That may not seem unusual considering they opened a new ball park in 2004, which has been a big hit with fans, they’ve made it to the playoffs for five consecutive years, winning it all in 2008, and they have a pitching rotation that most clubs can only wish for.
This year, the chatter is just as loud as it was last season when they won over 100 games, but the tone is different. The Phillies sit in last place in the National League East, where they have been for most of the season with a record below .500. Fans watched their decline, which was more like riding on a monstrous roller coaster rather than the gradual slope we expected with our aging and very well paid team.
Overheard in a deli the other day: “They don’t even print stories about the Phillies in the paper these days,” said one man trying to enjoy his ham and cheese on rye. (He was referring to the Metro, and not the Philadelphia Inquirer or Daily News).
“That’s because they’re awful,” said the cashier. “I don’t even watch them anymore.”
“I check on a score once in a while, but I can’t watch,” said another deli patron. “They’re definitely snake bitten.”
Conversations like this are common in the City of Brotherly Love. To be fair, the Phillies have plenty of players on the disabled list, including three of their stars, but that doesn’t excuse losing too many games to sloppy play or leaving an unbelievable number of men on third base with less than two outs, when a simple fly ball to the outfield would score a run. If this team doesn’t change things soon, two major events could occur that will surely signal the end of a great run: the Phillies could become sellers at the trade deadline, instead of adding a key piece for the playoffs as they have done over the last several years, and their sellout streak, which began on July 7, 2009 and currently stands at 238 games, could come to an end.
The boys in the red pinstripes have played some terrible baseball this year, especially at home where the crowds come out to support them in huge numbers. It’s too early to give up on the season, even though passing four teams in the standings is a huge challenge. Still, it’s often said that baseball is a game of inches, and those inches could turn to the Phillies’ favor just as easily as they turned against them. And the second wild card slot – something I said I despised in the beginning of the season – may benefit them. The five teams in our division will play each other frequently in the second half, and beat up on each other, which could make those other four teams easier to catch – as long as the Phillies win. With Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay due back by the end of July, fans are hopeful that the team can put together a successful August and September run.
Until then, I need a sign, a good luck charm, or any indication that the Phillies can turn things around. Or at least a reason to blame. Baseball is the most superstitious of sports, so it’s not a strange request. Could it be the curse of Ed Wade, for example? Things started to turn around for the team dramatically when they fired him as General Manager and hired Pat Gillick, and then Ruben Amaro, Jr. Is it simply a coincidence that they start to slide again the season they hire Wade back as a scout?
Or perhaps it’s the curse of Billy Penn. Legend has it that there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” that Philadelphia would approve no building higher than the statue of William Penn atop City Hall. That ended in 1987 when One Liberty Place was built, thereby cursing all Philly’s sports teams. Currently, the Comcast Building is the tallest in Philadelphia, but a statue of William Penn was placed on top of it in 2007, the curse was broken, and the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. Is Billy still there or did they take him down?
These are not crazy questions.
I’ve had some theories of my own, which unfortunately have let me down, but I still try. In 2003, for example, I rationalized that the team went to the World Series in 1983 and 1993, so perhaps they were on the 10-year plan. When they failed that year, my head hung low.
Last year, I came up with another theory. Since the Phillies won the World Series in 1980 and in 2008, I noticed a pattern and believed they would win in any combination of years where the last two digits were opposite when reversed – 80 and 08. I figured 2011 was a sure thing since the last two digits can be reversed to be opposite, yet still turn out the same. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Too bad it didn’t work.
This year, I’m stumped. If anyone out there has a juicy, creative theory that I can cling to for the next few months, please share.
Whatever gets you through the night, right?