Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If It Ain't the Mets, It's Us

Chris Wilson, on fans of the Phillies:

Of the many dubious achievements that Philadelphia sports fans have notched over the years—throwing snowballs at Santa Claus, batteries at J.D. Drew, etc., etc.—perhaps the most telling is that they once forced Mike Schmidt to trot onto the field wearing sunglasses and a wig. Schmidt was one of the many Philadelphia athletes who never forged a good working relationship with the city's fans. His frustration culminated in 1985 when he described the Philly crowd to the Montreal Gazette as "a mob scene" that was "beyond help." Only the stunt with the wig—which Schmidt borrowed from Larry Andersen, who apparently kept a wig on hand in the clubhouse for such occasions—could save him from the torrential booing that awaited in Veterans Stadium. It's to the credit of the Philly faithful that they saw the humor in the wig stunt, cheering the third baseman for his ingenuity.
I submit that in the last 50 years, the Philadelphia Phillies' only bona fide rival has been the Philadelphia Phillies. Philadelphia's brand of sports navel-gazing—or rather, navel-scowling—is punishing to players across all the city's franchises. (See Donovan McNabb.) Nothing is more frustrating than watching a promising young player fail to click with the fans, get all dyspeptic about it, and leave the team—only to launch a phenomenal career elsewhere. Scott Rolen comes to mind. The third baseman was drafted by the Phillies in 1993 and won the Rookie of the Year award four years later. As his numbers flagged over four losing seasons in the majors, his once enthusiastic fans soured, and after the 2001 season, he declined to sign a long-term contract with the team. He was traded to the Cardinals in 2002, where he won a championship ring in 2006. For the duration of his time with the Cards, he was enthusiastically booed in Philadelphia...
For a time this season, though, Philly seemed on the precipice of returning to its old ways. In August, as the team was struggling, [Phillies shortstop Jimmy] Rollins indicted Phillies fans on the Best Damn Sports Show Period. "When you're doing good, they're on your side," he said. "When you're doing bad, they're completely against you." In the short term, Rollins earned the usual helping of abuse, more or less confirming his sentiments. But in the long run, though, the comment was as strategically wise as the "team to beat" quote, both for Rollins and the franchise. Philly fans "like someone who occasionally speaks his mind," Westcott says. "They like to see a guy stick his neck out." They also like to see a guy who wins: Rollins played his best baseball of the season in September, and the Phils once again passed the Mets to make the playoffs.
Sometimes I describe it this way: sports fans in Philadelphia treat every player on virtually every team the way Detroit fans treat the Red Wings' goalies. It's pretty nuts, but like everything else, Philadelphia is Detroit on a grand scale, albeit with a little more upside.

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