29 September 2011


“In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing ‘base’, a certain game of ball...Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms...the game of ball is glorious.” Brooklyn Eagle, July 23, 1846

I grew up in Missouri (pre-A’s) and Illinois. As someone wrote in SI circa 1966, “St. Louis is a town where a kid grows up with a Budweiser in one hand and a score card in the other.” Cardinals fans are the greatest fans in American sport.

The collapse of the Phillies in 1964 was an answered prayer for me, something I had waited for for as long as I could understand baseball. [For those who are culturally illiterate, the Phils led the league by 6 1⁄2 games with 12 to go. Then came a ten-game losing streak that ended the year for the Phils, although they ended the season tied for second with the Reds.]

The Cards went on to beat the Yanks in seven, only the second time that the Yanks had lost back-to-back World Series. My hero was, in Harry Caray’s words, “Barney Schultz, the Cards’ ace knuckle-baller.”

After I retired from the Marine Corps, I moved to the Philadelphia area, but it was that loveable band of misfits, the 1993 Phils, that captured my heart. Led by Dutch Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, and Curt Schilling, the day-to-day roster also included Pete “Inky” Incaviglia, rookie Mickey Morandini, Jim Eisenreich--a real "big leaguer", Rubén Amaro, Jr. (now the Phils’ GM), Larry Anderson (now one of the Phils’ broadcasters and my candidate for the Joe Garragiola award for best color commentator), and Mitch “The Wild Thing” Williams. In a classic “worst-to-first” season, the “Phighting Phils” took the lead in the NL East on opening day, and never relinquished the lead.

A rain-delayed double-header in July lasted just shy of 12 hours. Folks who left the game at midnight came back in the wee hours to see Mitch Williams win the second game on an RBI single at 4:41 AM.

In the NL championship series, the Phils beat the Braves (then in the West) 4 games to 2. The Series against the Blue Jays went to 6 games, but the Jays won the series on Joe Carter’s walk-off homer off Mitch Williams. [I have never seen that home run. I had a pillow case over my head for the actual hit, and I still cannot bear to see it when it is re-run. At the Hall of Fame in 1998, I turned away from a film clip of the homer. Another visitor looked at me and said, “My God, you’re a Phillies fan!” That was my epiphany.]

Then came the glorious years at the end of the first decade of a new century. 2007 marked the Phils return to post-season play, followed by the World Series win in 2008, which a merciful God allowed Harry Kalas to call just before he was called up to join the broadcast team of Mel Allen, Harry Caray, and others following the Heavenly Choir Nine.

There was a return to the series in 2009, won by the Yanks, a loss to the Rockies in the 2010 LCS, and now, another post season following the best year in Phillies history (102-60). That the 102d win came in an extra-innings win over the hapless, choke-prone Braves (which gave the Cards a thrilling come from behind wild card win) was icing on the cake.

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, Carlos Ruiz, and the pitchers, Roy “Doc” Halladay, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Vance Worley, Brad Lidge, and Ryan Madson, led by the skipper, Charlie Manuel will push the Eagles off the front page for awhile. I’ll be in agony while the Cards and Phils duke it out. Ironically, I'll be in Tampa which staged its own come-from-behind wild card run, for all of those games.

Still, it is the post season, the best days of the year.

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