Ever since organized baseball climbed out of the primordial slime of town ball and cat o' nine tails, you could say that Philadelphia has been second fiddle to New York in the baseball annuls. Baseball was first played on a diamond in the "New York Game, " which proved more popular than the square-based "Massachusetts Game." New York clubs led by the first team, the Knickerbockers, organized the first amateur association, the National Association of Base Ball Players (yeah, two words). The organization proved successful and it survived until professionalism tore it apart. But like a phoenix it was reborn as the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NA), the father of today's National League.
Anyway, Philadelphia became the first non-New York area city to supply teams in large numbers, starting with five clubs in 1861 to the National Association of Base Ball Players (Detroit had had a short-lived club two years earlier). Philadelphia and New York were the only two cities to be represented by multiple teams in the NA. (That is, if you include Brooklyn which would not be incorporated into New York City proper until 1898. Also, note that Philadelphia had three teams in 1875 to New York's 2.) Philadelphia and New York were also yoked together as the two cities, though they were the two largest in the country at the time, to be unceremoniously jettisoned by the William Hulbert-controlled NL in 1876 for not completing a road trip out West (well, Midwest). Neither city was re-admitted to the majors until the NL felt pressure to re-group in 1883-taking over the forfeited Worcester and Troy franchises-because of the growth of the rival American Association, the so-called "Beer and Whiskey" league.
As the American League became the rival and then partner major league to the NL, clubs for each city were established in both leagues. The Philadelphia Athletics became the stronger of the two Philly teams and bore the city's original and signature nickname. The Phillies somehow survived while being one of the worst of the original 16 teams. The A's moved to greener pastures in Kansas City after the 1954 season. The Phillies had become more popular than the A's right before the relocation-happy Fifties so they remained in Philly. They also secured a wealthy ownership in the heirs to the wealthy DuPont family in the Carpenter family. The Phillies went through a few more decades of ups and downs culminating in their golden period 1976-83, in which they won the World Series once, were NL Champs twice, and were NL East Champs 5.5 times (they split it with Montreal in the strike shortened 1981 season). Former Met Tug McGraw said during the parade to celebrate their 1980 World Championship that "New York could take this World Championship and shove it," while holding aloft the seemingly no-longer-desired World Championship trophy. Since then the Phillies have been reduced to also-ran status in their good years and doormats in their bad, the one exception being their improbable 1993 World Series appearance. And New York has had more than its far share of World Series championships.
What does this have to do with a damn thing, you ask? Well, on Sunday I returned for the first time this season to my childhood stomping grounds, the Vet, to see the Phils play the Cards and to see them honor recently inducted Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas. And I was reminded in every brush stroke, great or small, of why Philadelphia is the second-rate city that it is. First, I was set to arrive at the game a half-hour early with tickets already reserved. You see, I was taking my three-year-old to her first major-league baseball game, one with a give away-twin bobblehead dolls of long-time booth partners Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn-and a half-hour early was the best I could do. Of course, I did not realize that this would be the first sellout (besides the Scot Rolen trade) for the Phillies all season and that the X-Games-can't they just replace that so-called event with a video game or something-happened to be across the street at the Spectrum. Needless to say, my half-hour early arrival time was insufficient, and as I was redirected by desiccated and apathetic Philly police officers to a lot about two miles from the Vet, which had an admission price of $20, it became an hour late arrival instead.
By the time we got to the turnstiles, all of the bobblehead dolls were gone and their were giving out vouchers to pick up ones on October 31 (!) at the Vet. As if this weren't annoying enough, Dominic my ticket taker explained this by saying that our tickets were no good and that we would get a rain check. It took two or three minutes and a fellow ticket taker as interpreter to understand what he was saying. By the way, while watching the game practically everyone I saw had more than one of these dolls, some as many as a half-dozen. Also, a group of young entrepreneurs had set up shop in the concourse selling dolls at $20 a pop. They evidently did not observe the "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Dice" policy. But enough about the damn dolls.
Back to the game itself. It was a good pitchers' duel until the sixth when Vicente Padilla gave up a grand slam to Edgar Renteria. That was basically the ballgame. The locals didn't seem to care. The highlight for them was an eighth-inning solo shot by Bobby Abreu, which though only narrowing the lead to four elicited high fives all around.
Of course, any cheering for the home team has to be exceeded by booing at the former draft pick who sat out a season to force a trade, J.D. Drew. You have to respect the Phils fans for remembering-it's been four years-but you have to wonder what basic need expressing their anger at the former Phillies' property fulfills. The biggest hand of the night, however, came when two sober lads in faux diapers sauntered around the 600 level with a hand-painted sign that read, "Rolen's Cry Babies." Scot Rolen, the recently traded Phil, was out of the game with an injury. He did come out to congratulate Harry Kalas before the game (I found out later) and was roundly booed for his respects-paying. I heard a group of cranks, as they used to be called, discussing his cowardice. They then chastised Travis Lee for a botched play at first and lamented the woebegone days of Rico Brogna, declaring that Rico would have turned two on the play (while ignoring that neither player is much of a major-league first baseman).
The day culminated with the purchase of a Phillie Phanatic doll for my daughter that, of course, could not be purchased with a credit card because the souvenir stand folks could not get the card reader to work, either through ignorance or mechanical failure. Then we trudged back through Camden to our car in the 100-degree heat.
Needless to say, I will not be hurrying back to the Vet for some time. On the way to our car we passed the site of the ground-breaking for the new Phillies stadium, which is to be completed in 2004. They might get me back by then. But given that my daughter has declared that the Yankees ("the Ankees") are her team, I might forego the reunion and start enjoying my baseball in a real facility in a first-rate city surrounded by more evolved fans. I can't change allegiances, but I can at least enjoy the game.