EDITOR'S NOTE: Some recent columns by T.J. Simers have brought howls of protest from Philadelphians, some of whom suggested that Jim Murray would never bash a city in such a manner. How soon they forget. This column by the late Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist originally ran Oct. 5, 1978.
"Foo-delphia," the natives call it. The town that isn't New York--but the climate's just as bad. A loser's town. Its heyday was the British occupation. Ben Franklin slept here. Its chief tourist attraction is a cracked bell. A generation of vaudevillians noted it was closed on weekends. And not very open the rest of the week.
They used to have great baseball teams here. But nobody in Philadelphia cared. Connie Mack had to sell them off. Philadelphia preferred teams that were like the rest of the town--second rate. They'd rather boo in Philadelphia. Excellence annoys them. Even competence bores them. They want somebody to blame, not praise.
The Phillies are a perfect team for them--not very good but good enough to get to where their incompetence shows up, and matters. Philadelphia loves the Phillies. Every strikeout, every two-base error. They come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The Phillies never disappoint them. They get in a World Series once every 50 years and lose it as fast as they can. Like Philadelphia, they are just something to hurry through.
For Philadelphia, this team was made in heaven. It was born to be yelled at. It couldn't win a pennant in any league that didn't have the Cubs. The team moves just faster than junk mail. Phillie fans love that. Gives them something to throw beer cans at.
The current manager, Danny Ozark, probably the most second-guessed creature this side of a man with two mothers-in-law, thinks the problem is over-education: "The fans know a lot about baseball, but they think they know more than they do. In fact, they think they know more than you do."
In 1964, the Phils had a seven-game lead at the end of September and just enough games left to blow that lead and then some. It was the biggest curtain-call pratfall in baseball history.
The Phils were overmatched against Cincinnati in the 1976 playoff series. But they took the first game from the Dodgers last year and had a 5-3 lead with two out and nobody on base in the ninth inning of the third game.
The poor patrons had to sit there and watch a pair of aging players bounce balls over the outfield and through the infield for a three-run Dodger rally and win. Then they had to sit in the steady rain the next night as their hitters glumly took called third strikes and another playoff loss.
Even if it were a tropic paradise with swimming pools gleaming in the sun and hibiscus curled around the front porch and ukuleles strumming in the canoes out on the reef, this kind of steady disappointment would be hard to live with. But Philadelphia isn't Maui. It isn't even Fort Worth, to be truthful about it. It's a nice place to park the truck and change your socks or unload a freighter.
In L.A., the fans go home in the seventh inning, win or lose. Around the league, they boo the other guys. But Philly is the only town where they boo both teams.
They come to the ballpark thinking, "Well, how will we louse up this year?" They're all ready with "Ozark, yer a bum!" on the first bleeder that trickles through the infield. Their all-star third baseman [Mike Schmidt] has hit 190 home runs, some of them two miles long and eight miles up. He bears the brunt of the self-hate in the stands. Not that anybody escapes. You could cut the venom with a sword. They are insulating themselves against defeat with abuse, also with beer.
But Philadelphia isn't Palm Springs and the 1978 Phillies aren't the 1927 Yankees, and 63,460 showed up for the opening of the championship series fearing the worst. The Phillies didn't let them down.
They were bearing down out there. They had a tradition to uphold. W.C. Fields would have been proud of them. They leaped into a 1-0 lead. They always do that.
Danny Ozark started a pitcher named Larry Christenson and Larry was a true Phillie. By the sixth inning the Dodgers had hit three home runs, two triples and a double. The Phils must get their pitchers out of gopher holes.
It all came as no surprise to the fans. It was like going to a picture after you've read the book. Or to a mystery where you know who did it.
"Foo-delphia" wouldn't have it any other way. The team that used to be known in the Sporting News as the "Futile Phils" or the "Phoolish Phils" has not forgotten the act.
It was as inartistic as a Bulldog Drummond movie, but the Phils, as usual, sank to the occasion.
God must have spent a weekend in Philadelphia once. That's why a burned fan stared heavenward as the sixth Dodger extra-base hit sailed into the stands in the sixth inning and roared, "Us again, huh God?"
But then, this is Philadelphia. Even the British gave it up without a fight. And, as Robert E. Lee said when he retreated from Gettysburg, "Oh well, this means we won't have to spend Sunday in Philadelphia."