It's one for the books.
Monday night, my beloved Philadelphia Phillies lost their ten thousandth game in franchise history, and for a change, Philly gets to relish in it's role of the loveable loser. Poor Philadelphia. Long ago, she lost her place, to New York, as the nation's foremost city. Then, the capital was moved to Washington, D.C. Today, she's not even a close third on anyone’s list of East Coast cities to visit. That distinction would go to Boston, or even Baltimore.
But as slippery slopes go, Philadelphia wasn’t finished. The Phillies (then known as the Quakers) started their run at futility in 1883, three years after the birth of W.C. Fields, who, having been born in Philadelphia, appreciated the town enough to (allegedly) quip: "There once was a contest. First prize: a week in Philadelphia. Second prize: two weeks in Philadelphia." And the hits just keep on coming.
I've noticed that people who grew up in Philly (such as myself) have this certain "Phillyness" to them—a feeling of not being cool enough; a sense of being underrated and an underachiever at the same time; a suspicion that any impending success will slip away at the last second.
Charlie Brown, I am convinced, is from Philadelphia.
During Monday night's game (on Rosh Chodesh Av, for those of you keeping score at home), Joe Morgan (who played for the Phillies during their 1983 penant-winning season) told the tale of Phillies' owner William Baker, who extended the height of the outfield wall with a fifteen-foot fence in order to limit his own player, Chuck Klein's, home run production. Seems he didn't want the slugger—who once hit four home runs in a game—to compete with Babe Ruth for records and, ergo, remuneration.
But then again, you probably never heard of Chuck Klein. In fact, the city's most famous athlete is an invention: Rocky Balboa.
But the Phillies did one thing right. They won their first and only World Series in 1980, when I was but a wee lad. Those Phillies—Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, and, my favorite player, the Bull, Greg Luzinski—took the crown when I was old enough to appreciate it and young enough for it to mean everything to me (I cried when the Eagles lost the Super Bowl three months later).
So now, as a mature young man, how do I view my Phillies? Well, first off, I think they still have a good chance of catching the Mets and making the playoffs this year. They’ve got their most solid team in years—terrific hitting combined with some young, solid starting pitchers (though they could use lots of help in the bullpen).
But on a deeper level, I’m simply proud that they’ve been at it for so long. The plight and pain, the struggle and stigma that is the Phillies, along with all the other Philadelphia sports teams, and, by extension, all Philadelphians, calls to mind the genius of President Theodore Roosevelt, who famously stated:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.This is the mussar behind my team. This is the lesson we each must learn from the Philadelphia experience. We’re not here to always win. Not only will we lose sometimes, we may indeed lose far more often. But we must show up every day and play the game. We must do what we can when we can as best we can for as long as we can.
And never give up.
Last night the Phillies lost number 10,001. And the hits just keep on coming.