There was a time not too long ago when the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies were bitter rivals consistently battling for NL East supremacy. The Braves held on to that spot for many many years, as some in Philadelphia may recall. Then the Phillies got good. And they stayed good for awhile thanks to top notch pitching signings, the beautiful talents of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, and great contracts with superstars like Ryan Howard. The Braves division rivalry shifted from the Mets to the Phils. 13 years after Atlanta’s increasingly distant World Series win, the Phillies won their own. And we hated them for it. They were winning consecutive division titles like we once did, and Braves fans were relegated to perennial wild card hopes. The fanbases were both notoriously hard-headed and the mutual disdain came to run deep. That era wouldn’t last, though. The Phillies and Braves have declined sharply since 2014. Here at the start of this season, expectations are low for both organizations. The fanbases once at dire odds with one another now find themselves on the same side of the Mendoza line. We are all supporters of bad baseball teams now.
In the spirit of coming to terms with this we have partnered with the writers of the SBNation Phillies Blog, TheGoodPhight.com to discuss the upcoming year. We are looking to each other as potential peers, potential comforters. This is catharsis by way of blogging. We settled on 6 questions to help us get to the heart of our shared troubles. We don’t have to like each other, but there is no reason to go after one another’s throats in an argument about who might lose less. We have a natural truce in our mutually low expectations. So, let’s make the best of it while we can.
Aside from partaking in strong drink, how will you continue to watch your team play baseball this year?
BGS – Brad Blackburn: Watching the 2015 Atlanta Braves has been a delight, so far. They have surprised many but are fooling few. This team will regress. And when the long stretches of runless summer days come knocking on the door, we fans will have no choice but to answer or flee out the back; where the bandwagons are all waiting to pick us up. In those days the pitching will be doing its best to stave off a 1973 76ers type of record. The bourbon will be flowing down our throats and the darkness into our hearts. When this Braves team finally becomes what they really are–a fixer-upper–they will be as tough to watch as, well, the Phillies. So, what will keep me watching? Likely the realization that there are no expectations for the next two or three seasons. This is an organization on the mend with some huge upside down the road, but for now the only goal is not to set any major negative records. I can enter this season and make my way through it with carefree abandon, because for the first time in a long time, I won’t have to worry about any tense pennant races. I won’t have to predict what days I need to take off of work for the playoffs games. Thanks to the mediocre Braves, I can just sit, watch, and yell at my pointless team play their pointless 162 games. And in that little bit of nihilism there will be peace.
TGP – Phrozen: Honestly… I won’t. Or not often, anyway, but I’m playing semantics. Baseball, for me, is a perfect sport for the radio, and a good radio team can make even a bad team fun to listen to. The Phillies, of course, have one of the best radio teams in the business, with Scott Franzke calling the play-by-play, and Larry Andersen offering anecdotes and bitching about umpires. On TV, you get the camera angle the producer wants to give you, you get the stat box he thinks you need, and you get Tom MacCarthy and Ben Davis explaining… stuff. On the radio, whatever blanks you can’t fill in on your own, you can imagine. It’s raining? What does a rainy day at the ballpark look like to you? (the 2008 World Series) Andres Blanco booted a grounder? An outfielder out of position fell down? What do those remind you of? (Shane Victorino). Obviously, this isn’t 2008 and Vic isn’t around, and I’m not pretending either is, but the feel, to get needlessly metaphysical on you, is close enough.
But back to the meat of the question. Frankly, I don’t seem to mind losing as much as most people. If they lose, but the players are having fun and they’re doing goofy stuff, then I don’t really mind the loss. Sure, there are gonna be bad days, miserable dark hellstorms of terrible baseball that not even a miracle could save, but those will be few enough. Even arguably the worst team in Major League history, the 1883 Phillies, won more games (17) than an NFL team ever has in a regular season. So there’s joy to be found. You just have to know where to look.
But yeah, that and strong drink. I have some Tullamore Dew 55% laying around somewhere…
TGP – John Stolnis: Sniffing glue is different than strong drink, right? Seriously, though, there are lots of reasons to watch. First, it’s baseball, and there’s nothing like sitting in your recliner at home with a cold beer in your hand watching a game of baseball. Even if Cesar Hernandez is prominently involved. But I’m going to enjoy watching a sporting event with no stress. Seriously, win or lose, it doesn’t matter, and there’s something relaxing about that. I’ll take more enjoyment in watching the players on other teams play. I’ll get to see Giancarlo Stanton 18 times, Matt Harvey about 5 or 6 times, and I’m sure there’s someone on the Braves that is worth watching. Someone. Hang on, I’m thinking.
