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Philadelphia Phillies

A major league baseball team playing in the 2009 World Series.

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Phightin' Phils

  • Nov 17, 2012
  • by
It's remarkable to me that the Chicago Cubs somehow get the all-time loser reputation, along with the Boston Red Sox until 2004. The former's first half of their existence is littered with Pennants, and even though they endured a very long and extended down period between 1945 and the mid-80's, they've reached a point in which they're at least trying and have had numerous bright spots. The Red Sox spent their curse years winning scattershot Pennants and were spending a ton of money to field good players and good teams. Baseball's real all-time loser team is the inauspicious Philadelphia Phillies, a team which was so bad and so poorly run that the probable reason casual fans don't realize that is because Phillies fans would want to keep the team hidden in shame. As Frank Fitzpatrick wrote in his book You Can't Lose 'em All (maybe the worst baseball book I've ever read, though Fitzpatrick does have a smooth and easy writing style which didn't make me hate it), it's easy to see why Phillies fans didn't adopt the mindset of Cubs and Red Sox fans by saying their team was cursed. Cursed would have been an improvement. The Phillies were doomed.

The Phillies were founded in 1883 and for all that history, there are just two big things which really designate them from the other teams in Major League Baseball, neither of which is a huge deal. The first is that since their founding, the Phillies are the oldest team in the league to have neither moved nor changed their name, although attempts have been made. The second is that in 2007, they lost their 10,000th game. Yes, written out I just said they LOST ten thousand games. That's more than any other sports team on the planet, although we have to take into account the team's longevity and the lengthy baseball season to get them there.

The Phillies, as I mentioned, were founded in 1883 by Al Reach and John Rogers. It was an expansion team, one of the teams now known as the National League's Classic Eight. They were given the spot to replace the recently-folded Worcester Brown Stockings. There are many sources - including the Phillies - which claim the new owners bought the Brown Stockings, moved them, and renamed them, but there's a ton of available evidence suggesting otherwise - kind of like the stupid myth that Abner Doubleday created the sport. The new team was named the Philadelphia Quakers, and they immediately set out to compile a winning percentage of .173. For all their losing, that's STILL the team's worst ever. That's saying something, and it was a sign of things to come.

Since teams were frequently named only after their cities back then, the team eventually just changed its name to the Philadelphias. Printing presses were rather limited back then, though, so the word "Philadelphia" was difficult to fit into a banner headline, and papers kept calling them the Quakers. At some point they started just calling them the "Phillies," and the owners accepted it because, after all, "Phillies" told you everything you needed to know about who they were and where they were from. There were attempts to change the name. One early one revolved around them being called the Live Wires, which an owner hoped would reflect the style of play he was hoping to see. Another owner wanted them to change their name to the Blue Jays. It was almost successful, and the team had even adopted the uniform logo, but when John Hopkins University threw a fit - their nickname was the Blue Jays - it was dropped. A third try had one rather unimaginative owner try to get the name officially changed to the "Phils." Yes, the Phils. Even if that had taken hold, I'm having trouble seeing just what a difference it would have made, because "Phillies" and "Phils" are so naturally interchangeable anyway.

In 1888, the Phillies found a dominant player in Ed Delahanty. In 1890, he jumped to the Players' League, but came crawling back when that league folded. He stayed with the Phillies from 1891 to 1901 and became their first star, and one of the league's first stars. His career stats were dizzying: .346 lifetime batting average, 101 homers - which was unthinkable in the pre-modern and Dead Ball eras - 1464 RBI, and 455 stolen bases. He was also big into his liquors, and in 1903 his drunken conduct got him kicked off a train. Since he had to get from Buffalo, New York to Fort Erie, Ontario apparently right off, in lieu of finding an inn and sleeping off the alcohol he decided to hoof it across the bridge. No one knows for sure just what the hell happened next. Some accounts say Delahanty was screaming about death that night. Others make note of a mysterious man who followed him onto the International Railway Bridge. No matter what it was, the end result was still the same: Big Ed took a swan dive. There's evidence of an accident, a suicide, and a robbery murder, and Delahanty was dead the next morning. He was playing for the Washington Senators by then, but his mysterious death sort of typified the Phillies' fortunes.

