The Tampa Bay Rays are in the World Series. First pitch is in about 5 minutes and then it will be official. They are the Cinderella team, the feel good story, the team that went from worst to first, winning the AL despite one of the smallest payrolls in the majors. They have a storied franchise history that has reached double digits. They have fans that have followed the team since the first George W administration! That, folks, is dedication.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger, we have the Phillies, the losingest franchise in all of sports (Washington Generals aside), a team that harkens back to the 1800s, a team that has something called tradition — you know, little things like keeping the team name the same, not changing up uniforms like the new spring fashion line, not having a ridiculous manufactured theme song (“Feel the Heat! Rays!”), etc. A team with a fan base that can make more noise with towels than all of Tampa with cowbells. A fan base that would actually appreciate a World Series and understand what it means.
And since we all know that (Sports) God is dead and/or hates Philadelphia, there is no question that the Rays will win the 2008 World Series. At 2:3 odds, they are a bargain. Go ahead and bet the farm. Here’s the thing about the Rays, they’re not much of a Cinderella team. A Cinderella team is supposed to be the underdog squad that defies all odds to take home the hardware. (The 1985 Villanova Wildcats come to mind; coincidentally the last team worth a damn to win anything in this city. Sorry Bon Jovi.) The Rays have never been the underdog (unless you count the whole ridiculously inept franchise with apathetic fanbase thing), they were favored against the White Sox, they were favored against the Red Sox, and they are favored against the Phillies. So if there is a feel good story to be written, shouldn’t it be the Phillies who win this thing?
I’m tired of hearing about all the talk about how the Cubs haven’t won anything in 100 years. Need I remind you that the Bulls won about 14 NBA championships in 10 years? I could take 1,000 years of any of our four major sports teams losing if only we could get that one winner. Do you know how hard it is to not win anything in 4 sports in 25 years? That’s like getting no numbers correct in keno. In most casinos, if you can manage that, they give you $50 and send you to the buffet. In Philly, they send you home with a shrug and a boo and tell you to look forward to next year.
The Bright Side / The Flip Side
Here’s a question for you sports fans: would you rather lose to a good sports town or a bad sports town? Is it less painful to lose to a team with a rabid fan base and a long sports tradition or is it less painful to lose to a team with a terrible fan base and no sports tradition? This was the dilemma facing me as I sat down to watch Game 7 of the ALCS between the Rays and the Red Sox. Forget about the potential matchup and how the Phillies would fare versus either team, it was all about damage control come November. Remember, there is no (Sports) God so I assumed the Phillies would lose in the World Series.
Good Sports Town: For all the hatred I have for Boston sports fans, especially the pink-hatted bandwagoners, at least you know that there are true sports fans there that suffered through enough losing so that they have a certain spiritual sports kinship with you, rivalry aside. (That being said, the kid that held up the “9 years old, 6 parades” sign at the Celtics parade needs a kick in the teeth. Smug little bastard.) On the flip side, the chances of you running into a Boston fan who will needle you about losing to them in the World Series/Super Bowl/NBA Finals/Stanley Cup Finals are much greater.
Bad Sports Town: They weren’t championship rounds but losing to Buccaneers in the 2002 NFC Championship Game and to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals were two of the lowest points in recent Philadelphia sports history. And then having both go on to win their respective championships was like getting kicked in the nuts after getting turned down for the prom. Do you know how frustrating it is to lose to a team whose fan base that has to be told on the scoreboard what offsides is? On the bright side, I have yet to run into a Tampa Bay fan that has reminded me of either game.
In the end, I decided to root for the Rays to win the AL. It was far better to not be randomly reminded at all of the 2008 World Series when the Phillies eventually lose it. I figured the chances of me ever spotting a TB 2008 World Series Champs hat was less than Jessica Alba winning an Oscar. Meanwhile, when was the last time you went out and not see someone wearing a Boston hat?
Buying a Championship
It was 1998. The Eagles were just a terrible team. Ray Rhodes was sniffing ammonia and running the team into the ground. I found myself in Vegas with too much money to spend and a line of Eagles +3 against the Detroit Lions. In a moment of clarity, I figured that if they weren’t going to reward me with actual effort, at least I could make some money on the Eagles so I bet against them. Of course the Eagles win the game and I am $100 poorer for my trouble.
Now I realize this is completely ridiculous but I have since imagined that I can buy wins by betting against teams I want to win. It’s as if Gambling God hates me more than Sports God. So rest easy Phillies fans, I have made the proper sacrifice to the Gambling God and the Phillies will win the 2008 World Series.
Yes — I know this contradicts the entire first part of my column but if there was no hope, what would be the point of following your team? And even though we’ve all been conditioned to expect the worst, there’s still that tiny part of us that thinks this could be the year. So I buy a little hope and a little Yuengling and I try to get through this World Series without losing my mind. I expect that most of you are right there with me.
The thing is, if the Phillies do lose to the Rays, I know exactly what I’ll do. I’ll turn my attention to the Eagles and the Sixers and the Flyers and look forward to next year. A little worse for wear but sports loyalty intact and a sense that when it does happen, the celebration will be one unlike any other.
What I can’t even imagine is what to do if the Phillies do win the World Series. There would be enough tears in this town to flood the city for days. There would be 6 million people lined up along Broad street for the parade. The Phillies would reach city hall, Brad Lidge would hold up the Daily News with a cover that simply says “We Win!” and then the world would end. Sorry 2012, but the Phillies winning the World Series in 2008 trumps some silly Aztec calendar.
Hmmm… the end of the world or another season without a championship in Philly? I could go either way.