How Did We Get Here?: The Evolution of the Phillies Fan – Phillies Nation

How Did We Get Here?: The Evolution of the Phillies Fan

When I was a young kid, maybe eight or nine years old, I attended a Southern Baptist church in South Jersey that doesn’t exist anymore. I remember some stuff about it, but after 15 years, the memory is getting hazy. But there’s one story that I think relates to the state of our collective groupthink as Phillies fans. And I’d like to share it with you.

The pastor there was the sort of florid orator that one doesn’t find much at the pulpit these days, particularly north of the Mason-Dixon. He was too nice a guy to be much of a fire-and-brimstone character, but he had the booming baritone and expansive vocabulary that I think ought to be prerequisites for entering seminary.

His “City on a Hill” sermon was not titled “The Downward Spiral of Sinful Disbelief,” but that was the line he repeated, the concept he referred to throughout. The title was “How to Boil a Frog.”

The idea was that sin doesn’t take over one’s life all at once, but gradually, much in the same way that one boils a frog. If you toss a frog in a pot of hot water, he’ll jump out. But if you put him in a pot of cold water and gradually turn up the heat to boiling, he won’t notice the danger until it’s too late.

Why, exactly, someone would want to boil a frog was lost on my eight-year-old mind, but it was the pastor’s metaphor, not mine, so I didn’t say anything.

The reason I bring this up is because we, as Phillies fans, are frogs. And over the past 10 years, we’ve been boiled.

In July 2000, I was about to start 8th grade. The World Trade Center still stood, Bill Clinton was still the president, and Eric Lindros was still a Flyer.

I was just as big a Phillies fan then as I am now, but it was a different team. Curt Schilling would be traded by the end of the month, Terry Francona was in his fourth season as manager, and the team’s best reliever was something called Chris Brock, who could muster only a 4.34 ERA and a1.35 WHIP in 93 innings. The Francona era was my formative experience as a baseball fan, once I finally got old enough to make my own observations and once the team was rid of the Macho Row crew of my very early childhood.

Terry Francona, as the manager of the Phillies, never led the team to more than 77 wins and a third-place finish, and he twice lost 94 games or more—the first allowed the team to get the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft (Pat Burrell) and the second got him and everyone he knew fired. The turn-of-the-century Phillies were laughably bad. They’d trade away detritus like Garrett Stephenson and watch him win 16 games for the Cardinals. This was  a team where the big free-agent acquisition was an over-the-hill Danny Tartabull who inflicted a career-ending injury on himself in his third game with the team. Management was too cheap to spend the money it took to contend and too stupid to do anything positive with it if they did. All this while three of the other four teams in the division, the Mets, Braves, and Marlins, combined for five pennants and two World Series titles in six seasons between 1995 and 2000.

This is the Phillies team I grew up with, this laughingstock, this Keystone Kops organization. But in 2001, Larry Bowa took over, and the team started a run of contention. The first year, I didn’t think much of it (hell, the Royals would put together a similar run a couple years later), but then, they started to draft well. Like, really well. Between 1999 and 2002, they spent high draft picks on Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, and Ryan Howard–the backbone of the team that would win three straight division titles, two pennants and a World Series.

For the entirety of the Larry Bowa era and the beginnings of the Charlie Manuel era, that team was just about always one one big move away from reaching that hallowed ground: the playoffs. From 2000 to 2006, it seemed like the only thing that changed was that the team went from habitually missing the playoffs by 25 games to habitually missing them by three or four, and they went from failing to make the big trade for Roger Pavlik or something to not making the big trade for Andy Pettitte. It was frustration, all right, but it was a different kind of frustration.

Now we’re in a place where the team’s had eight winning seasons in nine years, three straight division titles and two straight pennants. We’re in a place where the team could field 13 current or former All-Stars (that’s more than half the Opening Day roster), a Cy Young winner, two former National League MVPs, and one of the top five or so position players in baseball. For the past four seasons, the Phillies have been considered one of the best teams in the NL, and one of the favorites to go to the World Series every year. They’re on ESPN and in the national press all the time. For a fan, this should be the best of times; we have finally arrived.

