Thursday, October 30, 2008

Don't Be Silly: The World Championship to Philly

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies for winning the World Series, with a truly Philadelphian performance: It wasn't pretty, but they did what they had to do against the pretty boys from the Sun Belt, and they proved they were better -- not just tougher, which we all knew, but better.

A lot of old Phils are smiling down on them. In memoriam:

Harry Wright, 1835-1895
Sam Thompson, 1860-1922
Billy Hamilton, 1866-1940

Pat Moran 1876-1924
Gavvy Cravath, 1881-1963
Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1887-1950
Chuck Klein, 1904-1958Eddie Sawyer, 1910-1997
Byrum Saam, 1914-1990
Bob Carpenter, 1915-1990
Jim Konstanty, 1917-1976
Dick Sisler, 1920-1998
Paul Owens, 1924-2003
Gene Mauch, 1925-2005
Granny Hamner, 1927-1993
Richie Ashburn, 1927-1997Chris Short, 1937-1991
Johnny Callison, 1939-2006
Tug McGraw, 1944-2004

Figures in bold are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, technically if not officially including Saam, who received the Hall's award for lifetime achievement in broadcasting, the Ford Frick Award, as has Harry Kalas. Here's Harry the K's call of the final out:

One strike away. Nothing and two the count to Hinske. Fans on their feet. Rally towels are being waved. Brad Lidge stretches. The oh-two pitch: Swing and a miss! Struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball! ... And let the city celebrate!

As his old partner Whitey (Ashburn) was no doubt saying from that great press box in the sky, "Hard to believe, Harry."

This was not a bad World Series. Far from it. Four of the five games were close and entertaining, and the one that wasn't close was still entertaining with the Phils' booming bats. And as for the umpiring, it hurt both teams equally, so complaining does no one any good. As for the weather, that's the chance you take, unless you want every team to play under a dome, and what fool wants that? Football can be played anywhere. Baseball is supposed to be played outdoors.

The Phils also showed the way to beat the Tampa Bay Rays, which is to do what I didn't do all year, and what the Yankees didn't do all year, and what the Red Sox didn't do until the middle of Game 5 of the ALCS: Take them seriously, and don't presume the game is won until you actually get the last out and the lead.

They're not frauds, but if the Yanks, the BoSox, and the rest of the American League take them seriously in 2009, the 2008 Rays will prove to be every bit the fluke that the 2007 Colorado Rockies and the 2006 Detroit Tigers turned out to be.

The Curse of Billy Penn, if it ever existed, is dead. Now, Philly has to work on:

* The Curse of Harold Katz: The 76ers haven't won the NBA since 1983, following Katz's boneheaded 1986 trade of Moses Malone and the top draft pick.

* The Curse of Leon Stickle: The Flyers haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1975, including Stickle's failure to call offside against the New York Islanders, influencing the 1980 Cup.

* The Curse of the Dutchman: Norm Van Brocklin quarterbacked the Eagles to the 1960 NFL Championship and retired, thinking that he'd be appointed head coach to succeed the also-retiring Buck Shaw, and he wasn't.

The Yankees, faced with the Rays and the Red Sox, and the Mets, faced with the Phillies, have to head toward 2009 with the same idea: Expect a battle, and build a team of battlers. That's what George Steinbrenner said after the Yankees won the 1996 World Series: "They're battlers, and New York is a city of battlers. You battle for everything in this town: For cabs, for tables in restaurants, for everything."

The Phillies are battlers. Philadelphia is a hard city. So are Trenton, Camden, Chester, Wilmington, and a few other smaller cities nearby.

Both New York ballclubs could use a few more Paul O'Neills, or Thurman Munsons, or Lou Piniellas, or Keith Hernandezes, or Lenny Dykstras. Send a Catfish Hunter, a Sparky Lyle, a Bob Ojeda, a David Cone or a Jeff Nelson to the mound. New York baseball fans don't demand stardom -- I'm talking to you, men of the House of Steinbrenner, but also to you, men of the House of Wilpon -- but we expect competence. If we get both, we can win.

Get both.

Again, congratulations to the Fightin' Phils, to the City of Philadelphia, and to all the Delaware Valley, from Scranton in the north to Rehoboth Beach in the south, from Atlantic City in the east to Lancaster in the west.

And, oh yeah: I told you so. I said Phils in 5, with the Rays only winning Game 2. It's so rare that I get things that right, and so I'm telling you so that I told you so.

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