Is Philadelphia Still a City of Losers?
“Talk of the devil,” the poet Coleridge said, “and his horns appear.”
And last night those horns appeared as prophesized on cue after we’d spent the whole day talking of the devil and the evil he had cast upon us the previous evening. We had conjured his evil spirit by wondering aloud in our favorite bars, by our office water coolers and on sports radio whether his long ominous shadow would yet again darken our world on the diamond by the bay.
“Thinking about the devil,” the old baseball man Branch Rickey once said, not referring to Cody Ross at the time, “is worse than seeing him.” [SIGNUP]
Like good longtime Philadelphians, we experienced both: we thought about the devil plenty all the live long day and then gasped in horror as he confirmed our worst fears by sticking his pitchfork in our hides and dancing the cha-cha-cha on the dugout of our hometown nine well after darkness had enveloped the foggy city.
And so now… what?
Throw in our rally towels?
Forget the yes-we-cans and the ya-gotta-believes and the trio of aces we have tucked up our sleeve should we be blessed with the miracle of three more outings?
“Anytime you got a chance,” said the endlessly sanguine Shane Victorino following last night’s top of the dugout devil dance, “there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Forget that the end of the tunnel slogan was used by Lyndon Johnson to describe the losing war in Vietnam, the devil’s all-time favorite conflict precisely because it never saw a sliver of light; this is baseball, where no one dares count or examine a cliché.
“I’d say if we like to play with our backs against the wall, it’s there now,” said Charlie, proving the point, the sight of the devil still blurring his vision. “I think we’re standing there right now.”
Maybe better put, we’re kneeling there. Today we’ll watch and recite our Hail Marys—one each for Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels—and hope that somehow we’re working the miracle beads, holding the winning trifecta, grasping the longshot of longshots. Who among us, after all, doesn’t want to see light at the end of the tunnel?
But, at the same time, as our baseball manager likes to say, we’re not from Tampa or Phoenix, Denver or Miami, we know too much, we’ve seen too much, we’ve lived baseball generations with futility and lost causes. What the Giants are inflicting on us now in this season of more trick than treat does not yet qualify as an entry in our long legacy of heartbreaking setbacks. But the rubber stamp is out, raised and ready.
This time, though, unlike so many baseball days of yore, when the end comes—okay, if that end should come—there’s a difference: we’ll handle it. This team has given us seasons, multiple seasons, of hope and life; they’ve lifted us out of baseball despair, allowed us to actually grow at ease with winning, and for that, however despairing and unforgiving this particular post-season turns out to be, we owe them.
We will need to remember that in the hours and days ahead. It won’t be easy. Winning is still new to us, a novelty of sorts, and being Philadelphians there will be the temptation to slink back to our defeatist ways, to allow self-loathing and second-class mentality to wander back in, to recall and recite endlessly the seasons squandered, to allow all the first time callers to forget the good and instead endlessly crucify our heroes for not delivering this one time.
That’s not who we are anymore. That‘s for perennial losers, and that particular baseball handle, all praise and glory to this team, has been vanquished.
Tonight, the devil will be lurking again, pitchfork at the ready.
Remember this, though: only we can make him dance.