Going into today, the Philadelphia Phillies have lost 9,999 games. Hamels pitches this afternoon, but Eaton is tomorrow, so, barring uncharacteristic luck, I'm pretty much guaranteed to get my birthday present early, in the form of yet another historic loss in the dismal annals of Philly sport. Indeed, bad luck is the only kind they've ever had. Take, for example, last Tuesday's game, the last one I got to watch, when a clearly blown call on the final out of the game led to extra innings led to Jose Mesa, and that particular road ends, as we all know, in a godforsaken burg known as Walkoffloss. Or take, for example, 9,998 other instances: for those of you less versed in their sordid history, Paul Hagen offers a primer. (Remembering the Biggio homer in 2005, and that hard-luck stretch run last year, still makes me cringe.)
They're a .500 ballclub at the break, despite the best offense in the NL and the perennially high preseason hopes, a fact which should surprise exactly nobody considering how static their mediocrity has been the last five years: they've had a similar record at the break every year since 2003. If tradition holds, they'll scuffle through July and mount a late-August run at the playoffs, only to fall short in the final week. Philly expects this; Philly knows its teams. And that's why Philly is celebrating the losingest franchise in professional sports history's epic suckiness. There are multiple fan websites (this is the best). There's a debate over whether or not to include the record of the Worcester (pronounced, for you left-coasties, something like "worschmermer") Brown Stockings, whom the Phillies replaced in the National League in 1883. There's the aforementioned retrospective of notable losses.
Because Philly fans don't remember wins. It is one of the singular characteristics we share (along with bad hair, fatness, vulgarity, sociopathic tendencies, alcoholism, an inferiority complex, rabid hatred of all things New York/Washington/Dallas, and a perverse sense of pride in all the aforementioned. Oh, and a lingering belief that Rocky was real). Any Eagles fan can tell you where he was for all three of the NFC Championship losses, not to mention the Super Bowl.
(For instance, I distinctly remember banging my head against an Old Chicago table when Ronde Barber broke on the short out pattern and began his 85-yard TD prance. I left my smarting forehead pressed against the woodgrain. Minutes passed. Finally, Doyle poked my shoulder and said, "Dude, I spilled buffalo sauce on your jersey." Never loan that guy clothes.)
I'm loath to mention this around Diesel, but the loss I remember most vividly doesn't even count. Yes, you guessed it, this one:
It served as a primer to a twelve-year-old Phan who'd dodged much of the late-80s misery thanks to relocation. Before that season I never saw the Phils on TV, and it was probably for the better -- since their lone Series title in 1980, won on what was most likely the date of my conception, it had been a slow downhill slide. They lost the '83 Series. Charlie Hustle left. Carlton retired and Schmitty followed, hobbling close on his heels. That scrappy, cerebral, blue-collar '93 team that hustled so much was, oddly, America's darling. At least until it lost.
They finished last the next year. Dykstra, my favorite player and the man whose number I wore in Senior League, suffered a litany of steroid-fueled injuries and retired soon after so he could start a chain of car washes and commit statutory rape. Kruk got testicular cancer, had his ball removed, went to Chicago, and retired after giving perhaps the greatest retirement speech ever, then disgraced himself on the Best Damn Sports Show Period for a few years before moving to ESPN. Dutch Daulton, after whom I named my dog, went to the Marlins, of all places. Then he won a title. Then he made contact with the Fifth Dimension. Schilling bitched and moaned his way into a trade to Arizona. And then he won a title. And then he wanted to come back to Philly but management wouldn't spend the money because they thought he was using them as a pawn in negotiations with the Sox (they were probably right). So he went to Boston and he won another title. Mitch Williams got death threats, went into hiding, and bounced around the minors as a pitching coach. Even that lovable team ended in a litany of disappointment.
Any Phils fan who's been around a little longer has their own stories of the teams they loved, and all of them except one -- 1980, the one fucking title in 124 years of their existence -- disappointed the city. They all lost. The epic collapse of '64: 6 1/2 games up with 12 to go, and still they lost the pennant. The historically bad teams that played second fiddle to the A's. You name it.
I don't think any Phillies fans are really all that invested in 10,000. We've seen enough to know it's a lot -- we don't need some arbitrary milestone to remind us. We'll hear about it for a few days on ESPN, read snarky puff pieces in national outlets shitting on the franchise and the city, maybe -- if we're lucky -- get a few more apocryphal recounts of the time we booed Santa. And I think the organization and the fan base and even the Philly media should be commended for their collective tongue-in-cheek celebration of the feat; not a lot of cities would call attention to such a dubious distinction. I think it's mildly funny myself; I'm definitely buying the commemorative t-shirt.
But here's what's not funny, and what every non-Phillies fan won't understand about 10,000. The vast majority of the real misery -- 100-loss seasons and the like -- happened before the Vet was event built, much less CBP. Currently they're just mired in mediocrity. And the depressing thing about all of this is that in all likelihood, this Phillies team will add its name to that dubious list of disappointments. All this playoff talk has been passed around every spring since Thome showed up. We've finished a grand total of about ten games out of the playoffs in the last four years. But it's still been 13 years since we made the playoffs, and it had been ten before that. And while squeaking in this year would be a welcome surprise, what wouldn't surprise me would be if none of the unparalleled (at least in Phillies history) core of young talent -- Utley, Howard, Rollins, Hamels, Myers, even the surprising Victorino -- ever plays an NLCS game in red pinstripes.
In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they don't make the playoffs for another five years. The organization is still horribly mismanaged, year after year -- it doesn't seem to matter who the manager or GM is, not anymore -- and, as has been the case as long as I can remember, there's no pitching. Sure, the offense should only improve next year, but where exactly will the pitching help come from? Our bullpen is full of guys way past their expiration dates (Gordon, Mesa, and even Alfonseca, whose shocking capability cannot last), young guys who I wish were still unproven, but have probably proven everything they ever will (Matt Smith, Geary, Madson), castoffs and rejects (Romero, the guy from the Jays whose name I can't think of at the moment), and the franchise's second-best starting pitcher.
Or how about the rotation, which looks like this right now and projects to look like this for quite some time, unless they make a trade:
TBA (I've never heard of this guy, but he seems to have joined the five-man, because he's penciled in for the third time in three weeks to start Tuesday at the odgers.)
I don't give a shit how good your offense is. We've had some of the greatest offensive forces in the game the last few years -- Thome, the player formerly known as Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley -- and what has it gotten us? New managers, a new GM, a new ballpark, the same result, and the same prognosis for next year. Maybe it's the owners' faults, as Bill Conlin seems to think, in yet another incomprehensible column the other day. Maybe it really is William Penn.
So, Phillies, great, go ahead and celebrate 10K. And then you'd better ponder doing something drastic before the deadline -- drastic as in the list of trade untouchables should have two guys on it, Chase and Cole -- to get some fucking pitching. And I don't necssarily mean the Javier Vazquezes of the world -- I don't necessarily mean pitching for this year. It's hard to argue with Rich Hoffman's take on a hopeless pitching situation; it might be time to admit that Gillick was right last year when he said this team wouldn't contend until 2008, and think about rebuilding with some pitching. I don't know what that means, whom you trade for whom, but you'd better get more value for Rowand or Bourn or Ruiz than you did for Abreu and Lidle, both of whom you gift-wrapped for absolutely nothing.
But if you live up to your nickname, Stand Pat, the losses are going to keep on mounting long after all the humorous milestones are past.