When the American League began operating as a major league in 1901, they created the Philadelphia Athletics to compete with the Phillies. There was no competition. The Athletics raided the NL, and one prize they claimed from the Phillies was Napoleon Lajoie. Him and the other ex-Phillies were thriving in the AL, and the AL's first five batting champions were all former Phillies. In 1902, the Phillies finished 46 games behind. The next year, their home stadium, the Baker Bowl, collapsed, killed twelve people, and injured hundreds. The team needed to be sold by its original owners, who sensed a lawsuit avalanche which they couldn't afford to pay off. In the meantime, the Athletics had turned into a juggernaut that even the mighty Red Sox were afraid of. From 1901 to 1914, Philadelphia's AL team won six Pennants and three World Series.

In 1915, just one year after winning the Pennant, the Athletics finally took their turn in the basement, which made it a convenient time for the Phillies to finally be wielding some superior talent of their own. Their pitching lineup for that season was all-time great Grover Cleveland Alexander, and at the plate they had batting champion Gavvy Cravath, who that season set the single-season home run record at 24. The 1915 Phillies won 90 games and took home the Pennant, stealing the As' thunder for once. Alexander even won his start in the World Series. The Phillies won their first-ever World Series game over the Red Sox. Fitzpatrick writes in his book that in a photo of the victory which I couldn't find, the fans in Philadelphia have looks of genuine shock on their faces over the Phillies actually winning a World Series game. It didn't hold, though; Boston won all the following World Series games.

The Phillies' owner at the time, William Baker, was cheap. For most of his tenure, the organization only had one scout. Also, he decided he didn't want to pay Alexander what he was worth, and so Alexander jumped ship. Alexander went on to pitch another very prominent eleven years for the Chicago Cubs and Saint Louis Cardinals, and by 1918 the Phillies were languishing again. They finished sixth that year, and it marked the beginning of one of the nastiest stretches of futility ever suffered by any sports team. From 1918 to 1948, the Phillies had one winning season. ONE. It was in 1932, and seeing as how their record that year was 78-76, it was still a write-off. During that entire 30-year stretch, a great season was any season in which the Phillies finished in sixth place or above. They only accomplished that twice. They were never a serious factor past June, finished in last 17 times, and another seven years saw them stay out of the basement by one spot.

In the 20's and 30's, the Phillies fielded an outfield of stars in Cy Williams, Lefty O'Doul, and Triple Crown winner Chuck Klein and still weren't any good. They were in part a victim of some very odd dimensions in their home park, the Baker Bowl, mostly in the form of The Baker Wall in right field. All baseball fans know how The Green Monster in Fenway Park stymies batters. The Green Monster is 37 feet high and 310 feet away from home plate, and known for turning routine pop flies into home runs while keeping slow-rising power blasts in play. Yeah, so take The Green Monster and imagine if it stood at 60 feet high. Then put it in right field and move it in by another 30 feet. Yeah, the place loved hitters, and they loved it back. Especially in 1930, when the Phils surrendered 1199 runs, a record which is still on the books. The team was also so poor that it started to let the Baker Bowl - once one of the finest parks in the league - dilapidate bit by bit. In 1925 the team got so desperate that it resorted to using sheep to cut the grass. Fans were often showered with rust if a home run hit the girders, and the right field grandstand collapsed in 1926. That forced the team into the Athletics' Shibe Park for the following season. The team by now had changed hands again, this time going to shoe king Gerald Nugent. He kept trying to move the Phillies to Shibe Park permanently, even if it meant he would be a tenant of the Athletics. But the Baker Bowl's owner wouldn't let the team out of its lease until 1938, and then it was only because the city threatened to condemn the place.

