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125 years of phutility and counting


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PHILADELPHIA -- The grouchiest, grumpiest, angriest Phillies die-hard this side of the Schuylkill River props his left leg up on the coffee table in his living room in Bensalem, Pa.

 

His grandkids smile softly at him in a framed photo a few feet away. The ceiling spotlight bathes his face. He doesn't look happy.

 

It's been a rough 125 years.

 

"You know what really gets me mad?" Mark Appel grumbles, revealing an open wound shared by fellow Philadelphia baseball junkies. "We've had terrible teams over and over and over again. And the owners don't care! They're penny-pinching, effete snobs! They're incompetent nincompoops! ... Really."

 

He knows the history of missteps and blunders. 1964. Gene Mauch. Kiteman (Kiteman for pete's sakes!). Wild Thing.

 

Now this.

 

He shakes his head in disgust. "It's a shame that the best fans in the world are treated like (garbage)."

 

The losing life of a Phillies fan means absorbing a flurry of summertime body blows and one-liners. The franchise's catalogue of ineptitude has it on the brink of unprecedented ignominy: 10,000 losses.

 

The most futile organization in the history of professional sports is five shy of the wretched milestone. The Atlanta Braves are a distant second with 9,677 losses.

 

"The Phillies have just been consistently bad," says Bob Rosen, a statistician for the Elias Sports Bureau. "I've been following baseball since '44, and they were always eliminated by Mother's Day, for cryin' out loud.

 

"All we can do is look at the numbers and say, 'Wow!'"

 

The Phillies have won just one World Series championship (1980) and returned to the postseason only three times since that day. Philadelphians have endured a 24-year championship famine -- the Sixers won the NBA title in 1983 -- the longest O-fer for any city with the four major pro sports teams.

 

Appel has seen it all in his 60 years. Inexplicable trades. Wacky managerial hires. Most of all, pathetic, punchless play.

 

"We don't want to hear this B.S. about how winning isn't everything," Appel barks from his recliner. "With professional sports, winning is everything."

 

Many Phillies fans, however, have temporarily softened their edge, welcoming the embarrassment of becoming the sole member of the 10K club. Season ticket-holder Charley DeBow, a 28-year-old parking garage manager, launched the Web site, www.celebrate10000.com, to commemorate the humiliation and provide a forum for tales of woe.

 

"You know why they're embracing it?" Philadelphia native and local sports talk radio host Howard Eskin asks. "Because the Phillies will finally be first in something. They finally got to No. 1."

 

But the organization doesn't plan to embrace such a twisted celebration.

 

"We're as old as the Brooklyn Bridge," says Larry Shenk, the Phillies' vice president of public relations. "Are they keeping track of the accidents on the Brooklyn Bridge?"

 

 

A ROUGH BEGINNING

 

Long before Henry Ford was churning out Model Ts, Philadelphia's star-crossed franchise was stuck in reverse.

 

The organization -- named the Quakers at the time -- opened for business on May 1, 1883. Nearly 1,200 folks spilled into Recreation Park, unwitting spectators to history.

 

Providence Grays 4, Philadelphia Quakers 3.

 

Loss No. 1.

 

Luck, it seemed, was never on their side. The inaugural season featured 48-game loser John Coleman. Charlie Ferguson, author of the franchise's first no-hitter in 1885 and winner of 99 games in his first four seasons, died at age 25 from typhoid fever.

 

Frugal and clueless owners were staples. When Ed Delahanty became the first player in Phillies history to smack four homers in a game in 1896, the team rewarded him with four cases of chewing gum as a thank you.

 

The Phillies braintrust was so impressed with Grover Cleveland Alexander's three consecutive 30-win seasons from 1915-1917 (when he led the league in complete games, shutouts, strikeouts and innings pitched each season) that it shipped the future Hall of Famer to the Cubs for cash and two scrubs in 1917.

 

"I needed the money," owner William Baker conceded at the time.

 

Then, Chuck Klein was inexplicably traded away after winning the Triple Crown in 1933.

