Current World Series Champions and holder of title: "Least Frustrating Team in Philadelphia." Preparing to defend their title and win another ring. Stay Tuned...
First things first. The Phillies are not my team. I live in Colorado. However...
You would have to be an incredibly bitter fan to be hating on the Phillies. Brad Lidge version 2009 is not Brad Lidge version 2008 and he has more blown saves than any closer in baseball this year. Remember Phillies fans, he was let go from Houston for the same reason. Brad Lidge 2008 was unhittable and helped win a World Series ring and Philly's first sports title since '83. A 25 year title drought is substantial, especially in a place where fan expectations venture into insane (though not New York insane and Cubs fans have waited 101 painful years). This Phillies team has staying power, with the core in their prime and the Mets in disarray. Repeating is a definite possibility (beating the Yankees would sweeten the taste of victory too).
Here are the primary reasons why it is a good time to be a Phillies fan: The Philly Fantastic Four and Cole Hamels.
Basically, Ryan Howard is a human artillery cannon, routinely launching a barrage of baseballs into different area codes, defeating opponents. A mass of humanity, harnessing Howard's power could provide a less expensive way to crash things into the moon. He reached 200 home runs faster than anyone in history, and has a solid lifetime average of .279. Fantastic Four equivalent: Thing. Gives "It's clobbering time" a new meaning.
A prototype of the new second baseman, Utley hits for average, power, and runs well. He and Howard have essentially set up camp on right side of the infield on NL All-Star ballots. Analysts constantly wonder who may be the most dangerous player in the Phillies line up, and his name is at the top. Fantastic Four equivalent: Mr. Fantastic. Versatile, flexible, smart, patient. The addition of stretching powers could cover weaknesses in his game.
Colorado fans remember Jimmy Rollins. Rollins beat Matt Holliday for the MVP in 2007 (thankfully the baseball gods eventually smiled on the Rockies in the Division Series). Rollins gives the Phillies what is essential to any good baseball team: speed at the top of the lineup, a guy who gets on base, and good defense. If he should decide to hit for power like his MVP year, good things happen. Plus, his clutch hitting this postseason (see 2009 Colorado series) helps too. Curse your awesomeness Jimmy Rollins! Fantastic Four equivalent: Human Torch. Can burst into flames out of nowhere, easily the fastest of the Fantastic Four, possesses flashiness.
Jayson Werth decided to do this year what a member of the Phillies seems to do every year, have a career year. He chose a good year to do that. Werth gets to hit behind the aforementioned Rollins, Utley, and Howard. Together they form a potent lineup and he gets to see lots of good pitches to hit allowing them and him (on and off the field) to score a lot. Werth took the opportunity to become his own bad ass this season. He deserves credit for the Phillies getting to where they are. Fantastic Four equivalent: Invisible Woman. It is by default, but the invisibility powers and the ability to create force fields around his teammates are invaluable. He strikes when the opponent doesn't expect it.
Let's state the obvious. Cole Hamels pitched like a man possessed in the 2008 postseason, winning the NLCS and World Series MVP. He gives the Phillies a commodity, a big left-hander with nasty stuff who logs lots of innings and gives the team a chance to win (see Cliff Lee 2009). His wife (Heidi Strobel from Survivor, who has posed for Playboy) recently gave birth to a newborn baby boy. And, honestly, a good looking dude. He needs no superhero equivalent. What more could you ask for? Seriously.
The Phillie Phanatic
For those of you who have never witnessed the costumed phenomenon of the Phillie Phanatic, let me briefly describe him. Picture Chewbacca with bright green fur that closely resembles thick carpet, wearing a red Phillies hat backwards. Where Chewie's snout/mouth would be is a cone like facial feature resembling a police megaphone. His eyes are large and blink with animatronics like the ones they used with Jabba the Hutt. He is dressed, usually in a Phillies jersey, however he does expand his wardrobe. Plus he has this long white tongue part Gene Simmons part anteater. Also like Chewbacca, he does not speak any discernable language, relying instead on a playful interactions with fans and players alike. Essentially The Phillie Phanatic is Chewbacca, only more playful and owes his life debt to the Phillies as opposed to Han Solo. They both are also on TV a lot.