But this is also a time where the average fan is upset that the Phils, already with three former All-Star starting pitchers, couldn’t keep a fourth this past offseason. Or that there’s a potential that the team could lose one of its three All-Star outfielders this coming winter. Cole Hamels is crap, the bullpen is crap, Ryan Howard is crap, and so on.

If I had gone back to talk to that 13-year-old version of me, the one who was watching Terry Francona manage the 2000 Phillies to 97 losses, what would he have said? Well, I’d imagine that 13-year-old me would start by ridiculing my beard and telling me how disappointed he is at how fat I’d become. Then, he’d probably make some remark about the sheer lunacy of having anything to complain about when the Phillies are this good.

Because to someone who grew up on the 1990s Phillies, seeing the Vet only a third full night in and night out, this crop of Phillies fans would seem as strange as an invasion from Mars. It seems like, year by year, we’ve been boiled like the frog in my former pastor’s sermon. We’ve turned, bit by bit, into those Yankee fans we all grew up hating, so accustomed to winning, and a team committed to winning, that we take it as some sort of affront when the team slips up. We’ve become spoiled, not to put too fine a point on it. So with the team 4 1/2 games out at the break, coming off a thrilling four-game sweep of the first-place Reds, it would seem preposterous to a Francona-era Phillies fan that we’d all be so upset.

We’ve been transformed, Nation, as a fan base, by these past 10 years. Not that winning, and the heightened expectations that come with it, are bad–they quite clearly aren’t, and as someone who cares far too much about a baseball team, I wouldn’t trade these past 10 seasons for anything.

I just look around and from time to time I feel like this team, these fans, this culture of winning, is strange, like tomorrow I’ll wake up and Chase Utley will be Marlon Anderson again. But then I look at the standings, when even after a bad couple months, the Phillies are still in the thick of the pennant race, with as good a team as any in the league and their best baseball ahead of them. And thinking back to those awful 1990s, when it wasn’t a matter of if they’d lose but how, and I appreciate this team, and what they’ve done all the more.

I really have no idea what the past 10 years, and the impact they’ve had on us, as Phillies fans and our culture, have to do with winning at Wrigley on Thursday, or overhauling the Mets and Braves over the remainder of the season. What I do know is that it’s worth it, from time to time, to look back at where we’ve come from. And wonder how in the world we ever got here.



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  2. Greg

    July 13, 2010 at 1:56 am

    I agree. Not that we should be content with status quo, always strive for more… but Christ, remember “sneaking” 13 beers into Veterans stadium and no one bothered stopping you because no one CARED?!
    Stop yo’ B$tchin’ you d#mn front runnin’ #ssholes!
    Support your team that has spoiled us instead of reaching out and stop grabbing balls and turning our triples into doubles.

  3. Mike Bishop

    July 13, 2010 at 1:56 am

    Well said. I’m a year older than you and grew up with the same team.

  4. Dave B

    July 13, 2010 at 1:58 am

    And that DID cost us a run, cause Ibanez flew out to the OF after that. Lemme tell you, if I was in that section, I would have made my way over to that jerk and thrown my $8 beer in his dam face!

  5. Greg B

    July 13, 2010 at 1:59 am

    And stuffed your $8 cheesesteak down his shirt?!

  6. Adrian

    July 13, 2010 at 2:06 am

    I think for major cities like Philadelphia, New York and Boston, the inherent greed of Capitalism (I’m not attacking the model, it’s just an unfortunate fact) becomes a part of our subconscious thought processes that leave us wanting more no matter how much we already have.

    I admit that I’ve fallen victim to that trap – a self-professed boiling frog. In the late 1990s when the Francona-led Phillies enjoyed two years of first-half success, only to falter in the last two months, I kept saying, “I just want to see them finish above .500.” I got used to that during the Bowa years when the Phillies finished at exactly 86-76 a remarkable three out of four seasons, and then it was, “I just want to see them make it to the playoffs.” When that long drought finally ended in 2007, I was left unfulfilled as the Phightins were easily swept by the Colorado Rockies.

