The Omnibus returns, this time in the city of Brotherly Love. For those readers just joining us in our odyssey, I will copy and paste its mission statement: “to examine the culture of a baseball team, distill the essence of its fandom, and then to establish which jerseys, as worn by a fan, make the most self-aware and challenging statements to his or her comrades.”
In most cases, for most cities, fans are generally in search of an identity. With the exception of the perpetual and the present disappointments, the culture of a team’s fandom is based on the proximity of their most recent championship. The city of Philadelphia stands outside these maxims. Their reputation was etched in alkaline more than thirty years ago and, whether fair or not, has never been amended. Philadelphia has become a city of pitch, an aggressive manic depression.
The Phillies began wearing names on their jerseys somewhere in the mid-seventies, and it’s an interesting demarcation. In their first ninety-two years of existence, the team managed two scant pennants – a span in which the lovable “losers” of Wrigley won five times as many. It was near the end of this era, which also witnessed fifteen years of wretched Eagles football, that the People developed their infamous rage.
Since those names showed up, however, Philadelphia baseball has changed entirely: they’ve won twelve pennants and two World Series in the past forty years, and until 2013 hadn’t won less than 80 games since the Y2K scare. Yet the mood among Phillies fans belies their relative successes: it is dark, and growing darker. The ballast of an aging and expensive core and a disavowal of modern talent evaluation have a city opening up the backs of their Game Boys and Walkmen in preparation.
As a Seattleite, I am currently faced with a dilemma never before considered: how long does the bliss of a championship last? The philosophy of the Seahawks (as with most champions) is immediately trained on a repeat, on dynasty. Like the bloodless capitalists who make this country great, success is never enough. But taken to its natural limit, this philosophy can only end in loss, and disappointment.
Where is the balance between the prospective and the reflective? How can we keep ourselves moving forward but still appreciate our past? And, perhaps most pertinently for the theme of this article, where is the line between appreciation for 2007-2011 and the cynicism toward 2013-2017? Here are but a few jerseys that seek to address this topic: the name you wear will be your colors in the endless battle. As always, feel free to suggest your own in the comments.
1976 Dick Allen: Omitting Mr. Allen would naturally cost me my lifetime subscription to FanGraphs+ as well as my occasional hour at the NotGraphs bully pulpit. This is of little import, since because I am sane, his nomination is already assured. In the aforementioned struggle, an Allen jersey is armed neutrality: it is a vote for style, a vote for the natural beauty of baseball and talent, win or lose. Allen had a fine season for Philadelphia’s first pennant in twenty-six years, though he was too old by then to stick around for the trophy. Still, an Allen jersey exhibits refinement, and possibly will earn you discounts from appreciative small business owners. Recommended.
1980 Tug McGraw: In the years following the birth of free agency, it was oddly the most consistent rosters that earned success. The Phillies nucleus in the late seventies was just as tight as that of the late aughts, and there are fine names worth celebrating. But few are as joyous as the lump-cheeked, restlessly-coiffed Tug McGraw.
1982 Ivan DeJesus: Not long ago, the Ryne Sanberg Phillies jersey would have been perfect for commemorating the worst trade in modern franchise history. Now, though, Ryno is back in the red pinstripes, and makes a fine non-ironic jersey. Therefore, the alternative is to go with the other half of the deal, a below-average middle infielder who lasted three years for the club. It’s especially fun to grouse given that the Phillies would trade their other second base prospect, Julio Franco, the next year, for…
1983 Von Hayes: Those less inclined to celebrate might prefer the Buster Keaton of baseball, rendered an instant villain in Philadelphia as a result of the five-for-one trade and his subsequent sophomore slump. It marked the end of the first dynasty and the team fell into the cellar for the rest of the eighties. Of course, history has kinder words for poor old Von: over the next nine years with Philly, he gathered 26.5 wins above replacement, easily surpassing what the Indians got out of all five of their guys. A Von Hayes jersey is both counter-culture and the inevitable failure of all counter-culture, the individual crushed by society.
1990 Dale Murphy: In 1990 the Phillies were playing .500 ball for the first time in years and had the opportunity to pick up a sure-fire Hall of Famer at the deadline for cheap. It didn’t work out. Dale Murphy doesn’t have the venom of the DeJesus jersey, though; it’s just sad. Murphy was and is a great guy. He deserved better. It was only after the team cut him loose, in 1993, that the Phillies began their next real run.
1999 Robert Person: Not particularly ironic in itself, but man, it’d be fun to have a jersey with “Person” on the back.
2000 Pat Burrell: A former #1 pick, Burrell is almost too entrenched in modern team history to qualify – he started for the team for nine years – and yet he was ultimately treated as a disappointment. As Dave Cameron pointed out upon his retirement, Burrell’s 18.5 WAR is pretty close to the median as far as number ones go. But in the end, aren’t we all Pat Burrells, never quite fulfilling our promise, never quite pleasing the people around us, but getting by?
2008: No one. How can you celebrate 2008 when all the players are still around in 2014? Sure, you might get a chuckle out of a Gregg Dobbs jersey, or maybe you’ll get a wistful rehash of Matt Stairs and his go-ahead home run in game 4 of the NLCS. And no one is ever going to fault you for a Jamie Moyer jersey, though Moyer’s legend almost transcends the teams he played for. Otherwise, what’s to say that won’t be muttered angrily at the bar in the bottom of the eighth, on some sweaty August evening?
In a way, Philadelphia is lucky to have so many of its heroes still around, particularly in this vagabond age. All too often we see the Loria strategy as teams and fans look only for more, and better. Still, it’s been six years from now, and maybe it’s time to let guys like Howard and Rollins grow up and move out of the house. Maybe it’s finally time to start thinking about the next run.
But there’s another guy still around from 2008, Ruben Amaro. And if you’re truly cynical about the Phillies, if you’re ready to invest in misery, there’s only one true choice.
2004: Tony Longmire
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