The Philadelphia Phillies franchise has been around for 133 years now, and over that time the team’s fans have distinguished themselves as a hearty bunch.
When I applied to join the staff as a writer here at TBOH, I was required to submit an example of my work. I decided to come up with an original piece, and now feel it would be something of interest to share with all fans of the team.
It was nice reliving my childhood memories of the Fightins, as well as getting a chance to cover the biggest postseason moments in Phillies history. And heck, even some of their darkest days.
In a country where we claim to love to root for the underdog, we sure do have a tendency to ‘go with a winner’. Whether its voting for a presidential candidate, choosing a service out of the yellow pages, or picking a sports team to root for at a young age, we’ve been conditioned to go with the one with the biggest ‘name’, or the one with the biggest, most expensive advertisement, or in the case of sports teams, the one with the most rings.
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It’s the explanation as to why there are seemingly Yankees, Lakers, and Steelers fans to be found in every corner and crevice of the globe. It’s the safe bet. It’s the ‘logical choice’. And it’s why calling yourself a Phillies fan borders on insanity.
The Philadelphia Phillies have been a major league franchise since 1883. Quick math will tell you that equals out to just over 130+ years. In that amount of time, we’ve won the big one a whopping total of TWO times. Two. That translates to the Phils holding bragging rights over the rest of baseball roughly 1.5% of the time.
Imagine being an old-time Phillies follower, considering both of our championships have been captured in just under the last four decades (1980 and 2008, ’80 and ’08, same two numbers if you invert them, I know, spooky, right ?)
That’s not to say we haven’t had our moments in previous decades.
There was the dominance of Grover Cleveland Alexander that carried us to the World Series in 1915, only to fall to the Boston Red Sox, who would then endure their own absurd stretch of heartache, culminating in them finally breaking ‘The Curse of the Bambino’ in 2004.
There was Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, and the Whiz Kids of 1950. There was the only other stretch of consecutive Phils playoff teams in 1976-1978, which then finally gave way to their first-ever world title in 1980.
They made the playoffs during the strike abbreviated season of 1981, then the ‘Wheeze Kids’ of ’83, a moniker given to the club because of the numerous aging veterans on the team, including Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez. They fell to the Baltimore Orioles and a superb 23-year rookie shortstop at the time by the name of Cal Ripken, Jr.
Ten years of futility would follow, culminating in what many of us consider the most entertaining Phillies club ever, 1993’s Macho Row. No team ever embodied the spirit of Philadelphia quite like that club.
Lenny Dykstra, Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Mitch Williams, all the way down to guys like second baseman Mickey Morandini and setup man Larry Anderson, the ’93 Phils were a bunch of mullet-sporting, tobacco spitting, scruffy S.O.B.’s who got more out of their potential than maybe ANY baseball team to ever put on a uniform.
They scared their opponents. They weren’t there to win a popularity contest or look pretty. They were there to kick your ass and they didn’t care what you thought or planned to do about it. THEY were going to WIN.
They beat a stacked Atlanta Braves team in the NLCS (the last year before divisional realignment and the ushering in of the Wild Card era.) that included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Fred McGriff, David Justice, Ron Gant, and a host of other great players in their prime.
NOBODY believed we could do it, except US. I’ve never felt more proud to call the Phils “MY TEAM” and I was only 11 years old at the time.
You’d have to live under a rock to not know what would follow, an epic World Series against the Blue Jays that would end on a hanging slider from Mitch Williams that hung a little too much, and resulted in Joe Carter joining Bill Mazeroski as the only players to ever end a World Series with a walkoff home run.
I was heartbroken. I LITERALLY CRIED. To go on such an improbable journey, and have it end like that, was gut-wrenching.
But, if you remember that team, we lived and died with Mitch all year long, he came through more often than he didn’t, always seemed to be a pitch away from giving you a heart attack, and NONE of us would have it any other way. Even the Curt Schilling ‘towel over the head’ would forever hold it’s place in Phillies lore.