1941 brought the low-even-by-Phillies-standards record of 43-111. The next year, MLB needed to give the team an advance just to get the players to Spring Training. Nugent needed to sell the team. A very popular legend - confirmed by the autobiography of Bill Veeck - says Veeck tried to buy the team around this time, implode it, and restock it with the best players of the Negro League. Unfortunately, Veeck overlooked one detail: He forgot baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was racist as hell and told Landis about the idea, he says, out of respect for Landis's position. Landis, and National League president Ford Frick oversaw the sale to lumber broker William Cox when they found out what Veeck wanted to do.

Cox wanted the team to win, and he had the money to make it happen. He invested in the team payroll, player development, and the farm system. The results began showing immediately, and the Phillies managed to avoid finishing last for the first time in five years in 1943. They weren't going to be contenders right at that time. Phillies fans, though, appreciated the effort, and team attendance went up for the first time in 30 years. Although Cox soon had to sell the team to Bob Carpenter, Carpenter continued what Cox started: Spending! More money for the farm teams, and in 1949 a young and talented core lifted the Phillies to an 81-73 record, good enough for third. The team called up Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts. In 1950, Ashburn and Roberts led the young Phillies, a talented group of youngsters affectionately nicknamed the Whiz Kids, to the team's first Pennant since 1915. They suffered a brief late skid during the season, and when the Pennant had to be settled on the last day, Dick Sisler rose to the occasion and hit a tenth-inning homer against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Their luck didn't carry through the World Series, though, and the New York Yankees swept them.

The Whiz Kids team marked a turning point in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies. Was there bad baseball after that? Yep. Did they break hearts? You bet they did! But the Phillies, after that 1950 season, never quite plunged to the depths people recognized them for from 1918 to 1948 again. Also, 1950 turned out to be the perfect time for the Phillies to peak. At the time, the Athletics, ravaged by terrible financial problems, had been fielding terrible teams of their own for some time, so the Whiz Kids cemented the Phils' status as the city's official team and paved the Athletics' path for their 1954 exit from Philadelphia. The Phillies were competitive for the first half of the 50's. Then they were bad again in the late 50's - not putrid this time, just bad. In 1962 they climbed back to respectability, with standouts like Dick Allen, Jim Bunning, and Johnny Callison.

Phillies fans are going to gag now, but I have to mention this because it became an important part of both team and baseball lore. 1964 looked to be another great building step from the previous two seasons. But that year, what the Phillies did was just pure magic. They played incredible baseball, standing up in a very strong National League, and most of the way through the year, they ran away from the pack. On Father's Day, Jim Bunning even pitched a perfect game! By the end of the season, with only twelve games left to play, every team in the NL shrugged and considered business a wrap for the year. After all, the Phillies had dominated, and they were now just one win away from the Pennant. Their closest competitors were the Saint Louis Cardinals, who lagged by six and a half games, and there were only twelve games left to play. Yeah, shit was done for the year. So there the Phillies were, playing a routine game against the Cincinnati Reds, when Reds player Chico Ruiz made a sudden and ill-advised break for home with his teammate Frank Robinson at bat. Somehow, this attempt to steal home was successful, and it broke a 0-0 tie for the game's only run. The Phillies lost the game. It was the first loss in a sweep by the Reds. Then the Phillies played a four-game set against the Milwaukee Braves, and got swept against them too. The Phillies had now dropped seven in a row, and this caused them to lose their division lead to the Cardinals, falling into a tie for second with the Reds. Fortunately, the Cardinals happened to be the Phillies' next opponent, and the sweet ring of redemption would surely occur when they took back their spot in first right from those who had taken it… Right? RIGHT?! Nope. Saint Louis smelled blood. They swept the Phillies too. The Phillies finally solved their problems for the final two games of the season, but they had fallen to third by then and were out. Whether or not the Phillies were the best team in the NL that year is debatable, but no matter what, they should have won the 1964 Pennant. A last-place team could have pulled off a single win in that situation. The "Phold" is one of the sore points of Philadelphia sports lore, and a display of just how heartbreaking baseball can be. After that, you can't blame a fan for giving up on the Phillies.