Where Every Other Team Fell Short, The Phillies Delivered
The Phillies are the Philly team who has done something lately. They are the team who ended the city's 25 year title drought. Others came close and recently. In 2000 the 76ers (read Allen Iverson) went to the NBA finals. The Eagles went to the Super Bowl in 2004 (with T.O. remember?) and consistently found their way to the NFC Championship game. The Flyers, also consistently good in the regular season, could not deliver the Cup (the Stanley Cup by far the best trophy in sports by the way.) Their last shot at ending the drought was in 1996-97.
Three time NL East Champions, on their way to the World Series again, core of team in-tact and in their prime. To be honest, Philladelphia pro sports rank among the finest in the country. Most cities that have all four sports have at least one that is awful, sometimes more (see Phoenix/Arizona, Washington, Miami/Florida). The Phillies are the torch and standard bearer for Philly sports. If they continue to win, the other franchises are good enough, that maybe, just maybe, championships can be contagious. But...
For everything awesome and that I respect about the Phillies, they have forces working against them, just like any other team. Here are some things working against the Phillies:
New York Baseball (Mets/Yankees)
Baseball in New York resembles the Cold War. Essentially it is an arms race about who can acquire more. The Yankees and Mets do whatever they can to outdo each other for superiority and domination of the baseball world. No name is too big, no price too high. Two new stadiums and a seemingly endless supply of $100 million contracts is their way of carving up the baseball world to their whim. Fortunately, for the sake of all baseball fans, it does not always work. But it could...
New York is that annoying d-bag that Philadelphia wishes would curl up and die. Neither of them have any love for each other and they channel their animosity towards each other on the field, court, ice, and diamond.
The Phillies play the Mets regularly in division play and the Yankees in interleague, not to mention in all likelihood, the World Series this season. They are a familiar and similarly organized foe. The struggle between the Phillies and New York resembles something out of the Communist Manifesto.
Here are the Phillies, the homegrown team from a blue collar city. A team based on allowing their parts to gel together to a cohesive egalitarian force of awesomeness and quality. A team that has stars, but seen more as something greater than a sum of its parts.
Counter them with the Mets and Yankees.
The Mets have more homegrown stars at the moment than the Yankees, but they have brought in high priced pieces of the puzzle (Johan Santana, K-Rod, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran) to help them fight the arms race against their city rivals and fill their new stadium in Queens. They adopted the tried and true New York method of adopting a cosmopolitan team that may or may not gel and win games. Should the experiment work, the Mets are a dangerous team. This season, the Mets were ravaged with injuries, going from World Series pick to cellar dwellers.
The Yankees, much to the happiness of every non-Yankee fan in sports, have failed to win a World Series since 2000. In that time, their arch rival, the Red Sox won two. No team can compete with the Yankees in terms of money and limelight. Thus, the cosmopolitan collection of stars (A-Rod, CC Sabithia, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, etc.) maintain a level of talent that cannot be counted out. Most reasonable people can tell that it was only a matter of time before they do in fact win the World Series again. Then again, stranger things have happened (see Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox before 2004, Chicago White Sox before 2005).
Recapping now the New York baseball threat to the Phillies' World Series title spiked with a touch of Marxism:
All (the recent) history (of baseball) is a history of class struggle between bougeoisie (Mets/Yankees) and proletariat (Phillies and rest of baseball). The bougeoisie (Mets/Yankees) have done everything they can to deprive the masses (Phillies and rest of baseball) of the things they revere (wide open competitive baseball). The proletariat (Phillies and rest of baseball) must rise together (establish a strong, home-grown band of team players) and organize to seize the means of production (win games on road, shut down New York's offense with good pitching and defense). Workers of the world unite (join the Phillies bandwagon)!
When a team wins, everyone associated with the team wants the winning to continue. Since the Phillies win frequently, they acquire increasing expectations. The World Series appearances raise expectations from flirting with insane to fucking insane.
Keep in mind that Philadelphia fans have a reputation for being among the most unforgiving, unapologetic, and harshest fans in all of sports. (The reception given to Michael Vick was curious given the combination of picketing protestors outside and a standing ovation inside the stadium). These are fans who have booed Santa Claus. Think about that, booing Santa Claus, the guy who brings us toys and other articles of awesomeness at Christmas time.
