Phil-Literature: “The Fall of the 1977 Phillies”


The Fall of the 1977 Phillies: How a Baseball Team’s Collapse Sank a City’s Spirit

by Mitchell Nathanson


We spend a lot of time attacking Mets fans with words, rotten vegetables, and the occasional car part.  But for a long time, this seemed what many referred to as “pointless,” “unnecessary,” or “despicable.”  “Pretty dangerous” was a popular term.  In 2007, we won the NL East for the first time since 1993, but what’s extra fun to remember is that for us to win it, the Mets had to crumble into one of the most crushing episodes of month-long defeat ever witnessed.  After that, our assaults had some backing–an epic collapse is an indefensible action in any argument, whether you’re shouting at a guy who just wants his kids to see David Wright play, or trying to figure out which car is David Wright’s for tire-slashing purposes.

An oft forgotten notion in these times of 21-9, four-ace baseball is that 95% of Phillies history is epic collapses.

This isn’t a baseball retrospective.

Its a ghost story.

Imagine your worst nightmare smeared across an entire week of your life.  Nathan dissects each inning of Game 3 of the 1977 NLCS–Black Friday–with horribly accurate and painfully realistic precision.  He moves through each inning slowly, dragging the blatant misery of Black Friday–October 7, 1977/Game 3 of the NLCS vs. the Dodgers–across nine chapters, to the point that you have to assume he was shouting “DO YOU SEE?!  DO YOU SEE?!?!” as he typed.

And like Stephen Lang/Phillip Seymour Hoffman duct taped to a chair, you will see.  And it won’t stop there.  You’ll taste the late ’70s Vet Stadium air as the crowd turns on Bob Hooten.  You’ll hear the temp bleachers rattle and quake under their stomping feet.  You’ll feel the dread, caked on both sides of the diamond, as two teams desperate for dominance swap control of a game that wound up meaning everything.

The moment Steve Garvey was called safe on Bob Boone’s tag, I defaulted into “blown call” mode, which was even more puzzling than usual, as the things I was getting upset about had happened decades ago and I was the only one currently re-living them.  Its tough to have emotions that strong and no one to share them with.  It was like when I got the news about Cliffmas while living in the Bay Area.

Nathanson correctly adopts the tone of a tragic, classic novel in his descriptions, and expertly picks you out of the division-leading comfort of 2011 and drops you into the mass hysteria of The Vet, 1977.  For guys like me, born years after the fact, this obviously can’t resonate as it does with those who lived through it.

"“…I wasn’t born then.  I guess if somebody is talking about Black Friday, I suppose somebody lost — probably the Phillies.”—Cole Hamels"

But even guys like me and Cole will be left clutching this book in our hands, possibly saying out loud, “B… but why was Greg Luzinski still in left?!”  And even though it being a book disallows for any sort of visual confirmation on the part of Larry Bowa’s whiplash chuck to first to “nail” Davey Lopes, Nathanson’s keyboard was powerful enough to let the toxic moment seep into your psyche like a barrel of inaccurate sludge.

Its important for the generational definitions to be in the heads of all fans–all the true ones anyway.  We get enough crap about being bandwagoners, and the easy and correct response is to claim that there are those with that title in every fanbase.  But to re-live a filthy moment in Phils history only allows for perspective, and while I wouldn’t expect everybody in K Lot three hours before game time to leaf through a trip down Haunted Memory Lane, it is important to acknowledge that those who lived through 1977 and can still call themselves fans in 2011–despite the sting a commemoration as accurate and well written as this provides–are pulling the wagon with all their might.  And they probably don’t even notice who hops on and off.