When a World Series Becomes a Defining Moment For a City
Through much of my childhood, and probably further in to my adult life than I would like to admit, I followed pro wrestling. One of my favorite wrestlers was the bad guy and heavy weight champ Ric Flair. Flair would hold up his championship belt and yell, â€œTo be the man, you have to beat the manâ€ and for the Philadelphia Phillies this is their shot at taking down the biggest name in sports.
The Phils are reigning World Series champs but let us be honest; when you face the Yanks on the biggest stage in the game you are the challenger regardless of your recent accomplishments. The Yankees’ 26 titles is the most in any of the four major sports besting the Canadiens’ 23 Stanley Cups, the Celtics’ 17 titles and the Steelers’ 6 Super Bowl wins. â€œGreatest franchise in sportsâ€ is the title that those who wear the pinstripes have earned. But in this time of clichÃ©s and political correctness when it comes time to answering the mediaâ€™s questions those with the Phillies have given answers from the heart which is somewhat refreshing. As soon as the Phils put the final nail in the Dodgers’ coffin both Ruben Amaro Jr. their GM and their manager Charlie Manuel basically said they wanted to play the Yanks because they were the best team in baseball.
You never just play the Bombers, though, in a World Series. The opposing team plays the icons of the game in Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle along with the historic moments that the Yanks have given baseball in the WS like Babeâ€™s called shot in 1932, Larsenâ€™s perfect game in â€˜56 and Jacksonâ€™s three home runs on three swings in â€™77. Even when the Yankees lose a World Series doesnâ€™t it seem like it always takes some type of Divine Intervention in a Game 7 to beat them? Bill Mazeroskiâ€™s home run in â€˜60 and Luis Gonzalezâ€™s broken bat hit off of Mariano Rivera in 2001 as exhibits A and B.
A short drive from New York City, though, is a city that knows that if they want to be respected beyond baseball they want, no make that need, to beat the Yankees. Last year the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays, and though it is great to earn that ring, it would have been nice to have had a shot at the Red Sox. In sports it is often more fun to beat a team whose name carries a little more cache like the BoSox as compared to who truly was a better team like the Rays.
Living just outside of Philly I can tell you that this was a championship starved city. No major sports team had won a title in 25 years and it was in 1980 the last time a WS was won here. People were so stoked that fans were flying to Tampa last year and buying tickets down there for the WS because paying for the trip and tickets was cheaper than getting scalped tickets in Philadelphia.
Either way, now that the title is here the fans are feeling it and want a shot at the bully. The Yanks are the biggest and the best and beating them in a series could lead to a word seldom heard in Philly sports â€“ dynasty. The town would have a baseball team with back-to-back titles with a team from The Big Apple as a notch on its belt and would be set up nicely for a â€¦gulpâ€¦.third possible title with the core of the team coming back in 2010.
You pick up any local paper here and you read about the complex the city has for being second rate in all things to NY and how before Philadelphia was taunted as NYâ€™s â€œsixth borough.â€ Nothing makes people here happier than to beat up on the Mets and demoralize them, but that is getting tiresome now. Two late season collapses and a Mets season destroyed by injury have the Philly Phaithful thirsting for new blood. The Yanks are Gothamâ€™s heart and soul and I can tell you the fans want nothing more than to use that city as a stepping stone to being called something special in sports.
This will be the Yankees’ 40th World Series appearance and they’re seeking title number twenty seven. On the flip side Philadelphia was established in 1883 as the Quakers and became the Phillies in 1890, this will be their seventh WS appearance and looking for title number three. The team is also the only one in professional sports where the organization has over 10,000 losses. Starting to see now where that insecurity from the “City of Brotherly Love” is coming from? The Phillies team today represents a new source of pride for the city when it comes to sports and the foreign territory of miracle wins and impossible endings actually going the home teamâ€™s way.
For Philadelphia, the excitement for November 1st is basically Christmas morning, hitting the lottery and having a date with Megan Fox all rolled into one. At 1 oâ€™clock the Eagles play the NY Giants at Lincoln Financial Field and then literally across the street that night the Phils will be hosting Game 4 of the WS against yet another NY team. Are you kidding me? You canâ€™t tell me the Man Upstairs isnâ€™t a sports fan. This is one of those days where calling in The National Guard seems like a reasonable option.
Essentially you are bringing together the football and baseball fans of Philly and NY to watch the most violent team sport in one rivalry and then turning around a few hours later and matching two more teams in a championship game. Toss in some animosity between the cities, a dash of jealousy by Philly fans, a hint of arrogance from NY ones and a healthy dose of tailgating (code word for alcohol) for everyone and this has all the makings of an epic day on the field and in the stands.
It will be interesting to see how some of the Yankees respond to the Philly fans. They have a huge advantage merely because they are the team everyone wants to see, so playing in front of sold out crowds is nothing noteworthy to them. But I question if they will have played in front of a larger or angrier crowd than they will get on the road here. Fenway, you say? Possibly, but the Sox and Yanks play so often each year it is tough for a crowd to get up for every game, I will argue.
Players like Jeter feed off of the hostility, you donâ€™t get called “The Captain” because you wilt under pressure. I do question, though, thin skinned players with rabbit ears for the crowd like A-Rod. In the NLCS the Philly fans were relentless on Manny Ramirez with the chants of â€œcheaterâ€ and â€œyou used steroids.â€ You just know the fans will be all over A-Rod and his past, and will surely dial it up a notch, so the question becomes whether he can block it out or does he press too hard and turn back into the choking A-Rod. If he truly loves Kate Hudson he will not bring her with him on the road – that would be like tossing chum into a shark tank. I picture Kate Hudson succumbing to the crowdâ€™s jeers, crying, and then being pelted by rally towels with the chants of â€œwipe your tears â€“ wipe your tears.â€
In the end, it will be a series that a fan with a true appreciation of the game will enjoy. Each team pretty much has a lineup that is loaded from top to bottom with guys who can flat out mash. Not to mention that they will be playing in the two ballparks that saw the most home runs this year, so some of the games could be slugfests. On the other hand, though, hurlers like Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia can shut down any lineup on a given night with the stuff they bring to the table.
Both have some of the biggest stars in the game. The Yankees trot out sure fire Hall of Famers in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera along with possibly A-Rod (will his steroids admission keep him out?) They also have teammates trying to build their resumes and make their mark in Bomberâ€™s lore like Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. The Phillies sport possibly the best second baseman in the game with Chase Utley, and at first base with Ryan Howard. Though still in the early part of their careers, I think if the two can avoid injury and continue to produce like they have then Cooperstown could be calling them both when all is said and done. Just like their opponents, the Phils have players like Jimmy Rollins and 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels as complimentary players who can take over a game.
I canâ€™t see this series being a cake walk for either squad because they both appear to be so evenly matched. The Yanks are great and you can see why they won over 100 games this year. The Phils want to repeat and know what a Series win over NY would mean to Philadelphia. My prediction: The Yankees will win title number 27â€¦.but not this year. Put me down for the Phillies in 7 games of what I hope will be one for the ages.