The "Phold" had an effect on the Phillies through the rest of the 60's. They could never mount a threat quite as serious for awhile. By 1972, the Phillies were once again the worst team in baseball, winning only 59 games. There was a show of a serious sliver of silver, though. They had this new pitcher named Steve Carlton, and he was something. He was responsible for 27 of the team's 59 victories. In 1974, second baseman Dave Cash decided it was time to launch yet another one of those perpetually doomed quests. He coined the phrase "Yes we can!" for the Phillies, who led their division for 51 days only to go 25-32 over the last two months. But during the 70's, the Phillies started stocking up again, claiming Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, and the greatest Phillie, Mike Schmidt, who is also in the conversation for the greatest third baseman of all. In the late 70's, the Phillies were serious threats. From 1976 to 1978, they won their division every year only to fall in the NLCS.

In 1979, the Phillies picked up Pete Rose, a hard-headed player who couldn't stand the idea of losing. In 1980, the Phillies won the NL East again. In a classic NLCS against the Houston Astros, four of the five games needed to be settled in overtime, and the Phillies prevailed to win their third Pennant. In the World Series, they would be facing the Kansas City Royals. Throughout most of the series, Lady Luck apparently decided Phillies fans had suffered enough. All those little quirks and hobnobs that had been happening against the Phillies all appeared to be happening FOR them this time. Clutch plays were seen, gambles worked, and the Phillies overmatched the Royals and came out on the top of a six-game series. The city went nuts; it had been 97 years since the team was created, and 77 since the World Series was created. The Phillies were the last of the original baseball teams to finally win the World Series.

The Phillies went centennial in 1983, and they celebrated that with a fourth Pennant. In the World Series, they came up short against the Baltimore Orioles. The core was getting older, though, and they couldn't sustain the team forever. The Phillies went back into mediocrity late in the 80's and early 90's. In 1992, they were back in their familiar basement dwelling. The next year, though, with new upcoming stars like Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, and Curt Schilling, the Phillies became a gritty, hard team of characters who did whatever it took. Kruk defined them as 24 morons and one Mormon. The mullet look of the team earned them the nickname "Macho Row," and the Phillies went from worst to first, powering their way to the Pennant. They lost the World Series in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays. They didn't have much success for the rest of the decade, though, mainly because divisions were realigned again and the Phillies now had to contend with the Atlanta Braves juggernaut that terrorized the National League under the new alignment. They did introduce players like Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu, Randy Wolf, and Placido Polanco during those years, though.

In 2001, new manager Larry Bowa led the team to an 86-76 record, their first winning record since 1993. Bowa's teams contended and introduced the upcoming generation of Phillies stars - Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, and Cole Hamels. He was a respectable manager. He only had one losing record, and even that record was an 80-81 year in 2002. Two games into 2004, Bowa was fired, apparently with the belief that while good, he wasn't good enough. Charlie Manuel took over, and the Phillies kept loading, adding the likes of Matt Holliday, Roy Halladay, and Brad Lidge. In 2008, they were ready. They were also a favored pick, and they lived up to their billing, going to the World Series again, where they won their second title by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays in five games. The next year, the Phillies returned to the World Series, making it the first back to back Pennant in their history. They lost the Series in six games to the Yankees, though.

Since then, the Phillies have been strong. This last season was a disappointment, but it may well have been a hiccup. These losers have been fantastic since the millennium. Although the late 70's and early 80's years probably have their fans, now may be the Golden Age of the Philadelphia Phillies.

As one might expect from a team with a lot of losses on its record, there aren't many Hall of Famers known exclusively for their contributions to the Phillies. Richie Ashburn, Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton, Chuck Klein, Robin Roberts, and Mike Schmidt are it, even though 35 Phillies players overall are in Cooperstown. Ashburn, Bunning, Schmidt, Carlton, and Roberts have also had their numbers retired, along with Jackie Robinson, who was never a Phillie, and Klein and Grover Cleveland Alexander are honored with symbols because they played before numbering players was a thing.

