Fan-a-Delphia: An Analysis of Philadelphia Sports Fans

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Phillies World Series Pep Rally: Franklin Square by Vincent J. Brown on flickr.com, via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivatives license.With all four of Philadelphia’s professional sports teams in action at present, Philadelphia sports fandom is in full swing, pass, dribble, and slap shot. And with most eyes on the Phillies and their quest for a repeat World Series championship against the Yankees, the New York Times has posted a nice piece on the essential character of the Philadelphia fan.

Mike Tanier’s “In Philadelphia, Heroes With a Lunch Pail” (Saturday, October 31, 2009) proposes the “Schmidt-Schultz Fan Appreciation Axis,” with the cooly reliable Mike Schmidt, a star by any measure, less appreciated than Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, who helped the Flyers win consecutive Stanley Cups with his grit (and his fists):

Most cities would treasure Mike Schmidt, a three-time most valuable player who led the Phillies to their first World Series title. Philly old-timers, however, swear that Schmidt stank in the clutch, his 548 home runs somehow producing only 274 runs batted in.

Philly fans preferred Greg Luzinski, a portly slugger who played left field like a brontosaurus flailing in a tar pit. Schmidt was aloof and sensitive, Luzinski flabby and fun.

While Mike Tanier interjects a few incendiary jabs typical of most writing about Philadelphia sports fans—”Philadelphia’s most beloved sports legends provided hooliganism and success”—the article nonetheless provides a fair look at the social and emotional context surrounding sports’ finest, most passionate fans.

(Image courtesy of Vincent J. Brown via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivatives licence.)

Rainmaker Redux

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The Washington, DC, area finally got rain yesterday after a very dry July. You’re welcome.

Downpour in the Lights on flickr.com by Cathalain Carter via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial license.

For you see, I, along with two brave compadres, went to the baseball game between the Nationals and the Cardinals last night, triggering the deluge, just like we ushered in the serious rain this past May by going to a game. And this game, a 4-1 rain-shortened win for the Cards, was the make-up date for that game.

Sitting in the right field upper deck, under the overhang, we watched the rain stream down in sheets, steaming as it hit the large banks of floodlights (notice all the water imagery here?). Frankly, the rain provided a more enjoyable experience than the baseball, but we can’t really complain, as we went to the park twice on $10 tickets.

So, for the price of a ticket and some cash for concessions, I’m available for all your rainmaking needs.

(Image courtesy of Cathalain Carter via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial license.)

Rainmaker in a Nationals Hat

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I would just like to publicly apologize for this rain-soaked week the Washington area has borne. My fault. Sorry.

See, I decided to go to a baseball game for the first time since I visited the “new” Comiskey back in its inaugural season in 1991. So you can forgive me for thinking that the baseball gods would offer up good weather for my first game in eighteen years.

Nationals Park on flickr.com by afagen via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike license.

Instead, it rained all day and the Nats game against the Cards was eventually postponed, but not until we’d sat there, noshing on half-smokes from a Ben’s Chili Bowl outpost (apparently not as good as the real thing) and drinking not-too-overpriced beers, for two hours. And it has rained pretty much ever since.

Still, the rain sparsened out the crowd (not that the Nats are drawing huge these days anyway), giving me and my compadres run of the house.

The park’s physical dimensions are quite human-scaled, and while it holds over forty thousand, it doesn’t seem that large. For six hundred million in taxpayer dollars, you kind of want imposing, but I digress. Our upper right terrace seats, at $10 each (plus almost that weight in fees), offered very good views of the field, barely even worthy of the nosebleed moniker.

While we were split over the aesthetic merits of the new in-motion statues of former Washington players, and the art in general at the park, it was, on the whole, a decent way to spend a rainy afternoon, even if we didn’t see any baseball. After eighteen years of waiting, another season without won’t kill me.

(Image courtesy of afagen via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike license.)

Bill Lyon on Harry Kalas

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For as long as I’ve been alive, one man has called Philadelphia Phillies games, a voice I remember from a tinny bedside radio on summer nights visiting my grandmother in South Philly, the play-by-play competing with the sounds from the narrow street below the rowhouse. He called every one of “Michael Jack” Schmidt’s 548 home runs. He was the voice of the Phillies for several generations of fans.