 

The Phillies languished in the National League cellar 16 times from 1919-1945.

 

The '20s, '30s and '40s accounted for nearly 30 percent of the franchise's losses.

 

In 1930, the pitching staff allowed an unthinkable 1,199 runs (6.71 ERA), prompting baseball historian Lee Allen to predict the record would likely "outlast the redwood trees of California or the sun."

 

"The sad thing is that the terrible teams back then weren't much worse than what we have now," Appel says. "It's very depressing."

 

The club's modern-day record 23-game losing streak in 1961 led skipper Gene Mauch to confess, "No matter what we tried, it didn't work. The only thing I didn't try was suicide."

 

The misery only deepened. The worst, of course, was yet to come.

 

THE 1964 COLLAPSE

 

Hiraldo Sablon "Chico" Ruiz, career benchwarmer, still haunts the city.

 

The Phillies lived a charmed life during the summer of '64. Jim Bunning tossed a perfect game on Father's Day. Johnny Callison smacked a ninth-inning, game-winning homer in the All-Star game at Shea Stadium.

 

They held a seemingly insurmountable 6 1/2-game lead with 12 games remaining. The World Series beckoned.

 

Then, the sad-sack franchise imploded.

 

Ruiz, a no-name rookie with the Reds, did the unthinkable, stealing home in a scoreless game in the sixth inning with future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson at the plate. The Phillies' 1-0 loss started a cataclysmic 10-game collapse that cost them the pennant. The epic Philly Phlop still stings among those who blame Mauch for starting Bunning and Chris Short seven times during the free-fall.

 

"Gene Mauch was an idiot," says lifelong fan Harold Cohen, standing in line for tickets at Citizens Bank Park last week. "I can't forgive him for that."

 

Nearly 30 years later, another generation of fans was paralyzed by a stunning moment of failure. Closer Mitch Williams, nicknamed "Wild Thing" for his savage look and lack of control on the mound, surrendered a season-ending, three-run blast to Blue Jays slugger Joe Carter in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series to deal the Phillies an 8-6 loss -- the only come-from-behind World Series-ending homer in history.

 

Those unshakable memories still wake up die-hards in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Appel hates thinking about it.

 

Asked then why he presented a framed mosaic of that infamous '64 team to his son for his 30th birthday, Appel laughs a sinister laugh.

 

"Because I wanted him to feel the pain too."

 

HOLDING OUT HOPE

 

Mark Appel still believes. Most of them do.

 

Despite a lifetime of anguish and heartbreak, they cling to the maybes. Maybe their time will come someday soon. Maybe 10,000 losses aren't so bad. Maybe this summer will be different.

 

It's impossible to walk away.

 

"We used to talk about the Phillies 12 months a year," Eskin admits. "They couldn't get enough baseball. They don't have the same passion they used to, but they can't ever let go."

 

So they put up with an ownership that passed on Jim Leyland a few years back to hire the oft-lampooned Charlie Manuel as manager. They take slow, measured breaths to drop their blood pressure when the trade deadline passes without a significant move.

 

"When you love your team so much like they do here," says outfielder Shane Victorino, "you feel for them because of (the losses). But when you've been around for so long, it's bound to happen."

 

Appel understands that. So, he cherishes the good times. Walking into an oasis of green at old Connie Mack Stadium. Introducing his son to the rowdy 700 level at The Vet. Great memories.

 

"I love baseball," he says in a whisper.

 

Then, he roars to life again without warning, breaking free from his happy place.

 

Something on his chest. Something big.

 

"Just go back to the '80s when they drafted JEFF JACKSON instead of The Big Hurt (Frank Thomas)! ... WHHHYYY?!" he shouts, pleading to the baseball gods. "It's incredible! It's like there's something in the water here that makes their brain tissue just melt away.

 

"And speaking of bonehead deals ..."

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  • 2 weeks later...
who is the only team in baseball with 10,000 or more wins?

 

didn't they do it recently too? like last year? i remember hearing something about that

 

 

 

 

 

 

i have way more than 10,000 wins

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