Oh well, I’ll think of someone later.
What is something that the opposing team’s fanbase can do to help make this season less miserable for you?
BGS – Brad Blackburn: Phillies fans, this is where it would be easy for me to take some cheap shots at you and your strange ways of life. But I am not going to do that. Hell, I genuinely like some of you. You support a despicable and backwards organization, sure, but in many ways so do I. No, besides that one cheap shot, I have no mockery for you on this question–just one simple favor to ask. Please hate Jeff Francoeur for me. Not too long after posing as a good baseball player for a month, Jeff from Georgia escaped our purview. Braves fans weren’t able to properly ridicule him and his less than mediocre talents like we needed to. Yes, he has a good arm, and he can hit a home run a couple times a year. And these things have kept the dumber sections of our fanbase clamoring for his return for years. but make no mistake, this is a player deserving of your considerable ire, Phillies fans. You were able to mistreat a baseball hero like Jimmy Rollins, so this should be no big ask. When Jeff comes to the plate, tell him he should try being a tee-ball pitcher. When he is in the field, show him blown up versions of his Sports Illustrated cover. When you think you might have misspelled his last name, do not check and definitely do not correct it. If you have it in you to help me and my fellow fans out at all, it takes no more than a simple muttering one of of our beloved old proverbs; “Jeff Francouer? He’s a trashboy, if you ask me.”
TGP – John Stolnis: Don’t pity us. Really, I don’t want their pity. We kicked butt for a long time and this is the just the natural circle of life. But I also would like for opposing teams to be fair and have an understanding of where this team is right now. We’re not SUPPOSED to be good, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we’re not. It’s alright, we’re cool with it. At least, most of us who are plugged in are cool with it.
But feel free to gloat about it, make fun of the defense, make fun of Jerome Williams and Dustin McGowan starting and Ben Revere. And don’t engage in the narrative that the Phillies need to sell all their pieces for pennies on the dollar.
Where did it all go wrong? Who do you blame for what is about to happen to your team?
BGS – Brandon Garrett: Anthologies have been written that were shorter than an attempt to explain how Atlanta was left in its worst state this side of Sherman’s March. I don’t know how or why, but let’s blame the fanbase somehow and call it a day. If only it were that easy. Ultimately, the Braves downfall was success. Everyone thought you could replicate 15 years built on the backs of a half-dozen Hall of Famers by making marginal moves to mediocre teams. The future was mortgaged for a horrible team in 2007 when it should have been the exact opposite. Then Frank Wren was given the keys to a car that lacked an engine, doors, a roof, and only had a single wheel. Wren had to make some horrible free agent moves just to save his job from the disaster Schuerholz left him. No one could slide their ego to the side in order to do a full rebuild. Instead, the entire organization showed up at the ballpark every day expecting sellout crowds and parades down Hank Aaron Drive for things accomplished fifteen to twenty years ago. Not unlike Chipper Jones still does on most summer nights. The Tribal Elders (Cox, Schuerholz, Hart) finally felt Wren was fattened up enough to slaughter and he was ceremoniously sacrificed to the baseball gods. It’s much easier to do a full rebuild when you can wipe the blood on someone else’s hands and have a fanbase willing to buy it. Sounds a little too similar to this upcoming move to the suburbs…
TGP – Phrozen: The 2007 Phillies were offense driven one-hit wonders that made the playoffs thanks to a historical collapse by the Mets. The 2008 Phillies were the Senior Circuit underdogs who won the World Series by “playing like an AL team.” The 2009-2011 Phillies were progressively better and more polished teams, reinforcing their pitching at the expense of the future and the offense. By the team’s zenith, at the close of the 2011 season, they appeared on the cusp of a dynasty, driven by a team ERA of 3.02.
Then the bottom fell out.