    After the World Series win two years ago, I told myself that for the rest of my life I could never complain again about my team. Countless people lived their entire lives never witnessing a Phillies championship, and I had seen one after just 26 years on this planet. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

    But what happened last year? That insatiable need for another World Series win dominated all thoughts concerning the Phillies. That didn’t happen and I didn’t even watch Games 5 or 6 of the ’09 Series. When the organization acquired Roy Halladay, but let Cliff Lee go I was outraged. I was now saying things like, “I can’t believe these guys are throwing away this opportunity to take home another trophy.”

    I had forgotten why I started watching the Phillies in the first place. All I could focus on was watching them win it all over and over. They’re my home town team and they should mean more to me than that.

    I also forget that as a true fan of baseball, I thoroughly enjoy the playoffs every year, whether the Phillies are in them or not. Baseball is a wonderful game and not just because of the competition aspect. It’s a game of numbers, nuances and it sets up infinite moments in which anything can happen. I hope that as I get older, that sweet appreciation will help wean me off the obsession of perfection.

    I’ll end this scathing reality on a positive note with an event to which I’m sure you could relate, Michael. My Dad and I recently made our first trip to Cooperstown and attended the Hall of Fame Classic game. It featured several Hall of Fame players and recently retired stars like Jeff Kent, but the player I was most excited to see was former Phillies shortstop Desi Relaford. He took me back in my mind to the magical year of 1999 when I first had access to Comcast Sports Net and was able to watch the Phillies every single day. In a way, I’m still more attached to that team than I am to the current one, and those players provided me with plenty of memories that will last a lifetime. Though they didn’t win as freqently, they were still a fun group to watch.

  7. Hefty Lefty

    July 13, 2010 at 2:10 am

    Nice, thought provoking article. I grew up the Phillies of the late 1950’s and was an extreme fan in the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s up until today. The Phils are the losingest team in all of professional sports for a reason. Incompetent management, cheap management, poor managers and a fanbase that has usually accepted poor performance.

    Management is not cheap anymore. As a city, we deprived our public school students of decent textbooks to build a stadiums so that our teams would stop threatening to leave. We attended games all along but we were frequently left with sore throats and shattered hopes.

    I suggest, as an experienced fan and old man, that we simply demand more from our Phillies, Eagles (who have been pretty good under ANdy Reed and Jeff Lourie), Sixers and Flyers. Support these teams. Act politely to other fans, but when teams stink, raise hell about it. Seems like the more hell we raise with management of these teams, the better teams we will get. Make these teams earn their hefty salaries. After all, we pay for them and sacrifice to see them.

  8. Greg

    July 13, 2010 at 2:21 am

    Could whomever else is using the “Greg” name please stop…Thanks!

  9. WillTheRealGregPleaseStandUp

    July 13, 2010 at 5:38 am

    Some people say that the only thing that prevents people from being successful, is the fear of being successful.

    I think, as a fan base, not unlike one of those other Destiny’s Children, we might not always know exactly how to cope with the lime-light – its new to us. As Phillies fans, we have such a rich history of losing, that we constantly want to tripe and quadruple check whether this winning-ness is here to stay.

    I have thought this recently as well: there is something to learn from Yankees fans. They adjust to knowing that, even if the team doesn’t win EVERY year, they are still understood as a confident group who is going to go out and compete. And if the team is subpar, the fanbase is going to react. And – the management is going to respond. And if they don’t, the fanbase will react again, and so on.

    I think that, finally, perhaps this new culture of successful baseball has arrived for what is actually the oldest continuous franchise in professional sports history. Karma has paid off. Welcome to the big leagues, Phillies fans. Just make sure that you’re the Beyonce (I know, I know, its just for the metaphor) and not one of those other MIA chicks.

  10. bfo_33

    July 13, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Nice posting Michael. I’m about 20 years older, really got into sports during the Golden era of Philly teams – late 70’s/early 80’s. Sports Illustrated had an article in the late 70s predicting that Philadelphia would be the sports city of the 80s – it started out promising – all the sports teams made the playoffs, and actually wound up with 2 rings. The Carpenter family sold the Phils, and three of the four owners got together and collectively decided to suck (the Flyers were pretty competitive throughout the 80s, but it’s not my game, too expensive to see in person, painful to watch on tv).

