On June 8th, 2007, a wild storm blew into Denver while the Phillies were playing the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies grounds crew tried to put the tarp down, but the wind was gusting uncontrollably, and the tarp flipped over and started whipping wildly, the men getting knocked around by it. Then suddenly the Phillies team came galloping out of the dugout, grabbing the corners of the tarp, allowing the grounds crew members who were stuck under it to escape, and making it possible for the crew to get things back under control. (You can see the video here).
The display showed them not to be out of touch wealthy athletes, but human beings rushing to help their fellow man in need. And when the team got hot later that season, and made a furious run to overtake the Mets and win the division, it was made all the sweeter by the fact that we really, really liked these guys.
The Phillies are once again in the mix with the Mets for the Division, but it’s almost impossible to imagine this year’s team lifting a finger to help anyone. Marcus Hayes reported a few weeks ago that about half of the 2021 Phillies were vaccinated, a jaw-droppingly pathetic number that meant the Phillies lagged behind essentially every other team in Major League Baseball. As Matt Gelb wrote in the Athletic:
“…there is a contingent of Phillies players who have hardline stances against taking the vaccine no matter how much management encourages the shot.”
A hardline stance against helping to lower the r0 number that will in turn help the fans whose support pays their enormous salaries. A hardline stance against decidedly overwhelming science, a hardline stance for know-nothingism. It is depressingly dumb and stunningly selfish, this ignorant insistence to treat the people who pay to come to the games like garbage. Their excuses just made it worse. Aaron Nola, the team’s star pitcher, said that not getting vaccinated was a “personal decision” (which was supported by Joe Girardi). Nonsense. Choosing to not get vaccinated is as “personal” as sending your kid to school with the measles or holding up a 7-11. It is reckless, it is anti-social, and it is potentially deadly. The Phillies don’t care.
There is a dark humor to the fact that the Phillies started winning, for basically the first time in a decade, almost immediately after the vaccine story broke. And it leads us to our current and rather unique conundrum. After a year in which we sacrificed for each other, a year in which we stayed out of the ballpark, what could be better than being together and experiencing the communal joy inherent in rooting for America’s Pasttime together? But how can we do so when the very team we’re rooting for is so anti-social that that they have no interest in our health? How can we root for a team that is quite willing to lose players down the stretch to COVID, making it clear that they are losers who would rather blow the division than get a simple shot in their arms? We root for our athletes to win, and our team has flat out declared that they don’t care about winning, they only care about the pseudo-scientific nonsense that they read in memes.
One of the lessons we should have learned in 2020 was that role models tend to work in hospitals, not on baseball diamonds. As much as I love baseball (and I do), at the end of the day these men get paid a lot of money to excel at something rather arbitrary, and perhaps expecting them to do so much as lifting a finger otherwise is asking too much. Nonetheless, baseball players, like all people, are capable of showing great displays of humanity. The 2007 team did that, running onto the field in a storm to save the day. When the proverbial winds started howling in 2021, the Phillies did the opposite. When the opportunity came to help their fellow man, they did less than nothing.
So I’ll watch the games sporadically, and I suppose I’ll still cheer for the Mudville 9, albeit with less enthusiasm than I did before. Watching them tank the past two nights to the worse team in baseball while in the midst of a division race sure doesn’t carry the sting it would have before I knew how much they hated their fans.
Regardless of what they do on the field for the final 40 games, their legacy is now secure. When the time came to be a part of the community in the midst of the greatest challenge to America in our lifetimes, they failed. Miserably. They are simply mercenaries in baseball uniforms, men paid to wear the letter P on their hats. The Philadelphia Phillies are absolutely, positively, not one of us.