayed hidden. And some, like Steve Carlton and Nino Espinosa, sequestered themselves in a small room and had nothing to do with anybody.
Rookie Lonnie Smith climbed atop the lockers and led an obscene chant directed against the fans and press. Then, most of the players started to chant their version of the country's standard preseason predictions: "One, Pittsburgh. Two, Montreal. Three, St. Louis. FOUR, PHILADELPHIA!!"
Observers had never seen so much unfocused, intense anger where, presumably, only delight ought to be expected.
It is not a joke, you see, that the Phillies went 97 years without winning a world title. To outsiders, it was grist for humor. But to the Phillies it was a professional and personal insult that kept redoubling. Perhaps no other athletes have been asked, so often and so casually, "Why do you guys always choke? Why do you lose the big one? Why don't you have any guts?"
So, today, Philadelphia embraced the Phillies. It was the kind of loving reconsiliation that comes after years of marital friction. The Phillies can be forgiven if they returned the kisses with mixed emotions. Less than a month ago, Bowa, said, "These are the worst fans in the world." And Schmidt said, "I wouldn't give these fans credit for anything, not even if they deserved it."
It is because the Phillies have been genuinely troubled that their growth in the last two months, or less, has been so dramatic. They really have changed.
"I've seen subtle changes all season," says Dallas Green, who may have had as fundamental an effect on his team as any manager of recent years. "But who knows why a team finally turns a corner and starts playing like a champion, starts playing like you always thought they could. You wait and wait.
"It's only in the last 10 days that they've really sniffed it," Green said earlier this week.
It's possible, although such things can't be measured, that no team in baseball history has had a month of October as harried, as consistently dramatic and as wonderfully out of character as these champion Phillies.
Even a bare outline of what the Phillies did in the 19 draining days from Oct. 3, when they invaded Montreal for three games, through their five-game war of attrition with Houston in the playoffs, down to their six nail-biting, down to the last out affairs with the Royals, is storybook stuff.
The Phils, whose modest 91 regular season victories would not have gotten them into the playoffs most seasons, battled the Expos -- the most physically imposing of all baseball's contenders -- on their own Canadian phony turf. The Phillies came in tied and won two of the homeliest games on record to clinch. Oh, they looked pretty in the box scores, but if you were there, it was tough to imagine the Phillies progressing much further. When they made five errors and had four runners trapped between bases in their clinching victory, it almost seemed like a bad joke, as though the Phils were being set up for yet another embarrassment.
After the muscular Expos, the Phils had to face the fragile but sneaky Astros, a gang of heady players whose main job was to give minimal hitting support to the best ERA pitching staff in baseball. That's when the magic really started. The final two victories in the Astrodome were through the looking glass stuff. Recapitulation would be endless. Just say that with each hairsbreadth escape, the Phils believed more and more that their wheel of karma finally had made a complete revolution, that they had lived through their baseball incarnation as donkeys and beasts of burden, and that, now, they were reborn as thoroughbreds.
That brings us to a World Series that no one understands.
Royal Manager Jim Frey was asked what the key was to the Phils' victory.
"I have no idea," he replied.
Before the sixth game, Royal leader Hal McRae was asked for general comments.
"If I met a Phillie a week from now, he'd admit to me, 'cause I'm another ballplayer, that we're the better team. At five of the nine positions (counting designated hitter), we're clearly stronger. We're not worse at any position. The pitching's about equal. We have more power, more speed."
Then how come you're probably going to lose?
McRae replied, "I can't say why."
Who can say? This Series had such a heaping up of incident and drama that it was hard to find the thread of plot, if there was one. The dense vegetation of detail was fascinating, but almost indigestible. After all, this was a Series where the umpires came to both dugouts before the top of the ninth Tuesday -- as horses and dogs were being prepared to march out -- and told the players, apparently seriously, "Animals are in play."
This Series will be remembered for its pairs.
Twice, Frey took Larry Gura out early in a seventh inning after only 82 and 77 pitches and both times Dan Quisenberry couldn't hold the slim leads.Twice, the third base coach, Gordy MacKenzie, sent Darrell Porter home on gambles and twice he was out by decisive margins in games the Royals lost by one run.
Twice Willie Aikens hit two homers in one game, a Series record. But twice in pivotal Game 5 he made bad defensive plays to open up two-run Phillie innings in a 4-3 Royal loss.
Twice Del Unser, with a man on first, pinch hit a double that started a game-winning rally.
Twice in the third inning of the last game the Royals botched simple infield plays in the two-run Phillie rally that proved the Series winner.
And, twice in the sixth game the Royals loaded the bases, in the eighth and ninth innings. Twice, McGraw escaped. On the most thrilling play, Frank White's foul popup, the Phillies had to catch the ball twice, with Rose grabbing it knee high after it squirted out of Bob Boones's glove.
Mostly, fans will say the Royals lost because of two slumpers named Willie Wilson and White, who were six for 51 with zero RBI. They made the final two outs.
No one will want to forget the two best players in this Series, the third basemen who probably will be their league's MVPs. Schmidt hit .381; George Brett hit .375. The reason, perhaps, that Schmidt, not Brett, ended up with a diamond ring and a Series MVP award was that the Phillie slugger stepped up with 25 men on base, while the luck of the draw only put 12 men on for Brett.
The Phils had a pair of hidden heros, veterans who were in the doghouse much of the year and frequently were considered over the hill.
Bowa hit .312 in the playoffs, .375 in the Series and started a Series record seven double plays. True to form, he never stopped moaning about all the rotten things the world is constantly doing to him. When a sense of persecution is the driving force that got you to the big leagues, you can't afford to outgrow it.
Boone hit .412 and called a fine Series, employing scouting reports to keep, in Green's word, "their rabbits, Wilson, Washington and White, from multiplying on the bases."
Finally, perhaps the most important pair may have been the two rookie managers, Green and Frey: two likeable, though totally opposite, baseball career men. Green managed with emotions, Frey with his mind. Green won.
No other Series has had so many men on base per game, or had so many stranded. The Phils and Royals had the highest combined team batting average in history, .292, while the Royals also set a six-game mark for drawing walks.
In six games, 169 men reached base, but only 50 scored. That was the source of angst. Both teams could start a fire, but neither could consistently fan it into a blaze. Those last two bases loaded failures by the Royals were the perfect final note for a Series in which the Phils set a single-game record for stranded runners (15) and the Royals set a Series mark (54).
Perhaps Brett said it best. Asked if he dreamed about key at bats in his sleep, Brett answered, "During the game, I don't think and at night I don't dream."
And now, after 97 years, those other champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, can stop dreaming, too.