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

The Phillies are showing, again, just how historically inept they are. Philly deserves better.

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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.

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  • jlk7e

    The Athletics’ last 20 years in Philly weren’t much better than the Phillies’. By the time the A’s left, the Phillies were the better team.

    • Johnny Goodtimes

      True, Connie Mack hung on as manager for far too long. If he had stepped down 15 years earlier and they had gotten a good manager, they’d probably still be in town.

  • Gavvy Cravath

    I’m a fan of Billy Beane and there’s no doubt the A’s are currently in much better shape than the Phillies. But consider that in the seven seasons since 2000 in which the A’s have made the playoffs, they failed to advance past the ALDS six times (going 1-12 in games in which they had the opportunity to eliminate their opponent) and were swept in the ALCS the one year they did. In between, they had five seasons of finishing .500 or worse. I highly doubt this would go over very well among Philly fans

    • Johnny Goodtimes

      Great pen name! And great point. Though if they played in the area, you’d be giving Billy Beane a far higher payroll, meaning more front line pitching, meaning much more success in closeout games.

  • Julie

    Hate much ??? Real fans support their team thru thick and thin.

    • Johnny Goodtimes

      Why should people support a loser just because they’re the only show in town? If a restaurant in your neighborhood starts serving bad food, do you support them wholeheartedly because they’re the only one around? Or do you hope that a good restaurant comes along and you can have enjoyable meals again? The area is large enough to support two baseball teams. I’m not saying the Phillies have to go. I’m just saying that it would be nice to have a consistent winner in the area. This area has GREAT baseball fans. It’s a shame they are stuck with a franchise like the Phillies.

      • Joseph Haas

        Yes, this area has great baseball fans. I gather from what you’ve told us about yourself here that you shouldn’t be counted among them. You’re a front-runner.

        • Johnny Goodtimes

          I am still a fan, and as such, have every reason to be upset that the team had the opportunity to become an elite level team, like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals, and instead made a terrible GM hire and by doing so destroyed the team for the next decade. Comcast cannot help them rebuild, since they have no control over their farm system, and that’s how you win championships: by building from within, then adding pieces through trades and free agency to fill in the gaps. Building All-Star teams doesn’t typically work. Even if it did, with the huge albatross that is Howard’s contract around their necks for years to come, it would be tough to sign many big name free agents. Of course, you’ve got a GM who thinks that 1B and Relief Pitcher are high value positions, so as long as he’s in charge, it doesn’t matter what money Comcast throws into the mix.

    • Dick_Wolf

      Yer young, I get it. In a couple of years you will realize that real Phillies fans know the Phillies organization stinks and thus voice it regularly. We still buy the stuff and still go to the games, but it is, what it is.

  • nqa

    What happens if 5-10 years from now the Phillies are good again and the A’s are struggling? Do you then say the right team left town after all? I personally don’t give two sh*ts about what happened in the 30s and 40s. The Phillies always have and always will be my team for better or worse and I’d never want to root for anyone else.

    • Johnny Goodtimes

      Except that won’t happen. Look at the way the A’s are lined up for the next ten years and look at how terrible the Phillies farm system is. The A’s are simply one of the best organizations in baseball and the Phillies are one of the worst. That isn’t going to change in 5-10 years.

      • Joseph Haas

        Careful, you have no idea what’s going to happen 10 years from now and neither does Billy Beane. That’s not to argue that the A’s are not exponentially better run right now – they are, of course. That also is a franchise that has known some of the most sickening lows in sports and they still are stuck in perhaps the worst building in the major leagues.

        Meanwhile, the Phillies will have their Comcast to help dig out from this mess. This is a bad stretch right now but it doesn’t mean the 1930s and 40s are coming back.

      • Uncle Stosh

        Look at how the A’s were set up when they had Giambi and the Big Three young pitchers. They went downhill faster then a 6 flags roller coaster because they mistakenly believed they could let players like that go and replace them. It didn’t work. They have not been to a World Series in the Beane era and they couldn’t play above .500 ball for 5 seasons as recently as 2007-2011.