    I agree management should be held accountable for putting together bad teams, but many Phils fans today are also a little spoiled by recent success and take it out on the players when they are not entertained every night. While the results aren’t always there, we have a great stadium, an organization that spends money, and a team that comes out to play every night. 30 years from now, we’ll will look back at 2006 – 20xx as the greatest era of the Phils. Enjoy it while it lasts.

  11. BrewTown PhilsPhan

    July 13, 2010 at 7:49 am


    Two observations:

    I’m a Baptist pastor, I’ve heard that illustration many times, and I still don’t know why anyone would want to boil a frog – particularly a live one.

    Secondly, I have often thought back to the days when the Phils were so awful and wondered why I don’t enjoy this more. Back then I would have imagined that it would be the best thing in the world to root for one of the truly great teams, but now that we have one I find that – while there are truly great moments of tremendous joy (Matt Stairs in LA two years ago) – there are many more times when I feel anxious and depressed about the Phils. For my part I think it’s the knowledge that it can’t last forever, so I worry about when it will end and I manage to convince myself that every slump is the dawn of a new, terrible day.

  12. George

    July 13, 2010 at 7:58 am

    I think one should consider that in the ten years cited, a lot of things have happened to the fan base besides being “boiled.” The major factor you’ve missed is that in those ten years, a lot of newer, younger people have joined; people who are probably too young to have the same recollection of the nineties teams as the older fans. A twenty-one year old would have been eight the first year Francona managed, and may have been more interested in football, computer games, He-man, or if female, Barbie. When taken to ballgames, he/she may only have reveled in hot dogs or experienced the joy of being away from his evil baby sister or brother. There have probably also been fans from other cities who have moved in. If they’d been Kansas City fans suddenly subjected to a WS winner, then naturally they’d be wary of their new team’s third place record. And for those really young fans, all they’ve known has been success, so they might not even comprehend third place.

    That said, there is, indeed, some “boiling” going on, but that’s just human nature in general. A person who’s lived in a mansion certainly never wants to move to a bungalo, even if it’s the best one in the neighborhood. A Ferrari driver would be really p***ed if he had to trade for a Miata.

  13. George

    July 13, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Why would someone boil a frog? They are edible. Not too many people would want one raw, though. The eating of frog’s legs earned the French the “frog” epithet, much as eating limes got the British the distinction of being called “limeys.”

    The only reason I can think of to boil a live frog would be to preserve it’s freshness, much in the way live lobsters are boiled. It seems cruel, perhaps, but really it’s no worse than hooking a live fish, ripping out the hook, then letting the creature slowly die from lack of oxygen. It’s no crueler than prodding a steer up a ramp with electric shocks to be bashed brainless and ground into Big Macs.

  14. Barb

    July 13, 2010 at 9:27 am

    I agree that we have high expections for the Phils and when they don’t meet them we either defect or complain. I agree that we want to be entertained and when the performance is less then entertaining, well, we’re not satisfied. I’m also a more “seasoned fan” growing up in the 70’s era and being thrilled in ’80 when they won the World Series. I also endured the rest of the 80’s, 90’s and the beginning of 2000’s just watching the game because you just loved the team no matter how many wins they had or what place they were in. That’s always in the back of my head. You were truly a fan then. Now, we’re so spoiled and want the team to win every night. We want a lot of hits and big scoring games. If we don’t get what we want, then, we throw a tantrum. What’s more thrilling though then watching a team slump and then slowly collect themselves, power through their adversities and get back in the fight? No matter what the Phils finish in this season we shall cheer them on for being a great and talented team who never gives up and never stops believing in themselvesl What more can you ask of them?

  15. Barb

    July 13, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Great article! Look at how many comments that you generated from this entry and how very verbal they were. That’s inspirational. Well done. High praise to Michael Baumann!

