For the third consecutive season, we are proud to introduce the Deadspin Baseball Season Previews. Yes, baseball is awfully close now; it's spring training, after all.
Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.
Today: The Philadelphia Phillies. Your author is A.J. Daulerio and ... Bill Conlin.
A.J. Daulerio will be the senior writer at Deadspin starting March 31. Bill Conlin covers the Phillies for the Philadelphia Daily News. Their words are after the jump.
For Christmas this year, I received that shirt you see in the right hand corner. It was a gift from my well-intentioned fiancée, who decided that she'd invest in something sports-oriented. It is a thoughtful gift, isn't it? It is very well-made and its colors suggest the Phillies baby blues of the 70's, replete with red and white racing stripes on the arms. And the number: 22. Why, that's the number worn by Jay Loviglio in 1980. Then it was Bobby Dernier's number for a while. Now? It's mine. I'm sure my first reaction when I unwrapped the shirt was the way a parent reacts when their toddler gives them heartfelt, but completely useless presents like a shoe box full of grass or a broach made of bowtie pasta. My second reaction was pure bewilderment — when had I expressed my desire to start dressing like Jermaine Dupri?
Look, I'm a Phillies fan, but I've never been much of personalized jersey guy (except in unique circumstances, of course). It's always bothered me that Philadelphia sports fans have this odd tendency to buy team jerseys, then put their own surnames on the back. You can get away with this if you're a famous singer or a politician, but not a Jewish mortgage broker from Bryn Mawr. (Honestly, you're not helping the cause if you take the Taxi Crab to Broad and Pattison then show up sporting a Flyers jersey with the "Schwartzenstein" on the back.)
And this isn't even a jersey. It's a button-down shirt that looks like a jersey. This is just awful.
But I wore this shirt-jersey (shirsey) to a New Year's party this past year, fully expecting to get mercilessly ridiculed (or, actually, I was hopeful she would). But each time I forced people to comment on the shirt, even with a generous amount of ironic build-up, the reaction was oddly ... positive.
"Seriously? Are you looking at this thing? Do you honestly think anyone can pull this off if they're not a member of Boyz II Men?"
"It's kind of awesome, actually."
Granted, some of these guests were full-blown ape-fisted Phillies fans and by that point this was a few drinks into New Year's Eve, but ... come on. Not even a snicker?
The reason this wasn't as big a joke? The Phillies were winners. They won the N.L. East. Remember? In dramatic, holy shitballs-fashion. So this New Jack shirsey was tolerable because it still served as a reminder of last year's breathtaking fall.
And in order to look forward to this season, you have to look back. For many Phillies fans, the first time they heard a Harry Kalas homerun call hooks them. The first looong drive walk-off sticks to your insides for the rest of your life. But when you start to pick up the paper and read about the Phillies the first guy to leave that sort of mark was ... Bill Conlin.
He's the writer that pulled you into the wondrous haze of Phillies baseball. Each of his columns reeked of hot dogs and the late night post-game boozefest at the local crap tavern. He was there; he was part of it. Even if he wasn't actually cooze-chasing with the players anymore, he still wrote like he did. At least you know he did at one point. It made the team more likable, more human — this was your team. He ripped the guys that needed it and doled out compliments only in small doses, because as poetic as his baseball beat could be, he absolutely wasn't soft. When you're young and first gaining an appreciation for both baseball and writing, Conlin was mesmerizing. He even made the ugliest of Phillies squads amusing. (Did Conlin just compare John Felske's managerial style to some failed WW I general?) So at the start of what would most likely be another memorable Phillies season, it seemed only fitting to ask him if he'd help out. But would he?
He agreed to participate and share his thoughts on the upcoming season ... and send along pictures of himself surfing.
AJD: So, is this Mets/Phillies rivalry the best one you've ever seen?
CONLIN: 1975-83 Phillies vs. Pirates was intense, combative and needed no help from the media. Those Pirates of "Fam-i-lee" fame played with "attitude" before the term became a buzzword. Mix a squad heavy with talented blacks and Latinos, add a little coke, sprinkle liberally with greenies, turn up the volume on the clubhouse sound system, put a permissive players manager like Chuck Tanner in charge and step back and watch the line drives fly. You know it was intense when a laid back guy like Mike Schmidt charged the mound and broke a knuckle on the bony head of Bruce "The Assassin" Kison. Phils were in awe of the Big Red Machine, who swept them in '76 and went downhill after they lost Pete Rose and their pitching collapsed. Once the Pirates were moved out of the East, the Mets should have become the natural rivalry, but until the Phillies got into their current almost-good rut, it seemed that whenever they were decent, the Mets were wretched and visa versa. Now it appears destined to become the real deal.
AJD: Does having a woman like Anna Benson (presumably) in this city cause a distraction in the clubhouse? Has there ever been a player on the Phillies who had an equally (potentially) distracting wife or girlfriend?
CONLIN: I don't understand how a trophy wife would cause clubhouse problems unless she insists on sharing Benson's locker. It becomes a problem if the other wives bitch about her at home. It becomes a real problem if she pullls a Mary Jane Johnstone and the club lets her fly charters with Kris. Mary Jane flew every charter with Jay, accompanied by two tiny toy poodles she carried in her handbag and her presence in the road hotels really put the club's large number of chasers in deep stealth mode.
(Ed. Note. Mary Jane Johnstone was wife of Phillies former outfielder Jay Johnstone. Probably best known for his rain delay antics and his appearance as the first batter called out on strikes by Lt. Frank Drebin in "The Naked Gun.")
AJD: Last year, Inquirer writer Sam Carchidi almost got the crap kicked out of him by Brett Myers? Did you ever come to blows with any of the players?
CONLIN: When I went on the beat in 1966, I was 32 years old and was still an active surfer, 6-1 and about 225. Ashburn once wrote in his Bulletin column that I was stronger than a lot of guys on the ballclub. I was never physically threatened by any player, although traveling sec Eddie Ferenz and I went a few no-decision rounds one night in Montreal during a Molson's induced argument. Ferenz once cold-cocked reliever Dick Selma, knocking him onto the baggage carousel in Newark Airport. In 1986 I was inducted into the Ocean Rowing Hall of Fame. These photos were taken around 1970:
AJD: Last year I talked about how Burrell's engagement might impact his play and brought up his alleged lady-killer past. Out of the guy's you've covered, which Phillies player got the most ass?
CONLIN: Bo Belinsky without a close second. How can you match a stable that included Ann-Margret, Connie Stevens, Tina Louise, and Mamie Van Doren, And then the guy marries (and divorces) Playmate of the Year Jo Collins, then tree heiress Janie Weyerhaeuser. On a trip to LA in 1966, I took him surfing at a famous Orange County break called Cotton's Point (Nixon later bought the Henry Cotton Estate the point was named after and turned it into the Western White House). To show his gratitude, Bo took me clubbing in Hollywood after the game. The details are classified. Here is Bo from that day. He was an ungainly but fearless surfer:
(Ed. Note: Bo Belinsky!)
AJD: Oh, what do you think of that shirt?
CONLIN: Nice enough to get you beat up at Shea...