Thursday, November 6, 2008

To all my phellow phans...

I have been writing this post and editing and adding and deleting since the Philadelphia Phillies made the World Series 2 days before my birthday on October 15th. I had started to think I would split this into a couple posts, but I have decided to make this one long post with a few sections. So strap yourself in Friendly Friends! Here is Sweaty Irishman's thoughts his baseball team. The Philadelphia Phillies.

I think I will start with a little history on the losingest franchise in professional sports history. As many of you know, the Philies are one of the oldest franchises in baseball. Their first season was 1883. Chester A. Arthur was president. The first machine gun was invented and Karl Marx died. At least half of my family was still living in Ireland at that time and cared more about defeating the tyrannical British then the Cincinnati Redlegs. So anyway...In typical Philadelphia fashion, it took the Phillies 32 years to make it's first World Series appearance. The Phillies faced the Boston Redsox in the 1915 World Series. My grandparents were about 2 years old. The Phillies had a 31 game winner named Grover Cleveland Alexander and a good hitter named Gavvy Cravath. Gavvy wore an onion on his belt, which was the style at the time. They faced a very good Redsox team with a very good young rookie pitcher whom they used occasionally as a pinch hitter named George Herman Ruth. In case you couldn't guess...we lost. Oh well...get'em next year, right boys? Wrong!

35 years later... the Phillies got to their second World Series! My parents were about 2 years old. The 1950 Philadelphia Phillies aka the Whiz Kids, were a bunch of young up and comers including a couple future hall of famers Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn. Whitey of course would go on to earn the love and respect of a second and third generation of Philadelphians as the best color announcer ever. (Side note: My favorite Whitey moments as a color guy was when the answer to the daily trivia question was himself) That team had to face none other then the New York Yankees. They were nothing special. They had mediocre players such as Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio. The Phillies gave it all they had, but got swept. Although 3 of the games were decided by one run. So, to keep up, that is 67 years of existence, 2 World Series appearances and no championships. Oh well, get 'em next year right? I mean this was a young team with good players and no free agency! Things were looking up!

30 years later...The Phillies make there third ever World Series. I was 6 years old, but in no way cared about baseball. I was more concerned with Empire Strikes Back or being allowed to cross the street by myself. This is were things changed for the Phillies. Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, Tug McGraw, Garry Maddox, Greg Luzinski and Larry Bowa were members of the first ever World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies! This was a golden age of sports in our town. 1980 saw the Phillies in the series, the Eagles in the Superbowl, the Sixers in the finals and the Flyers playing for the Stanley Cup. The Phillies took home the crown and 97 years of frustration was released! If only I was old enough to remember! I can't remember a parade, but I do remember that I was Donald Duck for Halloween!

In a shocker, the Phillies made the World Series just 3 years after that in 1983! This team, known as the Wheeze kids were kind of unexpected. Many of the 1980 players like Luzinski were gone, many more were past their prime like Rose and Carlton. We added a few very veteran players like Joe Morgan. We also added Gary (Sarge) Matthews Sr. A man, like Whitey who is now a color guy for the team and although started out a little sloppy is starting to endear himself to the masses with his critical commentating on the Phillies. Philly fans respect someone who is not a yes man. Wheeler, I am looking at you! By the way, Wheeler is NOT a tremendous athlete! Ok, back to the team...they faced the Baltimore Orioles. A young team with the likes of Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray and others. We lost in 5 games. I was 9 and still did not care much about baseball. At the time of this series I was wondering why my parents were packing us up and moving us to South Jersey. At this time I lived about 100 steps from FFMatt, so it was a cruel move in many ways. Oh well. I do credit this move with finally getting me into all sports. What the heck else was I going to do in South Jersey? So...1984 was the first year I truly cared about Philadelphia teams. I was a 4 for 4 kid too. The Phillies and Mike Schmidt. The Eagles and Randall Cunningham. The Flyers and Tim Kerr. The Sixers and Charles Barkley. Unfortunately for me, 1984 was the start of our supposed curse. One Liberty Place was erected, Billy Penn was in the shadows, and I had to be proud of rooting for a team that led the league in sacrifice bunts.

Even with the great players mentioned above, no championships were to be had. The Flyers came close, but lost to a juggernaut in the Oilers. The Sixers never found someone to compliment Barkley. I liked Mike Gminski as much as the next guy, but all he had was the G-Man jumper! Eagles always had dominating defenses and pathetic offenses. The Eagles of the late 80's & early 90's were much like Craig in the movie Friday. They had peanut butter and no jelly. Ham but no burger. Kool-aid but no sugar. Defense but no offense. So we wasted one of the greatest defensive teams ever assembled and along with a foggy day in Chicago, never even reached the big one.

