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.
They had two owners banned from the league for life for gambling. Their manager heckled Jackie Robinson. They were the last team in the NL to integrate. And they were a team that never saw the value of a farm system (by 1936, the Cardinals had 24 farm teams from which to pull talent. The Phillies had one). They were equally late to the game on recruiting Hispanic players and on using sabermetrics,which Amaro has never understood. They were obstinate and stubborn, and unlike well-run organizations, they never built off their rare successes. Here are the Phillies’ records 5 years after each of their World Series appearances.
- 1920: 62-91
- 1955: 77-77
- 1985: 75-87
- 1988: 65-96
- 1998: 75-87
- 2013: 73-89
- 2014: 49-63
In other words, their World Series appearances were more “lightning in a bottle” type situations than indications of a well-run team.
But Phillies fans thought that this time would be different. The pieces were in place for a sustained run, and indeed, the 2007-2011 stretch was the most successful five-season run in team history, and there is no denying the joy that we all felt in 2008.
But they have since regressed to the mean. The Phillies, at the end of the day, are still the Phillies. They cling to over-the-hill players, signing them to as much money as their agents ask for, tacking on as many no-trades as they can fit on the paper, desperate for them to magically recapture their previous glory. That’s because the Phillies still have a bad farm system, and thus there are no players ready to fill the vacuum created by age and injury. Their best pitching prospect just had a mental breakdown, the best player they’ve brought up from their farm system in the past eight seasons is Antonio friggin’ Bastardo, and they lost three of their best prospects in the disastrous Hunter Pence trade (including one allegedly by accident). And after the team snitched on an underclassman in the midst of a hissy fit, I doubt any others will take a phone call from the Phillies.
Their only answer to the complete meltdown has been to blame it on circumstances beyond their control: injuries, other GMs, bad luck. Because that is what losers do. They make excuses, and at the end of the day, the Phillies are the biggest losers in sports history, with over 10,500 losses.
Meanwhile, there is another franchise, one with a payroll that is less than half that of the Phillies, a team that contends almost every year despite having one of the five lowest payrolls in baseball, a team that wins today while keeping an eye on the future. That would be the Oakland A’s, a franchise that was once the pride of our city.
But the Oakland A’s are faced with their own problems: they play baseball in a sewer, in a city that doesn’t want them (despite having the MLBs best record, they have the 23rd best attendance in baseball), and they have nowhere else to go.
But what if they did? What if Philadelphia (or South Jersey) decided it wanted to bring back an organization that, 60 years after they left the city, still has the most championships in the city’s history? Could you imagine the excitement of a playoff push every year? We could cheer for the home team while taking comfort in knowing that the team won’t be terrible five years from now because it’s not as poorly run as the Phillies are (and always have been). They won’t snitch on college kids, trade people by accident, give veterans as many no-trades as they ask for, operate an embarrassment of a farm system, operate under the belief that time exists in a bottle.
You’ve seen the excitement in this town over a guy like Sam Hinkie. The Sixers GM hasn’t even put a winner on the court yet, but fans are getting excited because he obviously has a long-term vision. Could you imagine if we brought in a guy like Billy Beane, a guy who is renowned for his long-term vision, and whose track record has shown that the vision works? A guy who revolutionized the very sport of baseball? A guy who has mastered both short-term and long-term planning, with the end result being a team that is financially strapped but headed to it’s 9th 90-win season of the new millenium? (Ruben Amaro, for the record, doesn’t believe in plans).
Furthermore, we would get to continue the remarkable legacy left behind by Philly legends such as Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, and Connie Mack, men who deserve better than to be forgotten in a city like Oakland, a place where they never played or coached. The A’s were a winning organization then, they are a winning organization now, and they will be a winner in the future. The opposite can be said of the team we were left with when the A’s left town.
This is of course all just pie in the sky at this point. I don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars, or big league connections, or know a team of lawyers who could handle the huge fight the Phillies would put up to prevent a winner from moving into the area. But a lot of the pieces here just seem to make sense. There is a team in Oakland that has few fans and a crappy ballpark. There is another town where the fans are desperate for a winner, and would welcome back a team that should have never left. In fact, there is a small grass-roots movement already up and running.
This would be a chance to make amends for past wrongs, a chance to embrace a storied past while getting excited about a promising future. There would be a chance for a baseball fanbase as great as Philadelphia’s to cheer on a winner nearly every year.
And for the Phillies, a team that went from World F’ing Champs to the laughinstock of baseball in 6 years, the A’s coming back to town would give them a chance to embrace their past as well. They could go back to playing exclusively in front of the types of fans they had before the A’s left town: Dopey uncles who need to be followed around with toilet paper.