Image by Brian G. Wilson via FlickrIn the list of the 20 worst seasons in MLB history, the Philadelphia Phillies appear four times. The only other team whose name appears on that list more than once is the long-defunct St. Louis Browns. The Phillies are a team that one year finished 62½ games out of 1st place, in a 154-game season. This is the team that, in 1964, blew the National League pennant that they needed only one more win to clinch by losing 10 straight games, 7 of them at home. Life as a Phillies fan has not always been a bed of roses. Over the past four decades that I've been on this planet, the Phils have had many a season where cheering them on was an exercise in painful futility.
The Phillies also have always had some of the most loyal fans any team can hope to have. From the joyous successes they have achieved in the past few years to the darkest days of the late '80s and early '90s, the Phillies Phaithful have always been there. Why? Well if you love the game of baseball, with all its ups and downs, its quirks and follies, its moments of exultation and its moments of despair, you can't help but love the Phils - they've seen it all, experienced it all, and have had more staying power than any other club (since 1883). They embody everything baseball is and hopes to be.
Not buying that? OK, then how about, with 10 days to go until Opening Day, I give you 10 damn good reasons you should be a Phillies fan starting with the 2010 season (if you're not one of us already!)?
10. "High Hopes"
The Phillies' version of "Win one for the Gipper." The Phillies' legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas would lead the club and the fans in the singing of this song after they clinched the 1993 National League Championship, the lyrics being perfect for a team that went from worst to first. When Harry left us last year, the song began being played after every home victory, and the entire stadium sings along!
9. The Phillie Phanatic
Named "Best Mascot Ever" by Sports Illustrated and one of only three mascots enshrined in Cooperstown, The Phanatic is the team mascot all other team mascots wish they could be! All the antics your local team's mascot does? The Phanatic did 'em first, and with more personality! Other mascots have come and gone - including San Diego's fabled Chicken - but the Phanatic endures and continues to entertain!
8. Bull's BBQ
As the slugging left-fielder on the great Phillie teams of the '70s through their World Championship 1980 season, Greg "The Bull" Luzinski was beloved by Phillie fans. As the creator of Bull's BBQ, home of the greatest pulled pork and pit beef sandwiches you'll ever find at any ballpark anywhere, The Bull has endeared himself to a whole new generation of Phillie fans. It's a must-visit concession when you're at Citizens Bank Park. And if you're lucky, The Bull himself might serve up your sandwich and sign your ticket!
7. Phillies Tradition
To be a Phillies fan is to be steeped in tradition. The club's moments of glory are ingrained in every Phanatic. Parents tell their children, who learn and recite their Phillies history as well as they do their multiplication tables. Even the youngest generation of Phillies fan knows about - and those who were there can and happily will tell you all about - The 1950 Whiz Kids, Jim Bunning's perfect game on Father's Day in 1964, Rick Wise hitting two homeruns while pitching a no-hitter in '71, the "Shootout in Chicago" in 1979 when the Phillies beat the Cubs 23-22 in ten innings, Schmidtty's 500th homerun, the Divisional Champ teams of '77 & '78, the World Champs of '80 & '08, the Wheeze Kids of '83 and the Worst-to-First misfits of '93. Phillies fans celebrate these and many more as if they happened just yesterday - it's a team whose history remains alive!
6. Harry & Whitey
Speaking of tradition...being a Phillies fan means honoring the memories of the finest, funniest, most knowledgeable and most entertaining duo ever to broadcast a ballgame. For many a fan my age, the voices of Harry Kalas and Richie "Whitey" Ashburn are what a baseball game is supposed to sound like. They were two old friends sitting down to watch a game and share some stories; we were lucky enough to be within earshot. They brought the game to life on radio, and added to the game we watched on TV. They rode every emotional roller-coaster the Phillies took us on with us - they were the ones in the front car, screaming their heads off at the most exciting points. Ashburn left us in 1997, and Harry passed last year, but to Phillies fans everywhere, they still call the games.
5. Leslie Gudel
For the past 10+ years now, Leslie Gudel has been covering the Phillies (and other sports) for Philadelphia's Comcast Sports. You can keep your Jeanne Zelaskos, your Erin Andrewses, your Melissa Starks, your Hazel Maes...Leslie beats them all! She became Philadelphia's first female sports anchor She knows her stuff, and while she's definitely a fan of the Phillies, she's not afraid to speak up when they screw up. Over her time in Philadelphia, she's become one of the best, male or female!
4. Larry Anderson
Simply put, L.A. is the best color man in the business, bar none. When Whitey passed away in 1997, Anderson stepped into to the booth. He never once tried to fill the shoes of His Whiteness (no one ever could); instead, L.A. brought his own brand of story-telling, strategy explanation, and game description to the booth, and helped us heal from the loss of Whitey without replacing him. Paired with Harry Kalas, L.A. became more confident behind the mic with each season. That he's a naturally funny guy helped, but his love of the game comes through every word, and that is what connects with the fans. Now paired with Scott Franzke in the radio booth, there are many, many fans who wish that we could have L.A. back on TV! I know I'm not alone in occasionally watching the game with the TV muted and the radio broadcast supplying the soundtrack!
3. Charlie Manuel
Charlie Manuel took over the managerial reigns of the club from Larry Bowa in 2004. It took a little while for Manuel to find his footing with the club and for Philadelphia to fully embrace Charlie, but he has proven himself over his tenure with the Phillies to be the perfect manager for this club. Manuel's public style is relaxed and down to earth, and he believes in his players - sometimes supporting them to a point that drives fans crazy, such as his decision to stick by Brad Lidge last year as his closer despite disastrous outing after disastrous outing. But you can't argue with success, and I'd say leading the club to three straight NL East pennants, two straight National League pennants, and two trips to the World Series - winning one of them - is success by anyone's measure.
2. Chooch, J-Roll, The Flyin' Hawaiian, Hollywood, Ra-UUUUUL!, and more
You have to love a team with personality, and the Phils have personality in spades! Just look at the nicknames on the team right now. And what makes this team work is that there are no prima-donna superstars. Everyone plays his role, and they celebrate each other's successes, stepping back to allow each teammate their share of the spotlight. Come on, could you ask for a better infield than Howard, Utley, Rollins and Polanco? Or a better outfield than Ibanez, Victorino and Werth? Ruiz has proven himself to be a valuable captain behind the plate and quite the clutch hitter when he's up to bat. With the addition of Roy Halladay and the return of a revived Cole Hamels, the pitching staff will again be among the toughest in the league. This is a team that's been to the Series twice, and still has its best years ahead!
1. The Phans!
Philadelphia fans may have a bad reputation outside of the City of Brotherly Love, but those of us who live the Phillie-Phan life know that those on the outside are simply misinterpreting our passion for our beloved Phillies! Phillies fans will strike up conversations with you, debate strategy, talk about the old days, whatever - whether they've known you for years or just met you by sitting in the same row. New Phillies fans are welcomed with open arms. The excitement in the stadium is electric, and again, when the whole stadium joins in singing "High Hopes," well, there's nothing better! The fans here are the best - but they are fiercely loyal. (Walk into Citizens Bank Park wearing a Mets jersey if you doubt our loyalty!)
So what are you waiting for? Declare your Phillies Phandom today, and join us in cheering on Your Defending National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies as they begin the journey back to the World Series and regain the championship!