The Bottom Line: Worse than the team it writes about.
Last season, the Philadelphia Phillies lost their ten-thousandth baseball game. The news hit Chicago baseball fans like a wave of locusts. After all, it's the Cubs who have the sad-sack reputation of Major League Baseball. But the Cubs haven't actually had a 100 loss season since the 1960's. They get all the attention because they're "loveable." Meanwhile, all the Phillies fans can do is sit there and grumble about how their team can't even receive credit for losing lots of baseball games. The Phillies have been constant losers since the invention of organized baseball. They were the last of the original baseball franchises to bring home the Commissioner's Trophy. They have very few pennants. Their sole World Series title came in 1980, 97 years after the introduction of the franchise. From 1917 to 1948, the Phillies never enjoyed a single winning season, and in fact would crack 70 wins all of two times during those years.
You Can't Lose 'Em All, Frank Fitzpatrick's account of the Phillies' only World Series-winning season, is a shining beacon of just how bad the Phillies have been. They can't even see a decent account of their moment in the sun. You Can't Lose 'Em All is a terrible book in a market renowned for its fluff. The howling wind sound you heard in 2001, when this book was hot off the presses, was the fierce booing of Phillies fans everywhere who saw their team's greatest moment condensed into this airline nugget.
The hardcover sleeve of You Can't Lose 'Em All claims the book contains the complete history of the Philadelphia Phillies. That would be true except for two things: The first thing is the history is contained entirely within the constraints of the first chapter, which is twenty-two pages long. The Phillies entered their one hundred and twenty-fifth year of existance this spring. The last seven years of that can safely be hacked off since You Can't Lose 'Em All was released in 2001. That leaves us with a history of about 117 or 118 years. What can we really learn about a team that old in twenty-two pages? A few interesting things, as it turns out, but those interesting things wouldn't be anything new to Phillies fans. We get the standard walkthrough about a stadium fire, two stadium collapses, the losing, things like that. A funny fact which I think should have been included was the Phillies using sheep as groundskeepers for a period in the 1930's. But even including that little tidbit of info doesn't excuse the second thing wrong with this "comprehensive" history: The chapter ends with the famous "Phold" of 1964, when the Phillies lead the National League by six and a half games with 12 left in the season and needing one win to clinch, and blowing it to the Cardinals. The sleeve also mentions something about a late-season drug scandal. But that's all it mentions: Something. It is never mentioned in the book.
The 1980 season proper doesn't actually begin until you reach the fifth chapter of this ten-chapter book. The tenth chapter is about the aftermath of the World Series victory. A baseball season which starts in April and ends in October is receiving less than a chapter a month with the Fitzpatrick treatment, and it also skips ahead right to August in the sixth chapter. Does anyone else here wonder what the Phillies were doing in between April and August? It's a grave mistake, especially when you're trying to describe how competitive the division was throughout the whole season. Chapters two, three, and four are all dedicated to the hot stove and a little bit to spring training. I understand how important the hot stove months are, but Fitzpatrick is taking way too much time in them to say much of anything. Well, maybe that's being too nasty. He actually talks mostly about Steve Carlton's bad attitude, Mike Schmidt's brooding, and how the arrival of Pete Rose was going to give the Phils a shot. Once the season finally arrives, Fitzpatrick spends too much time talking about how much the players hated each other and how much they hated manager Dallas Green.
A lack of play-by-play detail is common to this type of book, and that's not my problem. My problem is that it lacks too much detail. Ten chapters, two-hundred and thirty-eight pages, and Fitzpatrick never once tells us what record the 1980 Phillies amassed. In the meantime, he tries to tell us early on in the book how the seeds of the great 1980 season were planted in the mid-sixties. This is just flat-out ludicrous. Everyone has heard of a five-year rebuilding plan. Have you ever heard of a fifteen-year rebuilding plan? How about a fifteen-year rebuilding plan which began when the team's best player was barely old enough to ask his parents just what a "Phillie" was? No? Me neither. Yeah, Fitzpatrick needs some serious stretching to back up that explanation. But he goes on to insult your intelligence by not stretching at all and telling you to just accept what he says.
The killer with this book is that I've decried the incredible-single-season sports book as a whole. The 1980 Philadelphia Phillies appear to be one of the very few teams which really deserve to have a book based on their championship season. But You Can't Lose 'Em All is seriously strike-shortened. The lone good point of this book is the author's writing style. But in a season which had to be a marathon of obstacles, we get a kid treatment which backs down on giving too many essential details. You Can't Lose 'Em All doesn't invite us down to the baseball diamond. It invites you to read Phillies box scores from your home. In Seattle.
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