Be kind to all the Philadelphia natives today if we seem a little giddy — improbably, the Phillies just won the World Series! Only the second such crown in 126 years of baseball in the City of Brotherly Love (sometimes), and the first sports championship of any time for Philly in 25 years.
The Phillies were my first sports love, and they jilted me badly in the very first season that I ever paid attention to them. 1964. The ‘64 Phillies, leading the league all season, collapsed like a cooling souffle that heady year. Led by the legendary-but-doomed manager Gene Mauch, the team had such notables as Jim Bunning (back when he was a perfect pitcher, before he became a Kentucky Senator) and Richie Allen. I can still remember the names of players on that team! Maybe that’s because that season, like all kids and grownups in Philly, I was glued to my transistor radio (imagine long ago and far away in a land before iPods…) savoring every pitch, cheering at the crack of the bats hitting long balls for the team that was destined to march into the World Series…. NOT! In one of the most shocking professional sports catastrophes ever (read the book!), at the very end of the season the league-leading Phillies lost ten games straight, also losing the opportunity to play their first-ever World Series. At the ripe old age of 13 I swore off baseball forever.
But, baseball fever has a way of recurring after years of dormancy, usually around the time of the World Series. This star-crossed team in red pinstripes actually managed to win their first World Series in 1980, but then the drought continued. Hope loomed in 1993, but the Phillies lost the World Series on a 9th inning home run by Joe Carter. The pitcher who threw that ball, Mitch Williams, had to leave town for a long time because the notorious Phillies fans were after his head.
Why reminisce about baseball when there’s a hot presidential election just days away? Well, it’s really good to take a mental break from all that back-and-forth about tax cuts and health care and who’s palling-around with radicals and terrorists and salesclerks at Nieman’s.
But even more pertinent, baseball and the Phillies championship reminds us of one basic fact of human life: it ain’t over till it’s over. Anybody who thinks the election is a done deal didn’t sit on the edge of their seat last night in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on second and a full count wondering if Brad Lidge’s last pitch to the Ray’s Eric Hinske would be a home run or a third strike. Lucky for the Phillies, it was Strike Three.