        • not_brooks

          Right, because the A’s just said, “Hey let’s get rid of Giambi, Zito, Hudson and Mulder. We can replace them.”

          Derp.

  • Lefty Foxx

    For what it’s worth….since Billy Beane took over in Oakland in 1997, the Phillies have been in (2) and won (1) more World Series than the A’s…

    • Johnny Goodtimes

      A fair argument. But the White Sox have also won a World Series in that time, and there is no one on earth who thinks they are a better run team than the A’s. My point is that with the Phillies, the highs are ALL followed by inevitable lows throughout their history. With the A’s, you get a consistent winner. They haven’t won a World Series yet since Beane took over, but now that they’re willing to shell out money for frontline starters, I think they will soon.

      • Joseph Haas

        No, you don’t get a consistent winner. As I noted in a post above, and I am sure you’re aware of this, the A’s franchise, for more than a century, has been known for peaks and valleys. In 1979, they didn’t draw a crowd of 20,000 for a single game and had one crowd of 653 that year. Some of their failures and low points are worse than anything that ever happened to the Phillies.

        Also, as others have pointed out, you just don’t get the point of being a fan. The good times don’t really belong to you if you don’t go thru the bad times with some faith, hope and goodwill. I’ve been a Phillies fan since 1977 and have seen them play in 5 world series and win 11 division titles. Don’t feel sorry for me.

      • Uncle Stosh

        What are you talking about? The A’s stunk for half of this new century. They got lucky(just like the Phillies) and had 5 stud minor leaguers come into their own at the same time and got good. There payroll analytics style told them they could just let those players go and they would replace them. It didn’t work. They stunk for 5 or 6 years. They have been okay for the last 3 or 4 years and will again go downhill soon. The A’s are not worth emulating at all.

  • Dick_Wolf

    The point being made is that the Phillies as they currently stand are not some sort of aberration or run of bad luck. They are the losingest franchise in the history of professional sports. While the A’s had fallen on hard times by the 1950’s, it was a result of Connie Mack hanging on too long in a situation that mimics what Ed Snider is doing with the Flyers. (It was also very similar to the Red Sox who despite listening to their fans whine for decades, had actually won FIVE World Series before they broke their stupid curse.) That being said Mack was also hanging onto a franchise that had FIVE World Series rings. The team left Philly sixty years ago and yet the Philadelphia Athletics still have the fourth most world series titles.

    I am a lifelong Phillies fan, but this myth that grew in the past decade that they are an elite franchise is laughable at best and embarrassing at worst. History will look back on the ’08 team the same way it does on the ’80 World Series team—great moments but how did a collection of that much talent only win once?

    Because it’s the Phillies, that’s why.

  • Matthew Edmond

    Good article, Johnny. I’m 35, a lifelong Phils fan, and yet also a big fan of bringing the A’s back. To be honest, the best way to build support is not by playing one team off another, but rather, make the argument that Philadelphia should be and can be a two-team town.

    It’s an argument that can be made rather convincingly. There are 5.3 million people in the region, almost twice as many as in 1954. We’re the 4th largest media market and 6th largest region – larger on both counts than the Bay Area, which has two teams. A realigned AL East with Boston, NY, Phila., and Baltimore would be a monster for rivalries and TV ratings – good for MLB.

    In short, if we make the case that Philadelphia can support two teams, we can get the A’s back.

    • Johnny Goodtimes

      Totally fair point, Matt. And I don’t think the Phils need to go anywhere. To be honest, I’m just so furious at the incompetence of their front office that I couldn’t help myself (also, let’s be honest, I knew this would create more of a stir, which is what you want when you’re starting a movement). When I write about this next time I’ll talk more about those numbers you mentioned and make it less personal.