1990 brought me back to the Common Wealth. I united with Jewbacca shortly thereafter and we met almost nightly to watch one of our teams fail. Sometimes FFMatt was there. Sometimes Malagan was there. The cast changed, the results remained the same...until 1993. Our senior year in high school something magical happened. A bunch of white trash looking quasi-athletes were put together that I think might have inspired the movie Major League. Some of them had talent, such as Daulton, Dykstra and Schilling. Some of that talent was "enhanced". We had pure hitters like Kruk and Milt Thompson, and a bunch of guys who all had career years at the same time. Pete Incavilia, Wes Chamberlain, Terry Mulholland, Mitch Williams, Kevin Stocker, the list goes on. So, we are 18 and the Phillies have the greatest season we had ever seen as sports fans. They beat the vaunted Braves to win the pennant and make the World Series. Most of us know what happened after that. Jewbacca came home from his freshman year at UD to watch at home with me and Malagan and a few others. Game 6. Looking good. Malagan utters something never to be repeated and we lose. Jewbacca and I go bowl the greatest games of our lives. I still have not seen a replay of that home run.

So that is it right? That as close as we had come to that point? We still had no idea what it was like to win a championship! To go to a parade! To hug a stranger! The Flyers looked close in 97, swept! The Sixers had no shot in 2001, but I had lost my interest in basketball when Barkley left so even if they had won I would not have counted it. 2004 The Eagles make it to the SuperBowl! We didn't know what to do with ourselves! Until they lost in embarrassing fashion...we knew exactly what to do with ourselves then.

Alas, will we never know? Will we never rejoice? We we never know what it feels like to puff out that chest and proclaim to our hated rivals in New York, or Dallas, or D.C. or Florida and say...WE ARE THE BEST! It did not seem so. The Friendly Friends had been dedicated sports fans for over two decades with no payoff. Our identity had been forged by the Lance Parrish's and Siran Stacey's. The Joe Carter's and Jon Gruden's. We had had enough!

Who knew something unforgettable and so unexpected was just around the corner. The Philadelphia Phillies seemed to turn a corner around 2000. An uncommon occurrence began. Young players from our system started to be called up and they looked like real players! At first Scott Rolen. A perennial gold glover and a solid offensive third baseman. Do we have a chance?!?!?! No, he wanted out, hated Philly and went to "Baseball Heaven". Back to square one. Then Pat Burrell showed up. Lots of power, lots of promise, lots of slumps. He wouldn't be enough. Jimmy Rollins shows up. Lots of speed, lots of glove, lots of first pitch swings and pop-ups! These two guys are pretty good, but so frustrating and surrounded by pitchers like Bruce Chen. Then this guy Chase Utley comes up and hits a grand slam for his first major league hit...hmmm, that gets your attention. We sign Jim Thome. Wow! New ballpark...bigger WOW! Brett Myers shows up, promising, volitile, scary? Thome has to go, because we have another prospect at 1st? Ryan Howard? Rookie of the year? MVP? What is going on here?!?! But cast, more talent, same results. Finish 1 game out, 3 games out, 1 game out...never closing the deal. Jamie Moyer joins the fold, Cole Hamels comes up, Victorino comes, it would be ashamed to waist all this young talent.

Mets collapse in 2007! Bull $hit! We beat them 10 straight, we EARNED that division! We were the hottest team in baseball going into the post season right? Wrong! Those Colorado Rockies, winners of 23 of 24 sweep the hell out of us in the first round! As my brother in-law said...we got Matsuied! At this point we are just about checked out as sports fans. We can't win it with this talent, we never will. The Eagles are on the decline, the Flyers can't adjust to the new rules, who gives a crap about the other team.

In comes 2008. The Phillies made a couple moves. They traded for a closer from the Astros who might have been a headcase after an Albert Pujols homer in the playoffs a few years before. He had lost something. But we needed arms and that put Myers back in the rotation. We had some hope. We were defending division champs after all! Things start well! Burrell and Utley are crushing the ball. Pitching is good. Howard is awful. We spent a majority of time in or around first all season. Howard goes in and out of slumps and has the quietest 48 hr 146 rbi season of all time. September rolls around and on September 17th we are 4 games out in the wildcard and 3.5 back in the division. We have them right where we want them! The Phillies go on to overtake everyone and finish with the second best record in the NL! Oh My! Victorino hits a slam off of C.C. "Cy Young" Sabathia! Oh Wow! We handle the Brewers with ease! Now onto the Los Angeles Manny's, I mean Dodgers. Cole Hamels, dominant. Matt Freakin' Stairs! Is this fun or what? We take care of the Dodgers with little trouble. Holy Crap! We are in the World Series! How did this happen?

