The Phillies Are Losers (and Always Will Be) — the Case for Bringing Back the A’s


Q: When there were two teams in this town, how did people decide whether to be Phillies fans or A’s fans?

A: You didn’t decide. You were an A’s fan.

That was b-roll from an interview I did with author Bruce Kuklick a couple of years ago, but it reiterates what I have heard time and time again over the years: that this was always a Philadelphia A’s town, until Connie Mack’s sons Roy and Earle took on more debt than they could repay and sold out to New York interests, who promptly moved the team to Kansas City and set them up as a de facto farm team for the Yankees. Bruce continued:

My uncle grew up a Phillies fan, and he was regarded as a loser. My mother called him the last male virgin in captivity. She told us growing up that our Uncle Buck “needed someone to follow him around with toilet paper.”

After all, one would need to have some sort of mental or emotional issues to cheer for a Phillies team that finished under .500 in 30 of the 31 years from 1918-1948 (the one year above .500 they finished at 78-76). Especially when there was a team in a nicer ballpark (Shibe Park was a modern marvel when it was erected in 1909, the Baker Bowl was always a dump) six blocks away that was well-run, well-respected, and that won five World Series while in Philly.

It simply made no sense to be a Phillies fan, because they were a franchise that never had a plan, never had a clue, an embarrassment that dove into the cellar each year as soon as the season started and stayed there.

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Philly VP Candidate Came in Fourth in Presidential Election

Once a homeless mother, Cheri Honkala moved to Philadelphia in the late 1980s and has been fighting for the rights of the poor and homeless ever since. This past year, she was chosen as running mate by Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate. I spoke to her about Obama, Romney, and whether the Green Party would ever consider merging with any other third parties to try to gain a larger base. Read more »

Hurricane Sandy Jokes: OK or No Way?

Hurricane Sandy tore through the eastern U.S. on Monday, leaving in its wake a path of devastation, as well as a lot of hilarity on Twitter. This raised the age-old question: Too soon? So I asked Philadelphia comedians Doogie Horner and Chip Chantry about joking about the storm. Read more »

Inside Bryn Mawr’s Bizarre Case of the Stolen Ben Franklin Bust

At a Masonic meeting in Paris shortly after arriving in 1776 to work as an ambassador, Ben Franklin began to travel in the same circles as celebrated French artist Jean-Antoine Houdon, considered France’s foremost sculptor at the time. Houdon, like most of his countrymen, was taken by the charismatic American, and decided to make a bust of him. Read more »

The Greatest Baseball Team in Philadelphia History

The Phillies’ magnificent five-year run has come to a close, and they’ll be on the golf course come playoff time. Some think this is the greatest Phillies team of all time, but they are not the greatest Philadelphia baseball team of all time. Not even close. That would be the 1929 Philadelphia A’s, who crushed Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the Yankees by 18 games, and steamrolled into the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. They were starting a string of three straight World Series appearances, and they’d win two of them, and lose a third in a Game 7. (Side note: I will actually be covering the 1929 World Series as if it were live next week on my blog,

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The Sandman’s Secret Stone

Lucien Lewis, making art in Rittenhouse.

“Cali was where I first seen the stone,” says The Sandman, explaining how he got his start carving and selling small sandstone sculptures around Philadelphia. “I was out there with my sister, and she thought the dude was cool, so she started talking to him and seeing what he was doing with the stone. And he said (to me), ‘You should try your graffiti in the sandstone.’ I came back out here and found the stone, and…’” He smiles and laughs as he thinks back on the moment that changed his life.

The Sandman was born in New Jersey with the name Lucien Lewis. After moving to California at age 17 in 1989, he acquired the name Rebel. “I was kind of on my positive thing, and they was out in Cali gangbangin’, and I was kind of against that.  So they was like, ‘You rebellin. You a rebel.’ And they didn’t even know my name was Lucien. And I was like, ‘Hold up, Rebel? Rebel-lucien. I’m with that.’”

He started out as a graffiti artist and beatmaker (you can listen to some of his music here), but quickly moved into T-shirts. Then after seeing his first sandstone artist in California, he found his true love.

Sandstone, found almost entirely in deserts and in America almost exclusively in the southwest, is made primarily of quartz and feldspar, and has the consistency of sandpaper. Lucien slices through it with a dull blade that looks like across between a handsaw and a nail file.

Lucien, who also calls himself The Sandman, got started in sandstone by just writing people’s names, then saw it evolve. “It started with doing names and words. Then it elevated into doing hearts on the stone. ‘Can you dot the ‘I’ with a heart?’ and I did it. Then someone is like, ‘Can you carve the Sphinx?’ And I did it. And doing that, the Sphinx, brought the carving out. And then I just got into mad carving. And now I tell people, ‘If I can see it, I can carve it.’ And cats challenge that. I had a dude pull his Harley up, and say, ‘Carve that. And I want detail too.’”

As he speaks, quietly enunciating every word, he works on his latest piece, recently commissioned by a woman he met in Rittenhouse Park. She asked him to make a picture of a mud flap lady in roller skates. He talks as he moves the blade back and forth like a saw against the block of sand. He carves his “tag”, a small “RL”, on the back of the piece.

“I used to do graffiti. And I’d use this tag right here. This is my way of putting my tag in people’s houses without them knowing it. People on Second Street, because I be down there, be like, ‘I’m taking this home to Italy’, and I’m like, ‘I got tags in Italy.’”

As well as being his chief form of income and what he calls his “therapy”, the sandstone has also made him a quasi-celebrity of the city’s street scene. It’s both gotten him into and out of trouble. “One time I was carving on the block, L&I gave me a ticket. The judge was like, ‘What? That’s the sand dude!’ This thing almost gives you a get out of jail free card. The judge looked at the officer like, ‘Come on? This dude?’”

When he doesn’t carve at Second and Market, he does so out in West Philly, in neighborhoods quite a bit tougher than Old City. But his reception is surprisingly similar. “Even when I’m in the hood, like I be having cats lookin’ like I’m about to get robbed on the block, and they roll up and be like, ‘Aw man, my girl would love this!’ and I’m like ‘Whew! I thought y’all was about to get me.’ I like to go to the harshest spot on the block and just show cats that I just do art. You might be out there with your guns, you might be out here with the coke, you out here with your gang, I’m out here doing art.’ But it gets love. I don’t never have nobody being like, ‘Ehhh.’ It’s always like, ‘Yo, old head, what you doing? Dang, when I come back with my girl I’m gonna get my kids carved up.’“

So what’s next for Philly’s only real sandman, a man equally comfortable carving sandstone for thugs and Italian tourists? He wants to do some “stone parties” and get his artwork into a local gallery.

And just where does he get the sandstone he uses to create his miniature masterpieces?

Lucien smiles. “Top secret.”


Coronas at Bob and Barbara’s: Change We Can Believe In?

Here I was, in one of the great underground jazz clubs in America, and there were mesh caps, sunglasses at night, and awkward high-fives, and the band was playing “Sweet Caroline.” I was at Bob and Barbara’s, but I felt like I was at the Republican National Convention. The lighting was terrific. The band sounded great. I was miserable. What had happened to the Bob and Barbara’s I had once known and loved? What had happened to a thick haze of smoke in a room dark enough to make Gollum comfortable, an angry bartender who wished I hadn’t come, a bathroom that made the Khyber’s johns look like a layout in Better Homes and Gardens, and a band all in tuxedos drinking whiskey and playing songs that had been popular during the Truman administration? All gone. Read more »

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