  16. Bob in Bucks

    July 13, 2010 at 9:39 am

    I am approaching 60. I moved to Philadelphia area 30 years ago (not counting 4 years at Penn long ago). I don’t notice anything unusual about Phillies fans other than they like to boo.
    It is normal to love your local team when you are young – winners or losers. As you age you covet more things and think that if you just got that house, car, pool or whatever you would be happy. As you age you either achieve those goals or don’t.

    For those who achieve the goals (the house, the car, the World Series chamionship) you realize that either you want more or you just stop craving and enjoy. For me, I enjoy. I don’t bitch, I observe. I know the Phillies won’t win every game so I don’t stress about it. But, I do enjoy when they win. When I look back at the playoffs and the WS I know that what was the greatest was the moments at the ballpark when I felt I was one of 45,000 in a community effort (Brett Meyers walk as an example). Winning was wonderful but the feeling of being one with other fans was great.

    You are not a boiled frog. You are simply growing up.

  17. George

    July 13, 2010 at 11:14 am

    So “growing up” is being more demanding and spoiled?

    I think it should be more like realization that people have their flaws and that bad things sometimes just happen and can’t really be blamed on anybody or anything.

    Bob, perhaps you’ve stopped “craving and enjoy,” and so you aren’t a “boiled frog.” But others are simmering away, and not because they’ve grown up, but because they’ve grown selfish.

  18. George

    July 13, 2010 at 11:15 am

    And grown greedy.

  19. Nick

    July 13, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Great post. One of the best in a while.

  20. Greg

    July 13, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Could the two other people using the Greg name please stop? Thanks!

  21. SJHaack

    July 13, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    It took me until the world series last year to finally come to grips with the fact that the phillies really did win the world series in 2008. I remember my reaction was more a gigantic flood off relief, that a philadelphia team finally failed to choke something away, than the pure elation that it should have been.

    I know that in a blink of an eye that it could be the way it used to be. And so that’s why I’m mad at the Phillies. Not only are they predicted as an odds on favorite, but they have proven that its not just hype for the first time in my entire life. This team is TOO GOOD to settle for “well it could be worse”. We’re watching what could have been a dynasty start to get taken apart piecemeal.

    You suffer through the awful times and dream for the days of greatness. Demand excellence, because that’s what you know can be delivered.

  22. Brooks

    July 13, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Great article Michael, perhaps the best I have seen written from you, very thought provoking and spot on.

    The Phils have a terrific product on the field. They have been winning on talent which will be here for a few more years, not so much on luck so its real. We have seen what these guys can do and we have grown to expect them to perform that same winning way.

    This lifeless offense for nearly 2 months complete now is an abomination and it has to end. There is no way to expect the kind of pitching performances we received (well, 3 out of 4 games anyway) from our starters or BP on a continuous basis.

    That being said, I am very proud of my Phils, believe in them and will cheer them on as they march towards the fall classic.

  23. Don M

    July 13, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    That pretty much sums up my stance too … im 27 now, and still used to go to all the games at the Vet, when we’d hope and pray that Tomas Perez would drive Rico Brogna-in to win the game ..

    So when we signed Jim Thome for 2003, i actually jumped all around my basement calling everyone I ever met to tell them the great news … since then, its been a fairytale ride … and you won’t ever hear me complain that our Phillies are bad … or that they suck … because I know what those things ACTUALLY mean

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  25. Ryan H

    July 13, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    personally, I will never take this for granted. in my book, It is a supreme violation of the highest order to ever ever boo the likes of Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, and yes even Brad Lidge. Especially Brad Lidge. He is a golden god to me forever and ever until the end of time.

    Take a step back and realize what this era of phillies baseball is. The greatest era of Phillies baseball in its 130 year history.

  26. Kate

    July 13, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Great article.

    I’m of the generation of fans who were just a little too young to remember the great era of the eighties. I grew up hearing about Tug and Schmitty, who weren’t so long ago and my first World Series team was the rough and tumble ’93 squad.

