Here's my theory: Most sports fans are formed by the most cataclysmic or euphoric sporting event of their childhood. I am the sports fan that I am today because four days before my 14th birthday, with the Cleveland Browns in field-goal range,
I bring this up because today's topic is possibly the most famous collapse in baseball history, the fall of 1964 Phillies, and also my good friend
We can start our sad tale on Sept. 20, 1964, when the Phillies beat the Dodgers 3-2.
Funny thing is, even at age 9 Bob knew what most clear-thinking Philadelphia fans knew -- the Phillies were winning with smoke, mirrors, trap doors, wires, sleight of hand,
I remember this feeling in Kansas City in 2003. You KNEW the Royals weren't good enough, and yet the summer went along and they stayed in first place, and after a while you just shrugged and decided that maybe they had the blessings of the gods. They didn't, of course. But the Royals had the good sense to fall out of things early enough to make the year still seem cheerful. By Sept. 20, even the most cynical of Phillies fans had to move all his chips in with this team. Nobody blows a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games to go.
I asked Bob for his cold memories -- I didn't want him to go back and look up the details -- and the way he remembers it, the first couple of losses didn't bother anyone too much. He does remember vague details of that first loss, he was sitting in his father's car while his parents shopped at the farmer's market. The Phillies lost 1-0 to Cincinnati. "That was the night that
The next night, the Phillies lost more directly, 9-2, starter
The next night, the Phillies lost to the Reds again, 6-4, this time blowing the lead when Cincinnati's
They lost to Milwaukee 5-3 to make it four losses in a row. Milwaukee's Joe
The next day, the Phillies led the Braves 4-2 going into the eighth inning. The Braves made it 4-3 when
Anyway, 4-3 going into the ninth,
Now it was pure hysteria, nothing else. A panicked
The next night, Mauch sent Chris Short out there on two days rest. Why not? He pitched admirably under the circumstances, I guess, but
And the story was really over. Of course, even after
That was that. Here's what Bob says: "It was beyond depressing. I became a cynic at that moment. I already knew there was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy. But facing this reality was so much worse. I knew in my heart the Phillies had overachieved and yet, here they were, now replacing the 1951 Dodgers as baseball's ultimate chokers in historical context. I never looked at sports the same way again. I still loved sports. Still do, in fact. But for me, my perspective changed forever after 1964."
For posterity's sake it's worth noting that the Phillies did beat the Reds in their final two games of 1964, which did not do them much good but did take the pennant away from Cincinnati and give it to the St. Louis Cardinals. Bunning threw the shutout on the final day as the Phillies unloaded 10-0 with Richie Allen capping off his marvelous rookie season with two home runs.
And it's funny: Bob is enough of a baseball historian and lover of the game to know that, as you look back at the '64 Phils, it's probably almost as amazing that the Phillies were in first place by 6 1/2 games to BEGIN WITH as it was that they ended up blowing the lead. The next year, Bob played a whole season of APBA baseball, and he undoubtedly gave his Phillies every break imaginable. They finished 82-80, 12-games behind the Reds.
Still, it doesn't matter, the pain lingers on, and always will. You know, when you are a Cleveland fan, you have a wide choice of worst moments. You can choose the Drive or the Fumble,
Of course it's illogical, but being a sports fan is illogical, right? Why do we stick with our teams through pain? Why do we endure the agony of Cleveland sports -- or Philadelphia sports, or Chicago, Milwaukee. Seattle, Atlanta, Baltimore, wherever? Is it simply because of an accident of geography? I don't think so. I think we do it because of something deep in our souls, something to do with loyalty or pride and the hope we all have as children. I feel certain I'd be a different man if Red Right 88 had never happened. I'm not sure if I'd be better or worse. But I'd be different. I also would be a different man if Rutigliano had started choking Sipe as he came off the field.