Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Philadelphia Story

Reading the entries, it is obvious the name of this blog fits quite nicely. All of us – even the Yankees fan sitting atop the mountain of garish World Series trophies, even the Sox fan who has suddenly taken up residence in a 6 million dollar condo on the Upper East Side (successful Bostonians still long to be New Yorkers) and even our own representative from the Township whose team is awash in talent, prospects, a new gem of a ballpark and the most $$$ outside of the Bronx - have a good argument to make as to why they can blog at a site entitled Misery Loves Company.

It’s not inconceivable that the ever dwindling core of die-hard baseball aficionados in the US will relegate the Sox' star-crossed history to some dusty hard cover book on the National Pastime in the children’s section of the local library. I don’t know any children who even casually follow baseball so as Doris Kearns Goodwin’s brain cells slowly dry up and get absorbed into her bloodstream to be disposed of each time she visits the loo, so will the legends of Teddy Ballgame, Pesky’s Pole and Billy Buckner’s battered and bruised body’s betrayal in Game 6. As a result, today’s generation of fans whose attention span is less than the time it takes Jimmie Rollins to leg out a triple are probably under the mistaken notion that the Boston Red Sox are THE GREATEST TEAM EVER! However, dear Rob knows better. He still proudly bears the scars that will always make the notion of him knowing misery seem quite reasonable.

The concept of misery is a relative one and that probably explains TJ. The past 7 years in the Bronx equal roughly the last 99 on Chicago’s North Side. It’s amazing but I really believe what I just typed. TJ knows misery. He has much loftier expectations. Each of us on this blog has known for the past 4 years, that the Yanks aren’t built for the postseason but dammit, they press on anyway, fooling Yankee lovers until October.

Whitney’s Mets are an altogether different story. One season, it’s Flushing’s foolish largess spent on trying to keep pace in the Borough wars. The next year, it’s the inexplicable injuries hobbling the team all season long. Recently, it’s the humiliation of losing to a middling Cardinals team in the NLCS and of course, Last September.

In many ways, Whitney’s misery trumps everyone else’s. Rob’s is salved by the recent success. The Yanks will always THE team on Baseball Tonight so at least TJ has that. (TJ, do you even know what it’s like to wait all the way until the end of BBTN to watch your team’s highlights?) My own personal misery has reached numbness. In fact, it’s not misery at all. It is after all, fait acompli, no? I cannot be fooled.

There is however, another dimension to misery. (Finally, I get to my thesis!) It is the concept or rather the reality that one is irrelevant. Heck, TJ has as much admitted it in his opening opus on MLC. He does not give the Phillies a second thought whatsoever. We don’t exist. Rob probably only cares inasmuch as the Phils usually provide the Sox the 3 extra wins they covet each year in trying to outpace the Yanks. Whitney only cares because of the shared ineptitude of each club’s front offices and that to a lesser degree, the Mets know what its like to be relegated to page 14 of the sports section.

What I know as a Phillies fan is a dimension of misery that is quite unique. I exist in the gray region that no one else can see. Giddy Red Sox fans drunk with glory stop to take a piss on me. Yanks fans are so much taller and they never deign to look down at the muck below their knees. Cubs fans get to be THE story whether they win or lose. I think I only have friends on Chicago’s South Side and Pittsburgh. Those are the only places where the teams don’t really matter. I am speaking historically of course. We all know the two franchises in F-L-A are irrelevant to Sunshine Staters. How you fail to sell baseball to Cubans in Miami mystifies me.

What got me thinking these gloomy thoughts about my team and its absence from the American baseball conscience was a question Whit posited to me regarding my feelings about the recently retired Mike Lieberthal. Leiby labored for 11 seasons in South Philly donning the tools of ignorance for the first half of his career for a hapless bunch of losers and in many ways, he was the soul of the team. I suppose Curt Schilling was the soul of the team to some degree as well but he spent most of the latter part of the decade, before his deliverance to the promised land in the desert, constantly whining about the front office and its inability to turn the club around. Not so Lieby. He was the silent, dutiful son. Lieby was solid both offensively and defensively but never brilliant. On those late ‘90’s Phillies teams, he remained the hope for the future. Then the Phils started to bring up some talent from a revitalized farm system and coupled it with some shrewd front office moves (Bobby Abreu for Kevin Stocker) and lo and behold, they were annually earmarked by all the baseball punditry as the team on the rise. The problem with that team was that they were loaded with guys like Mike Leiberthal who were professional to a nauseating fault. They were emotionless and gray, content with putting in a day’s work and then adjourning until BP the next night. These were not gregarious carousers and lovable vagabonds like Dutch, the Dude and Krukker of the Phils of ’93. They didn’t hang around the clubhouse ignoring their familial responsibilities while pounding Buds and Mooseheads. They put up decent numbers, notched 80 to 85 wins and punched the clock in ever so quietly in September.

To me, unfortunately, that is what I think of when I think of Mike Lieberthal. This guy started more opening days and squatted behind the dish for the most games of any catcher in Phils history. More than Dutch Daulton, Bob Boone and Andy Seminick to name three outstanding backstops in Phillies history. (Stop snickering TJ!) Yet I all can think about is those underachieving, hypnotic, robotic drones. No October highlights. Hell, not even a September highlight! Oh, I am sure Whitney recalls some oppressively humid August evening where, in a game thrice delayed by rain and pushed into extra innings after 1:30 AM, a dripping, soggy Mike Lieberthal deposited a weak fastball from some journeyman reliever over the left centerfield fence at Shea to put the 17 remaining fans out of their misery.

So tell me, how sad is it that I can’t properly eulogize Mike Lieberthal’s career in Philly? He should be lionized as an all time Phillies great. But he and the rest of the 2000 to 2006 Phillies crew are a painful reminder to the city of Philadelphia about what the city is not and what it will never be. They marched perfectly to the drumbeat notion that Philly will always be an afterthought. Philly will always live in the gray. Even the highway signs on I-95 begrudgingly report the distance to Philly and only then with much embarrassment. Glory does not recognize Philadelphia. It left town about 200 years ago. Last year’s improbable run to the NL East crown cemented Lieberthal's and his fellow automaton's image in Philly forever. They left and then we won something – even if it disappeared in early autumn dusk in Denver.


Whitney said...

I need to start positing more questions to you. Very well put.

And I appreciate your appreciation of my misery.

Nick said...


The reason I did not include the logo in the upper right hand corner was because the one chosen for Philly was the 70's/80's era 'P' on a crimson backround. I realize that logo was the reason I became a Phils fan but I am aesthetically aware enough to see it for what it is - an artifact which testifies to the utter lack of decorum and refinement among the fashionistas of that time period. I am too lazy to find the current logo out there so if any of you dudes care to find it, please do so. Otherwise, I post sans logo.

Whitney said...

I thought you might find it retro-cool. Clearly, no. I will try to dig up that dorky new P for you.

Itsmetsforme said...

when i am done celebrating THE METS ACQUISITION OF JOHAN SANTANA AND THUS THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP OF 2008,* perhaps i will return for this lovely exercise in reading comprehension.


Whitney said...

Yeah. I hesitate to shove Nick's stellar work down the page for what will only end up being a "woo-hoo!" . . . but I may have to.

rob said...

i'm already happy we brought nick aboard. that's fantastic stuff. i'm a freaking brilliant blog gm.