We are facing the Tampa Bay Rays? Really? Well...I guess that made sense. If you look at our past, we had lost to the Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles & Blue Jays in the World Series. The only AL East team who hadn't beaten us in the Fall Classic were the Rays, so here we go! We split at Tampa, thanks to Cole. I will take it! Tim McGraw sprinkles some of Tug on the mound at the bank. That move was 2 parts cool, 1 part creepy. We win in walk off fashion in game three! Carlos Ruiz! We win in a yawner in game 4. Ryan Howard wakes up in a big way! Game 5, which took about 72 hours was a squeeker. Like a boxing match. Punch, counter, punch , counter. It set up the most exciting and gratifying three innings of baseball I have ever seen in my life. Geoff Jenkins! 1 hit and he is redeemed! Pat Burrell! Last at bat as a Phillie and he hits a double off of Manny's fence which ends up being the go ahead run! Oh my god! It is the 9th! We are winning! I am with my wife and my son at Jewbacca's house. C ould this be it? How would I handle it? How would I react? I can't think that way! It will jinx them! So in comes that headcase from Houston. Brad Lidge. Mr. Perfect. 41-41 in the regular season. 6-6 in the post season to that point. He was about to try and finish off the greatest single season by a closer in MLB history...or he was about to take another massive shot to his confidence, one I would not blame him for if he didn't recover. Pop Up! 1 away! Oh my god, we are two outs away from not knowing how to react! Base hit! Of course! We are gonna blow it! Screaming line drive with a guy on second! Oh my god! They just tied the game! Wait! It stayed up! Werth makes the catch! The fans cheer! I try and swallow my heart back into my chest! I look at Jewbacca. We both know what we are on the brink of. Mrs. Jewbacca can't look. Mrs. Sweaty is just praying I get to experience what it is like. Murphy is delirious with exhaustion on the couch. I think he just gave me the finger.

Up walks Eric Hinske. Lidge bears down. Called strike one! Fans erupt! Check swing, called strike two! I am shaking. I am nervous. Please god. Please, please, please! Swing and a miss!!!!!! OH MY GOD! I hug Jewbacca! I hug my family! I fall to the ground with tears in my eyes! My phone starts ringing like crazy! I share this once in my lifetime moment with others who have felt it. My brother, my father, my mother, my sister, Pissah, FFMatt. We are jumping around. We grab champagne! We run outside! Fireworks are going off all around us! Cars are honking horns! People are cheering in the streets and banging on pots and pans! Jewbacca and I go running down the street cheering every car! What we have been cheering for and screaming for and paying for for a quarter century has finally happened. The unlikeliest of teams, the Philadelphia Phillies, losingest franchise in professional sports history has just given us a WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What are we going to do now? We have just lost our identity as sports fans, and we couldn't be happier! We are going to a parade!!!!!!!!!!!

Charlie Friggin Manuel!

Everything is coming up roses for sweaty! I got time off. I got tickets to CPB for the festivities! Jewbacca and I meet Malagan and his family at the stadium and watch the parade from the seats! The players arrive. The stands are packed. They parade around, come to the podium to say a few choice words. Some choicer then others if you are Chase F'ing Utley! The banner is raised.

I can finally say...we are World Champions. The city of Philadelphia has finally gotten what it so very much deserved. Harry Kalas finally got to call a last out of a World Series. Jamie Moyer finally won a ring and in his home town. Pat Burrell finishes of a rocky career in style. Jose Reyes is ringless.

I can put away my angst for a couple years at least. I feel like Ralphy with his red rider bee-bee gun.

All is right with the world.

Take a look at some pictures that show why Philly deserved this...thanks to


FFMatt said...

Amazing. Like being there.

FFJewbacca said...

I still don't believe it all happened. I have the pictures, the papers, the memories but I still expect Bud Selig to take it away anytime now.

Tommy from F'town said...

Phils won WS in '80 & '08.
McGraw/Lidge wore 45 & 54.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. But some coincidence, huh?