In 2012, the aces were injured, the bats fell silent, the minor leagues were bare, and it went downhill from there. What went wrong was time. Three years ago, I, and others, assumed that the team’s window could remain open indefinitely. Sadly, we were wrong: it turns out that if you mortgage the future to improve the present, the future comes calling in its debt eventually, and you end up buried in a South Jersey swamp. Who to blame… A GM who traded everything that wasn’t nailed down for more pitching, ownership that allowed this to happen, and a fanbase that ate it up as if it were the greatest accomplishment in history.
Which opposing Braves/Phillies player from the glory days did you admire from afar; maybe even covet?
BGS – K Yamada: In 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies won the first of one World Series Championships, solidifying the Aughts as the only time period that can reliably be considered “glory years” since Mike Schmidt was tearing shit up in the ’80’s. During Philadelphia’s short-lived hey-day, several players stood out above the rest. Ryan Howard destroyed the Braves and generally pissed me off to no end, but he would redeem himself in my eyes on April 26th, 2010. I always loved Chase Utley, but something about how he plays is so inherently workmanlike and reeks so strongly of Philadelphia that I could never truly admire the man. No, the Philadelphia Phillie for me was and forever will be Pat the Bat Burrell. All he did for years was walk, drop bombs, and hit 30% better than league average. Not only was he damn good, but he also infuriated the hell out of Philly fans and I have no idea why. This guy hit his ass off for years, and half the time he would come up to bat in the Vet or CBP he was booed mercilessly. Maybe it’s because he was a top prospect and never became what he was supposed to; maybe it’s because he hooked up with half the city. I don’t pretend to understand the psyche of the Philly sports fan, but I love the hell out of Pat Burrell.
TGP – Phrozen: Greg Maddux. One of my favorite players ever to watch, Maddux was the perfect pitcher. He didn’t have a shoulder fired missile like Roger Clemens or the condor’s wingspan of Randy Johnson or even whatever it was that Pedro Martinez had. But he had literally everything else. Maddux had an arsenal of approximately seven thousand pitches, and he could get you out with any of them. He could throw a deck of cards in the air and fire six fastballs through the ace of spades. He could extinguish the candles on your birthday cake with one arcing curve. And he could drop that changeup in front of his own car to fill potholes on the road.
Plus, he was smart, enough so that he earned “The Professor” as his nickname. He was durable, pitching fewer than 200 innings only once between 1988 and 2006 (and that once was 199.1). And, while it seemed like he was always beating the Phillies, he seemingly took it easy on us, allowing a solid .641 OPS. He did hit more Phillies than any other team’s hitters, but the man can’t be perfect, you know.
Is there anything nice you can say about the opposing team and their fanbase?
BGS – K Yamada: Despite the overwhelming opinion of the American public, a lot of Phillies fans are really great people. But something about Philadelphia baseball finally hitting the nadir of their suffering brings out the absolute best in you guys. I love the Philly fanbase when they’re losing. Phillies twitter is infinitely more funny when you aren’t expecting to win and generally stop being insufferable towards the rest of the human race. Years of mediocrity or general terribleness from the Phils, the Flyera, and the 76ers have conditioned you guys to have an incredibly effective self-deprecating sense of humour. That aside, you guys do cheese steaks and mass transit pretty well compared to Atlanta, and both are admirable endeavors. I also think it’s no coincidence that it was the City of Brotherly Love which welcomed National Football League playoff-game-winning-quarterback Tim Tebow back with open arms, and–more importantly–open hearts.
TGP – Phrozen: Uhhh… the Braves probably don’t contribute as much to ISIS as you’d think? Haha. No—this is a tough one, but let’s see. Coca-Cola (hence Diet Coke) comes from Atlanta. They have the busiest airport in the world, and I do love me some infrastructure. Add in the Civil War, and you’ve got, unfortunately, most of what I know about that city. I’ve never been there.
Lemme try again. “The South” has a certain stereotype. Folks with big trucks and shotguns yelling and drinking moonshine. Well, lessee. I have a rather large truck, several shotguns, I yell and I’ve been known to drink literal moonshine; and I live about as far from “the South” as possible in this country. So, I guess the lesson is, stereotypes are bad and stuff. And really, if they like baseball, they can’t be bad people, right? Team rivalries aside, they’re rivalries for a reason: we care about the same thing. Plus, they had Jeff Francoeur before he was cool.
A big thanks to the team over at The Good Phight for agreeing to particpate with us on this post. You can read this post with their intro and more Phillies-centric imagery here.