Here are how expectations mount in pro sports. It works like a logical formula:
Good/better team = More wins.
More wins = Higher expectations.
Good/better team = Higher expectations.
Expectations are multiplied by people: fans, experts, and Peter Gammons, the Yoda of baseball analysts. Philadelphia fans have a high multiplier. The Phillies have justified it with a World Series ring. Two World Series rings would send expectations into overdrive (insane orgy). The Phillies appear to have the making of a good team for a while. Can they meet the expectations that will naturally accompany them?
The Injury Bug
In professional sports, it is not a question of if injury bug strikes but when and for how long. Baseball has the longest regular season in professional sports. If any of Philly's Fantastic Four or Cole Hamels miss time for any extended period of time, the Fantastic Voyage, would well, no longer be Fantastic. One of the worst aspects of baseball is the fluke injury.
Picture this: one of Philly's Fantastic Four is called out running through first base. In protest, he starts to yell and scream and jump up and down, tearing his ACL. Couldn't happen to the Phillies right? Well, not to the Phillies, but something similar has happened before to a player who shares his name with the makers of Monopoly. (He went to the Disabled List, which in Monopoly terms is drawing a Chance Card that says "Go Directly to Jail" except you can pass GO! and collect $200.)
'93, Joe Carter, The Skydome, Hooters, Canadian beer is like moonshine...(see Jon Stewart in Big Daddy)
Before the previous incarnation of the Phillies reached two World Series in two years, the Phillies last reached the World Series in 1993 against the Toronto Blue Jays. The early 90s was a Golden Age for Canadian teams in Major League Baseball. Toronto won two World Series titles and in '94 the Expos had the best record in baseball before the strike.
The 1993 Phillies lost to the Blue Jays in six games. Game 6 of the 1993 World Series ended in spectacular fashion, when Toronto's Joe Carter won the Series with a walk off home run. The '93 Phillies possessed some notable players: Curt Shilling, Lenny Dykstra, Mitch Williams and John Kruk. Since then:
Curt Shilling left Philadelphia for Arizona and Boston, winning three World Series rings and took it upon himself to bitch slap the Yankees in the process. He retired from baseball last season.
Lenny Dykstra finished behind Barry Bonds (insert opinion of Barry Bonds here) in the MVP voting in 1993. Right now he is in the headlines for filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (which isn't funny).
Mitch Williams, known as "Wild Thing" (see Rick Vaughn in Major League played by Charlie Sheen. You know that guy who cut Marlon Brando in half in that one movie about 'Nam? His son.) will forever be known as the guy who gave up the World Series winning walk off home run to the Toronto Blue Jays.
John Kruk was an All-Star caliber first baseman. In '93 he looked like Chris Farley sporting a mullet. Now John Kruk provides baseball analysis for ESPN with Master Gammons. In the end, he did pretty well for himself. Imagine Chris Farley rocking a mullet doing baseball commentary for ESPN. Plus, he voiced himself on Aqua Teen Hunger Force...
The Disturbing Stadium Trend
The Phillies play at Citizen's Bank Park. Citizen's Bank Park is one of the many ballparks built since the mid 1990s to have an old school look with modern amenities. The idea became the sexy thing to do and since just about everyone has a new ballpark. Some are cool (San Francisco), some are named after beer (Colorado, St. Louis, Milwaukee), juice boxes (Houston, Tampa), an insurance company (Seattle), and lots of banks (Philly, Detroit, New York Mets, Pittsburgh, Arizona).
It took the place of Veteran's Stadium, built in the early 1970s. Veteran's Stadium was modern for its time and contained a revolutionary new surface, Astroturf, that the Phillies played on for the better part of three decades. The thing about Astroturf is that it is basically green carpet over concrete and the opposite of natural. Since then technological advances make the fake grass look and feel more and more like actual grass and why use natural grass anyway when you have that stuff. Real grass is for quitters.
Eventually the Phillies decided to follow suit and build a new stadium. They used dynamite to implode the Vet and implosions are pretty cool.
But that begs the question: Is an old school park with modern amenities named after a bank superior to a old school park with retro amenities and a sweet military name? Well, at least it's not named after a pet store. Shame on you San Diego. You used to be cool.