Requiem for a Bastard Season

What happens when your favorite team is... unlikable?

The Philadelphia Phillies were mercifully eliminated from the Major League Baseball playoffs last week in game 159 of their season. The Atlanta Baseball Club completed a three-game sweep, clinching the National League Eastern Division despite having a losing record as recently as August 9. The team dropped two of three to the Miami Marlins to close out the string, finishing a disappointing and dismal 82-80. It was the first time the team finished with a winning record since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs. For a team that was alive that late in the season, there was little excitement for that run.

Part of it is because there was no belief that they could win anything meaningful. The team tied the all-time record before this season for blown saves with the 2004 Colorado Rockies at 34. The Washington Nationals blew 36 saves this year, but they weren’t ever contending for anything, especially after trading Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Dodgers. No lead the Phillies ever had was safe. The team’s offense would provide safe passage to victory like the frog from the infamous Frog and Scorpion Fable, and that bullpen, yeah, it was a dang scorpion:

The next reason why people locally never really bought the Phillies as threats was their records against the worst teams in the league. They would rail off surprise wins against contenders like the Yankees or Brewers, but then they would go up against a team like the Cubs and poop the bed. The only bad team they had any success against was Washington, which is delicious given how much that team crowed how easy it was to beat the Phillies last year:

Since then, the Phillies have gone 20-6 against them, including a 13-6 record this year. Schadenfreude is delicious! Still, against the other terrible teams in the National League — the Marlins, Pirates, Cubs, Diamondbacks, and Rockies — especially down the stretch. The Rockies took two of three from them. The Diamondbacks swept them. The Pirates and Cubs won series against them. It was brutal to see them let garbage teams beat an apparent contender, but the Phillies just couldn’t pick up wins in places that would have cemented the division for them.

But the strange thing is that the biggest reason why there was barely any juice in this year’s pennant chase was that the team itself didn’t seem to endear themselves to the fans, or at least the majority of fans who haven’t loudly complained about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. If you’re in a bubble where you think anti-vaccination attitudes are in the majority, consider that two-thirds of the population of this country has had at least one dose of any of the available jabs, and that 57 percent of the people in the country have been fully inoculated, I’d say that the loudmouths are not as numerous as you might think, and the forces amplifying them having a disproportionately large platform to disseminate that message.

You know who has a huge platform? Professional athletes. Several professional athletes on the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club used their clout to talk about their personal choice, as if an immunocompromised bystander has any choice whether they want to breathe in air exhaled by strangers who refuse to take into consideration anyone else but their damn selves. Aaron Nola, who had one great season three years ago, decided to eschew the vaccine. He also posted a 4.63 ERA and shit the bed early on in games, making the team tradition of blowing games late a non-starter before it could get to that stage. Alec Bohm thought it was “his body, his choice.” He regressed from last year’s hot rookie campaign at the plate and totally looked like a Little Leaguer defensively at third base to the point where he was demoted to the minor leagues late in the season. Connor Brogdon and Bradley Falter were two other high profile unvaccinated players who had to go on the COVID list. The team going kicking and screaming into taking the jab really messed up with how much responsible fans wanted to associate with them.

It’s not that I’m using their vax status as some kind of predictor of quality of play. It’s mostly frustration the people who were most careless with the safety and welfare of their fellow man couldn’t even have a case to shut their critics up with their play. Even more frustrating, the one player on the team who was most vocal about getting people vaccinated, Rhys Hoskins, spent most of the season hurt. Not even karma wanted people to root for this team.

The vaccine revealed a lot of warts on the players of this team, but it’s not like it was the only reason why it was hard to root for them this summer. The team brought back Odubel Herrera to compete for the centerfield position. For those who don’t know, Herrera was a fan-favorite player who latched onto the team after being a Rule 5 Draft selection before the 2015 season. He showed flashes of being a competent player, but then everything changed when he was accused of domestic violence in 2019. He was placed on the Commissioner’s Leave list, but like most DV arrests, there were no legal follow-ups. He wasn’t accused or tried. People think that if the law doesn’t do anything about an arrest that the accused is innocent. However, those who know otherwise will tell you that oftentimes, the victim is too afraid to press charges. Yet, the team, select in the media, and several fans who don’t treat this kind of thing with seriousness expected fans to root for a team with this creep getting regular playing time.

All the other things that make a team a chore to root for are both insignificant in the long run and get exacerbated under the microscope of these incredibly awful circumstances around them. Joe Girardi’s misuse of the pitching staff and ineptitude at juggling lineups is something you want to be the biggest problem on a team without this context, but when his decisions involve people one would rather not have to root for, it’s ten times as bad. We followed this team with gritted teeth, watched games without any hope of seeing something remotely resembling competent baseball, and tried to pretend that this team deserved something other than disdain. Most of us couldn’t do it all that well if at all.

It’s a shame too, because the team had some electric players going for them. Zach Wheeler was one of the two best pitchers in the NL in the first half of the year before he ran out of gas. In the second half, Bryce Harper charged towards the MVP award. Despite his team not making the playoffs, he might very well win it since only one of his other competitors, Turner, played for a playoff team1, and he only was in LA for part of the year. Of course, it would’ve been a lot easier to enjoy them if the team didn’t have such a scoundrel’s profile. At least the 1993 Phillies, another team full of miscreants, waited until well after the fact to reveal their true faces.

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1

The other two are Fernando Tatis, Jr. who plays for the Padres, and Juan Soto, who plays for the Nationals.