There was a headline on one of the MLB pages trumpeting the Phillies breaking a record for most solo home runs in the post season. This is both impressive, and sorrowful. Wow! Look how many one run home runs they’ve hit! Look how awesome, and how much fun they are to watch and, even if I hate them, I really really want them to win so I can hate them even more!
I love the Phillies. I grew up and have lived most of my life in and around Philadelphia. I never liked the Eagles. I don’t care about hockey. I like the Sixers, but they’re frustrating, perhaps closer to the Atlanta Braves in disappointment. They should do better, they just don’t. But the Phillies . . . they are an inspiration in an older way, a look to the past when all this boyish shit was still fun.
They are a brutal team. They’re tough, and they all aggressively defend each other. Have you ever seen another team where all of the players seem to actually like each other? All of them. No matter how great your team (any team) is, you don’t want to get in a brawl with the Phillies. Can’t you see at the darkest extremes Bryce Harper standing there, his headband still tightly on with blood dripping down his face? Can’t you see him glaring, and holding the left arm of a pitcher, munching the meat off the bone?
I’ve gone through my life loving and hating the Phillies. When I was eight, in 1980, somehow my father got tickets to game six of the World Series, the first time we ever won. Some guy spilled his beer on my head in his excitement. My dad almost got into a fight, and we were delicate, academic people. But we could feed off the electricity, and the conviction behind the effort. We all became one.
I do not doubt that other players and other teams, as we shall see in a hopefully limited manner in the days to come, have the same sort of attention to detail, and who want it every bit as badly as some south philly mook stumbling home from Geno’s at two thirty Thursday morning, drunk to the point he will throw up his provolone wit’ four slurps in, shouting his hatred for non-Phillies fans.
The Philadelphia Phillies are an open and welcoming team. They have invited fans to believe that they are part of the team too. We have been told that we are, and by more than just each other: “Trea Turner’s standing ovation,” some sports host says with a can’t-help-it smile.
Or “No better home field advantage,” and it’s true.
Greatness is finally about character. Will you remember them? Hey, remember those great Giants teams in the 2010s (or was it the 2000s?) Remember Tim Lincecum’s unhittability? Remember how incredible they were and — Wait, will Shohei Ohtani pitch next year . . . ?
The Phillies are much tougher than you no matter how hard other teams and their followers want to laugh over something they call “softness.” No matter how much of a drama queen Bryce Harper is,
he also returned from a torn UCL after playing in the world series with the injury last year. He hit great, just not quite enough, then went to have serious reconstructive surgery. He returned as DH in May, then moved to first base because he had to do something. He is too good of an athlete to stare at the game and wait to hit.
With the DH open, we have a wealth of quick, great fielding outfielders to take over the corner from Schwarber, who doesn’t always know how to catch.
is clearly a great guy: generous, kind, supportive, a great leader, our Roberto Clemente award nominee for his dedicated work to help support neighborhood first responders, offer comfort to the families of deceased soldiers, fund a social welfare program to integrate positive social change between police and underrepresented communities, and feed starving firefighters between their runs. No one else could possibly be our lead off hitter. He hit .197 with forty-seven home runs, a .343 on base percentage, the second most walks in baseball, and the absurdity for a hitter under .200 OPS of .817. He had the second most home runs in baseball too, behind Matt Olson, who had an absurdly great season, one of those standouts you study on the back of a baseball card and admire (even though his teammate surely deserves MVP).
Schwarber hit one more home run during the regular season this year than he did last year, when he led the national league.
These are just a soft sniff of the characters on the Phillies. None of you knows Garrett Stubbs
the greatest guy in the world.
They barely know Alec Bohm,
a big guy, good hitter, improving fielder, and he seems tantrumy and childish at times, but he has a great sense of humor on the rare days he isn’t in a bad mood.
is a slick fielding likely future gold glove winner (nominated for his first the day I wrote this) and batting champion. He is a goofy, silly guy.
is a great player, and probably the smartest guy on the team. He’s soft-spoken, polite, maybe even a little shy. He has great respect for and love of baseball. He does not like talking with the press, but is such a genuine person that when some idiotic sideline reporter interrupts his thoughtful consideration of life, fatherhood, and the consequences of playing and constantly being on the road for your family with a giddy statement about another player’s stats, he just smiles, says “Is there a question?”, then goes off to hang out with his son.
is a pro. No doubt he’ll make a great manager. If his excellent play doesn’t quite get him into the hall of fame, the second half of his career certainly will.
And everybody loves Brandon Marsh
The Phillies bullpen is filled with marvelous characters: Jose Alvarado,
a loud, joyous man who loves everyone,
who can pitch every day if needed,
and Michael Lorenz,
who upon being traded to the team pitched a no-hitter before getting hammered nearly every game after. He barely made the roster for the play-offs.
There are several cold-blooded, silent, beady-eyed hundred mile an hour hurlers
who live quiet lives and seem, like their pitches, more of a blur than human beings.
Then there’s Craig Kimbrel,
a likely future Hall of Famer with the rival, hated Braves: a wiley, crafty, eccentric veteran, beginning to break down before, somehow, his new team made baseball fun for him again.
Of course there is a frightening starting pitching staff
Other teams don’t work this way. They are professional, serious, and sanitized. Much of the in house passion gets restrained, suppressed, shouted down over fear of scandal and loss of revenue. To them it is a business, teams with the impersonal callousness to short term rent a star just for the postseason. Such stars sometimes fly to games in their own jets. Often they never have a meal with their teammates.
With the Phillies, in addition to all the same swag and disposable trinkets, likely produced by the same slum merchants that patronize every stadium, there is something snarling. Something threatening, even violent. There is something about them that keeps your attention.
The Philadelphia Phillies are great this year — just great as a narrative. Perhaps they are a prime example of how the game changed in the shorter-attention span pitch clock and runners on second in extra innings version being played today. They can momentarily distract people on their phones long enough to tell a human story. They are the most interesting team in all sports, especially if you hate them.