Sam Donnellon | Phils' inelegant record hardly impossible

Posted: June 29, 2007

A CNN reporter interviewed me the other day about the Phillies, and their impending 10,000th loss.

The rest of the country is surprised that the Phillies will be the first to reach this mark, he said.

So why weren't we?

I told him he had it backward. Why, given our reputation for booing, for throwing things - for being impatient, snarly fans - well, why should anyone be surprised?

Do you think we were all born this way, I asked.

Sorry about that "we." I tried to disqualify myself from the interview, saying I had not been here long enough to comment on the frustration that has been passed through generations like a birthmark.

"When did you start working here?" he asked.

"In 1992," I said.

"That's 15 years," he said. "That's long enough."

Hardly. Comparatively, I have lived through a relatively rich time in this town's sports history. No championships, but trips to the Stanley Cup finals, NBA Finals, Super Bowl and World Series. Only New York, with its smorgasbord of teams, can claim that.

They can't in Los Angeles (no NFL team).

Boston? Uh-uh (Bruins and Celtics).

Dallas? Denver? Detroit?

Miami?

Don't even get me started about San Antonio.

A stickler might point out that each of these towns has won a championship during that stretch of time. But that's not what 10,000 losses is about. That's not what makes us so impatient that we booed the umpires the other night for halting a game with the tying run on third - amid a tropical downpour and high-powered lightning that created instant daylight.

Truthfully, 10,000 losses is about dark clouds exploding from silver linings, about hitting the same poor bloke over and over again, frying his emotions each time. It's about mismanagement in mythic proportions.

Every generation has its list of misdeeds. Trying to secure a great future, the Phillies sabotage it with the long-term signings of Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Jim Thome. Trying not to repeat the mistakes that had them paying Darren Daulton and Lenny Dykstra far beyond their usefulness, they trade away Curt Schilling for some magic beans and let Billy Wagner take a walk up north.

The Phillies sign Gregg Jefferies to a long-term deal after he hits over .300 one season, and he never hits .300 again. They trade Placido Polanco for a reliever and he never hits under .300 again.

And the reliever winds up in jail for attempted murder.

Danny Tartabull. Tim Worrell. David Bell. Kevin Millwood, Freddy Garcia  ... .  It just goes on and on and on. Any one of you could make a list and none might look the same. If you were a reporter in this town from 1918 through '48, you covered one winning season.

It sounds impossible.

You have seen impossible. Red Sox fans still talk about "The Impossible Dream" season of 1967. New Yorkers will always embrace the 1969 "Miracle Mets." You? You use 1964 as a reference point for all other nightmares, but at least it left you with an unforgettable summer.

You get to 10,000 first via a lot of forgettable ones. You get to 10,000 first via Impossible Nightmares. Lots.

The insurmountable lead to this dubious race was taken back in the '30s and '40s, when Phillies teams lost more than 100 games in eight seasons. Most current fans don't remember those days, and surely none of the current players do. Yet, like it or not, the players carry the weight of those years into every game, just as their fans walk into the park on the sunniest of days anticipating some type of dark cloud.

Is it self-fulfilling? Ah, that always has been the great debate. Even during good years, there has been considerable consternation between fans and their stars. Mike Schmidt is loved now, but then? Mitch Williams, anyone? When I wrote a piece about Michael Bourn's promise the other day, an e-mail came in quickly.

"Does he remind you at all of Jeff Stone?" it said.

The honest answer: Not yet.

But imagine that kind of question in another place. Truth is, no one here is at all surprised this organization will be the first to 10,000 losses.

Truth is, we all understand completely that they don't want to commemorate it, too.

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Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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