There’s nothing admirable about losing 11-1 to the Braves. I hate the Braves. I hate their smugness, I hate their legion of redneck homegrown players (scout outside the state of Georgia, folks!), I hate their stupid clean-cut uniforms and their bright colors. I hate the sweet-tea-and-grits homeliness that Bobby Cox shows off until he gets mad. Then he puts on his overalls and demands that Yunel Escobar go pick out a switch from the thicket. I think Chipper Jones is, save for one Barry Bonds at-bat in the summer of 2001, the greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen in person. But I hate his Hooters waitresses and his stupid name and that wad of chaw he keeps in his lower lip.
Despite the recent (and naively vitriolic) banter between certain Mets and certain Phillies, I will never hate the Mets as much as I hate the Braves. Never.
But I have to say, for someone who spent the ages of 7 to 20 getting his heart ripped out every summer, I do find a sort of perverse comfort in losing to them.
I grew up on 90-loss seasons and Curt Schilling ripping off 18-win, 300-strikeout season after 18-win, 300-strikeout season while the team struggled to find the right mix of washed-up ’93 veterans and youngsters with potential that never panned out. There’s something that I miss about wondering how Scott Rolen and Rico Brogna, hitting 3-4, each drove in 100 runs year after year–I didn’t think Doug Glanville and Desi Relaford even got on base 100 times between them in any given season.
There was something vindicating about watching the 2004 Red Sox win the World Series with our worthless manager and our malcontent ace. Something perverse that made me uncomfortable with winning.
During the 2006 season, I started following the Kansas City Royals. Not as a replacement for the Phillies, but as an insurance policy. I was worried that the Phillies would suddenly become a National League power, which, of course, they did, and that I would be unable to cope with cheering for a winning team. If that were to come to pass, I would have to have a backup plan in place.
When I started following European soccer in 2006, I needed a team to get excited about. Because I had no home team, per se, I picked the team that my favorite player at the time, Thierry Henry, captained, London’s Arsenal F.C. But Arsenal had been particularly successful, having won two domestic league titles, three domestic cup titles, and appearing in two European finals since 2000. The reason this was problematic for me was that the only people I knew who rooted for championship teams since my childhood were Cowboys, Devils and Yankees fans. In short, assholes. How would I conduct myself if the Gunners took home another FA Cup, particularly because I was a de facto bandwagon fan, being new to the sport and all?
Luckily for me, Arsenal have entered a torturous dry spell during which legions of Manchester United fans (including my girlfriend’s dad, whose two favorite teams are Man U and Barcelona–that’s like being a Red Sox fan and a Duke fan on the d-bag scale. But he’s a very nice guy. Just doesn’t know what his soccer allegiances are saying about him) have rubbed my nose in Arsenal’s slip out of Europe’s elite. And I revel in the misery. That’s what growing up a Phillies fan has done to me. Now that I think about it, I think that’s why I’ve sabotaged every remotely normal relationship I’ve ever been in until now…this may go deeper than I thought.
So now you understand where I’m coming from. Why these World Phuckin’ Champion Phillies don’t seem like my Phillies. Why I derive some sort of masochistic pleasure from losing to my least-favorite baseball team 11-1. Why I don’t feel upset when our best homegrown pitcher since Robin Roberts gets lit up in an important start.
Speaking of Phillies lefthanders, let’s break for a moment to talk about Steve Carlton. How did anyone score on the mid-to-late 1960s Cardinals? I know they won two World Series and should have won three in that time span. But you’ve got Bob Gibson, Carlton and some combination of Curt Simmons (who threw about 500 miles an hour) and solid major league starters like Ray Washburn and Mike Torrez. And that defense: McCarver was a good catcher, if an embarassing broadcaster. On the left side of the infield, you’ve got Boyer and Maxvill. Nothing’s getting through there.
Side side note: the Cardinals have had a disproportionate number of amazing fielders at shortstop throughout their history. Marty Marion, Dal Maxvill, Ozzie Smith. Has anyone else had that many world-beatingly-good defensive shortstops?
Outfield: Curt Flood, whose defensive reputation would have been even better if Tommie Agee and Willie Mays weren’t his NL contemporaries. Lou Brock, who was a brutal defender, but could cover enough ground to make up for it. Roger Maris, whose defensive brilliance as a right fielder was lost among all the hoopla in his first two Yankee seasons. And Bobby Tolan as a fourth outfielder.
And all of this was going on during the best era for pitchers since they banned the spitball.
So essentially, you’ve got to only hit home runs and grounders through the right side of the infield if you’re playing the mid-1960s Cards. Gibson had a 1.12 ERA in 1968. How didn’t he go sub-1?
But that’s a little off-topic.
Back to the Braves.
Losing to the Braves brings the Phillies back into a virtual dead heat with the Marlins for first place. Let’s face it: when everything’s going right, the National League discussion this season has two levels: Dodgers and Phillies, then everyone else. But now that everything’s not going right, it’s like I’ve died and gone to the late 1990s–our stars are always injured, we only have one good starting pitcher, we need to make a big trade, we’re one critical piece away, we should start bringing up our minor league starting pitchers…there’s something comforting about being transported back to when you were 12 years old. It’s like coming home and visiting your old elementary school teachers, then eating your mom’s spaghetti for dinner.
That’s why, even though I hate the Braves, I find losing to them strangely, well, comforting. It’s almost as if, after four years of breathing the rarified air of National League royalty, we’ve finally come home again.