Rich Hofmann | Loyal fans the real story of 9,999-loss Phils

Posted: July 13, 2007

YOU KNOW how you can't pick your parents? It is the same way with your baseball team. You don't have a choice, not really. The team picks you, and you are really pretty powerless to do much about it.

For most people, proximity decides. For others, it can be something as simple as the color of the uniforms. For others still, it can be something as dramatic as Aaron Rowand running into a fence, breaking his face, and still holding onto the ball.

You arrive with an open mind, usually as a child - and something fills it, impresses it, marks it almost indelibly. And that's it. You cannot predict and you cannot control because the whole thing is more osmosis than it is a conscious decision. It just happens.

And if the Phillies happened to you, history beckons.

The number this morning is 9,999 and counting. The 10,000th loss in franchise history could happen as early as tonight. It is a big, round, unsightly testament to decades of ineptitude. Blame can be scattered through the years and through the tears, and there are plenty of both, but the milestone arrives without shame. It is just us.

Years and decades. You think back to the 1930s and, well, talk about the Great Depression. The Phillies were so bad in that time period, so bad for so long, that you wonder sometimes why the franchise didn't just fold up and die.

There were two teams in town back then, the Phillies and the A's. The A's had some of the greatest teams in the history of the sport, and they had the far-superior stadium in Shibe Park, and they had the living oracle in the dugout in Connie Mack. The Phillies had none of those things, and they were losing 100 games year after year. You really do wonder how they survived.

There was no great television contract in a big media market to guarantee salvation. Maybe the thing that saved them was as simple as geography, an easy hop for the Giants and Dodgers and Braves and Pirates. Who knows?

But the franchise did survive, and now it financially thrives. And somewhere, somehow, in all of this talk about 10,000 losses, it would be nice for someone to recognize that the real spine of this story is not a never-ending series of impecunious owners or imperfect players, but the people in the seats, the people who follow this team, the people who had no choice.

That the Phillies have miscalculated here seems obvious; just add it to the list. The franchise did not need to celebrate 10,000 losses, but to pretend it isn't happening is to pretend the sun isn't rising in the East. This is what the Phillies should have done: commissioned a film by an independent filmmaker, thrown open their video archives to this person, and lived with the result. They should have taken the DVD that was produced and sent it to every one of their season ticketholders. They should have insisted only on being allowed to supply the title:

"10,000 Memories.''

Because a franchise is its fans, and Phillies fans instantly recognize this for the milestone it is. Some are bitter and some are melancholy and some are sentimental and some are smart-alecky - which is the nature of human beings, the nature of families. For a sports franchise, this is a wedding, a funeral, a graduation, a reunion. It is a reason to get together and to share - wins, losses, laughs, decades. Why would you deny it is happening?

You know how you can't pick your parents? The point is, the overwhelming majority of people would not pick differently if given the chance. It is like that with your baseball team, too. As the Phillies look around at all of the people in Citizens Bank Park this weekend, at 9,999 losses and counting, they should understand that.

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

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