The Parade on Flickr.com by thewestend, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives Licence.

Harry Kalas passed away yesterday before the Phils took the field against the Washington Nationals in the Nats home opener. And, as is often the case, Bill Lyon returns to print in the Inquirer to help the city come to terms with another momentous event:

Harry the K did play-by-play, and he not only did it uncommonly well, he spared us the histrionics and the shrieking and the rudeness that pollute far too many airways these days.

Harry the K was an oasis of calm in a roiling sea of nastiness and raging negativity.

He was, of course, the property of the Phillies, but he never played the role of fawning company shill. It was the Fightin’s he wanted to win, but he credited the opponent when it was deserved.

I’m the first person to admit that I’m not much of a baseball fan and that I haven’t listened to Harry Kalas call a game in years. But even I know that Philadelphia has lost just a little bit of its soul and that Bill Lyon has helped by putting it right back.

(Image courtesy of thewestend, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives Licence.)

From Here to Boo-ternity: The Boo in Philadelphia Sports Culture

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By my quick calculations, the 2008 World Series winning Philadelphia Phillies were only World Champions for fifteen pitches before being booed again in the second inning of the first game of the new season.

From Andy Martino’s recap of the game in the April 6, 2009, Philadelphia Inquirer:

[A]t 8:27, rightfielder Jeff Francoeur hit Myers’ first pitch of the second inning into the left-field stands. Some in the crowd, so boisterous during the pregame ceremonies, voiced the first boos of 2009.

At 8:30, centerfielder Jordan Shafer, in his first major-league plate appearance, hit a 3-1 pitch into the stands in left-center field, and the booing became louder and more widespread.

Phillies Opening Night on flickr.com by furnstein, via a Creative Commons Attribution License

Sounds about right. As a fan of Philadelphia sporting teams myself, I understand the love-hate relationship that exists between the fans and the teams in the much-maligned City of Brotherly Love.

But it’s an easy trope to trot out, a broad brush to paint a city’s fans with, this whole “Santa-booing boors” thing, and many point to the city’s relative paucity of championships in the past few decades as deriving from the apparently negative atmosphere the fans create. Perhaps a fair point.

No doubt there are athletes who do not perform well when they are derided for their efforts, who prefer to play in comforting arenas filled with unstinting supporters. They don’t tend to do well in Philadelphia, and perhaps they have played below their potential while there because of their rough treatment. But for every athlete who wants to get out of town, there’s another excited by the prospect of playing there.

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Bill Lyon on the Phillies

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If ever a city had its Boswell, Bill Lyon serves that role for Philadelphia, encapsulating something of that city’s soul in print. The retired Inquirer columnist tends to re-appear at junctions of great moment in the city’s emotional life, and after the Phillies captured the World Series title last night, ending Philadelphia’s 25 years without a major sports title, he returns to help us make sense of it all:

And thus ended one of the most bizarre and controversial games ever played in the World Series, complete with a 46-hour wait between innings, and how fitting that was, for this is Philadelphia, after all, cradle of liberty, acid reflux, angst, anxiety and the sure and certain belief that we are doomed forever to walk along the Boulevard of Busted Dreams.

But not now. Not this time. No, you can go ice skating in Hades now. The Phillies have broken the Hundred Season Drought. The franchise of 10,000 losses is a winner.

The air already smells cleaner. The women are beautiful. Food tastes better. The shroud of dread has been pulled away.

To be on Broad Street tomorrow for the parade will be magical, an event that might not happen again for a long time, the fates being what they are. If you’re there, savor it.
Phillies Win!, on flickr.com, by melingo wagamama, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License

The boos will start again soon enough, this being Philadelphia and we being Philadelphia fans, and we’ll bemoan the Flyers’ goaltending and the Eagles’ offensive line and the Sixers’ poor rebounding and, eventually, the lack of a winger with pace on the new soccer team, but for now, we’re happy, in our own way, just like Bill Lyon said.

(Image courtesy of melingo wagamama, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.)