The main Phillies rival right now is the New York Mets. This was a low-key rivalry to a large extent, excluding several brawls in the 80's. It started heating up in the millennium, though, when both teams were getting really good. The divisional contests between the two over the last decade have been hot and exciting, and it hit a high point in 2007 when the Mets, who had led the division most of the year, collapsed and the Phillies took over. They used to have a Pennsylvania rivalry with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was considered one of the best, but it fell by the wayside when the Pirates were stupidly moved to the NL Central for some reason.

You might notice that before 1980, the Phillies won all of two Pennants. Their Phold happened before 1980. Since 1980, they've won five Pennants and two World Series titles, including the ones they picked up that very year. In my review of the Cubs, I opened with an observation about how teams' overall fortunes don't seem to ever turn around, whether it's for good or bad. The NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers changed their long-term fortunes for good. The Cubs turned their for bad. It isn't something a lot of teams can do at all, but with those pre-1980 post-1980 differences, it might actually be possible that we could be seeing one with the losingest baseball team on Earth.

If the Phillies do change for good and end up among the reigning kings of baseball, though, certainly no fan in this generation will ever forget Philadelphia's troubled baseball past. This is a team, after all, for whom the best manager, Gene Mauch, had an overall losing record (646-684) and oversaw the worst collapse in baseball history. (Well, second-best. Charlie Manuel is decidedly the best now.) 51 managers have been in Philadelphia's hot seat, so there are bound to be a lot of inconsistencies. Most of the Phillies managers who won more games than they lost either only managed a handful of games, won barely more than they lost, or were interims. The city's notoriously boisterous fanbase probably assisted in more than a few walking off.

The Philadelphia Phillies are currently enjoying their Golden Age, and tickets to the bandwagon are available and free. There's no better time to hop aboard. Of course, if you take in a ballgame while visiting the City of Brotherly Love itself, you'll at least be on the bandwagon for that game you attend. It's not like the fans will want you to be anything else.

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November 22, 2012
A pitching staff is critical to winning the World Series but you still need to get some runs in to win.
November 23, 2012
Yeah. I think the success of the Yankees proves that.
November 23, 2012
Yes. It does.
More Philadelphia Phillies reviews
Quick Tip by . September 29, 2011
Without a doubt they have the best pitching staff in baseball and that almost always will win a series.
Quick Tip by . October 22, 2009
Congrats to the Phillies and best of luck in the World Series. As for the Dodgers, there's always next year.
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Nicholas Croston ()
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About this sports team


The Philadelphia Phillies are a National League Eastern Division team in Major League Baseball.  The team is based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and are currently the raining and defending 2008 World Series Champions.  The Phillies currently play ball at Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia which opened in April of 2004.  The Phillies are known to be the longest running, one-named team in all of Major League Baseball.

The Phillies franchise was founded in 1883 in Philadelphia, PA, replacing the team in Worcester.  The team has played their Major League games in a variety of different stadiums, the first being Recreation Park.  This was followed by the  Baker Bowl from 1887  through 1938, Connie Mack Stadium from 1938 through 1970, Veterans Stadium from 1971 through 2003 and finally Citizens Bank Park which the Phillies are currently playing in.

The Phillies were originally named the Quakers, but the name changed to the Phillies as times changed.  For a while the team were known by both names, but in 1890, the team became officially known as the Phillies.  As a new team, the Phillies had up and downs like any other and went from 1918 to 1948 with just one winning season.

A little under forty years later, the Phillies finally made it to the World Series in 1980 against the Kansas City Royals.  Thanks to great hitters like Phillies legend Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose, the Phillies won the World Series in ...
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League: National League
Ballpark: Citizens Bank Park
Championships: 2
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