For every Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling and Bobby Abreu, it seemed like we had a never-ending sea of Kevin who’s?: from Flora, to Jordan, to Sefcik, even Stocker wouldn’t have a year like ’93 and was gone to the Devil Rays in the expansion draft.
With a helping hand from the Mets historic collapse in the waning weeks of September 2007, and an epic MVP season from J-Roll, we were back ! We ran into a hot Colorado Rockies team in the NLDS and got swept, but you could just feel it was about to be our time.
We trailed the Mets in the N.L. East again in 2008, but once again, they would choke coming down the stretch and it would provide us that final push over the hump we needed. Brad Lidge finished the year perfect in save opportunities, a foreshadowing to what would be a perfect postseason as well.
From the opener of the NLDS against the Brewers, Brett Myers endless at-bat against the seemingly unbeatable at the time CC Sabathia opened the door to Shane Victorino‘s epic grand slam, and you knew, YOU KNEW, “this year was special“.
We would go on to beat the Dodgers and a red-hot Manny Ramirez in the NLCS, to set up an encounter with Joe Madden’s upstart Rays, who were writing a unique worst-to-first narrative of their own.
Not even a mud-soaked first-ever suspended World Series game could slow us down. A young Cole Hamels put together a postseason for the ages, a banner reading “Mitch, You’re Off The Hook” would unfurl from out in front of Ashburn Alley.
To quote Chase Utley on the mic at the post-parade gathering at Citizens Bank Park, “World Champions. World ‘bleeping’ Champions !”
What would follow was a three-year stretch of NL dominance. Cliff Lee blanking the Yanks in Game 1 of the 2009 Series, Chase tying Reggie Jackson‘s 6 homers in a single series. But it was not to be. And those damn Yankees would get great pitching from CC Sabathia, and timely hitting from Hideki Matsui, and the Phils would fall in six.
In 2010, we added Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and along with Lee and Hamels would form the best pitching staff in baseball, we’d fall to a clutch Giants team in the NLCS, lead the league in wins the following year, only to be ousted once again by the eventual champions, this time it was the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ryan Howard tearing his Achilles’ in the final at-bat of the game would serve as a most ominous sign. The greatest run in Fightin’ Phils history was over. We just didn’t know it at the time.
So when asked what it means to be a Phillies fan, I most often go back to that victory parade. Halloween 2008. Coming into Philly to a seemingly endless sea of red. Horns blaring, people smiling, seeing a man dressed as Uncle Sam pop a champagne cork that would hit a police officer in the head, only to watch the officer just turn around and smile.
No wrong could be done in the city of Philadelphia that day. NOTHING could ruin this moment. I wasn’t alive in 1980. So this was the only opportunity I’ve had in my life to see our Fightins win it all.
What it means to be a Phillie fan is kind of the same as what it means to be an American. You don’t always come out on top. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t show up to work every day, bust your ass, get your hands dirty, give it your all and leave every drop of blood, sweat, and tears out on the field.
We don’t expect our Phillies to win all the time like most Yankee fans do, we are pessimistic in nature. But what we do expect is you to play your heart out, win at all costs and break your back trying even if you fall short.
We can be brutal. We’re known as the fans who booed Santa Claus. The fans so unruly that a magistrate was placed in the Vet to handle all the fines accrued and shenanigans that would occur at Phils and Eagles games that would start a backlog in Philadelphia courts.
We are a demanding bunch, but that is because we expect the same effort and work ethic out of our teams that we expect out of ourselves. We might boo the crap out of you one night, then give you a curtain call the next.
Our fans and teams seem to embody the city of Philly. The rest of the league might hate us, but we could care less, because man, do we love our teams.
So when asked what it means to be a Phillies fan, I usually say, if you’re a fan, “You have to live and die with this team. We expect nothing less.“, and if you’re lucky enough to don those red pinstripes, then you better give it 110%, day in and day out, because we’ll know if you’re half-assing it, and we’re not afraid to let you know it.
You have to a have a huge heart to make it in Philly, and you must have a strong stomach to watch. Because at the end of the day, to quote our beloved Harry Kalas, “We’ve got high hopes.“