    Whether this current squad wins another World Series still intact (Rollins, Utley, Howard, Victorino, Moyer, Hamels, Blanton, Kendrick, Ibanez, Lidge, Romero, Contreras, Valdez, etc.), many of them will still be folk heroes to me, because of that fabulous 2008 and equally exciting 2009 season.

    I can be frustrated, I can be fidgety, I can throw my hands up in the air, but none of these guys will ever suck to me. They brought championship baseball back to Philadelphia and what a ride it’s been, and still is.

    Not giving up on these guys. And I’ll take issue with anyone who does.

  27. adam

    July 13, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    great post, michael

    im the same age, and i was thinking this same thing the other day, but you said it really well

    all these phillies fans complaining the way they are ought to be ashamed of themselves. just a few years ago, remember how people were saying this team would get a 10-year pass, no matter what, if they won just one world series? that sure lasted… and not that i even agree with the idea of a “free pass,” but c’mon. we’re right where we were record-wise the last couple years, guys will come back from injury… the sky is not falling

    you all sound like red sox fans. please shut up or move to boston.

  28. Phan Attic Will

    July 13, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    I’m 20 and have been watching the Phillies all my life. I was at the 2008 World Series and spent over $600 combined flying home from NC two years in a row to be in Philly for the Fall Classic.

    I consider myself a big fan although I’m a little younger than you. While there’s no doubt that front runners have taken over the team, aren’t we being hypocrites by calling them out and complaining? I remember walking up to a Phils-Nats game last year and going to buy tix around 6:45 and was appalled when they were sold out. I never thought a Nats game would sell out and I remember cursing the front running asses that stole my seats. Then I said ‘shouldn’t I be happy that my team is selling out the seats and getting the recognition of the whole city and nation?’ Sure, they’re bitches. But I’d rather have the whole baseball watching nation see a packed house wearing red than be ridiculed for having a good team and not filling seats like the embarrassing rays. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

  29. rose

    July 13, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Really great article. I’m only 17, and my dad got me hooked when I was very little. While I didn’t see all the low times Phillie fans have seen I consider myself a pretty big fan, though I have been spoiled in all of the success this team has brought to Philly.

    Of course I want them to succeed but I think they are doing pretty ok for what they have. Utley is out. Ruiz just came back and Polonco is out as well along with some other injuries. I’m not saying this gives them an excuse not to play and win but its not the end of the world if they loose. They are still a great team and I think we just need to stand by them no matter what. (and as I have read through the comments, there are many many Phillies fans who have stuck with their team).

    I recently went to a game and Jimmy was getting booed first day back, if I have that right. I don’t know, we as fans can just be tough, and I don’t blame the players for getting a little fired up.

    I guess I can see it both ways. The fans know how great they are, and get upset because they know this team’s potential, but obviously the players don’t like how some, show the devotion.

    Lets just enjoy the game (:

  30. Don M

    July 14, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    I remember a game against the Braves (second to last series of the season, I think it was Sept. 26, 2007) …

    36,588 fans that night…

    The Phillies were 2.0 games behind the NY METS in the NL EAST
    and 1.0 games behind the Padres (tied with the Rockies) for the Wild Card

    5 games to go in the season, rally towels given out at the gates .. and we didn’t sell that game out.. I just remember the disbelief when they announced the attendence that night , and seeing all the empty blue seats for what, at the time, was one of the most important games of the past decade (as they all would be from that point-on) .. The weather waws 86-and-Clear .. and we weren’t a sell out crowd to cheer the phillies on ….

    the following night had 40,589
    and then we played that Nats with crowds of 45,084 … 44,532 …and 44,865 to end the season.
    That’s the kinda of thing that makes me so angry when “fans” go down to the park and boo them now. If you only like them when they win, do us all a favor and stay home… You probably get great reception on your blackberry from your mom’s basement too, you don’t need to be in Ashburn Alley to update your facebook status ..

    If you’re keeping track, the score is now:
    Don 1, Fake Fans 0

  31. branderson

    July 14, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    ah, this is a very fitting post for myself. I am just a few years younger than you but can relate on so many levels.

    see my comment on the philliesnation post about Victorino almost calling the fans frontrunners

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