Sheridan: Best Philly team of all time

Posted: October 22, 2009

As the Phillies galloped and gamboled out of their dugout for the on field celebration they are making downright routine, the thought came with the tears in your eyes.

We're looking at the best Philadelphia team of all time.

Not just the best major-league baseball team, mind you, but the greatest Philadelphia team of any era, in any sport.

Sounds like a wild claim, to be sure. And maybe the champagne from yet another clinching celebration (eight in three years, including division titles) finally soaked its way into the gray matter and warped it beyond the ability to reason.

Or maybe it sounds wild because we are just starting to get our arms around what these Phillies are doing right before our marveling eyes. Maybe the real trick is appreciating what is happening, in real time, before it slips-slides-away into the past.

They are going to the World Series. Again. They earned the right with a five-game domination of a very talented Los Angeles Dodgers team. Again. They have won by first-inning pounce and by last-inning gut check, by laugher and by squeaker, by flashy long ball and by gritty small ball.

10-4. Over and out.

Ryan Howard, the man who amasses hardware as prodigiously as home runs, added the National League Championship Series MVP trophy to a collection that includes Rookie of the Year and MVP and that World Series ring on his hand. He just tied a postseason RBI record held by Lou Gehrig.

"I don't think I've ever played on a team that's been so fun," Howard said. "To be able to make it to this point again, it's definitely something very special, because a World Series isn't guaranteed to anybody."

He held up his newest trinket, smiled at the roaring crowd, and promised, "We've got one more step."

Greatness. We're seeing greatness.

The Phillies' record so far in two magical postseasons: 18 wins, 5 losses.

Fans who have assembled, red-clad and full-voiced, at Citizens Bank Park have witnessed 11 wins, one loss, one World Series celebration and now one pennant-clinching fiesta.

Hard to believe, Harry, but they have seen the greatest team in Philadelphia sports history.

But surely, comes the knee-jerk retort, there have been other, more accomplished teams. Heck, those 1980 Phillies had a couple of Hall of Famers and a lot of success, including a ring. The Flyers won two Stanley Cups. The Eagles had repeat champions and so did the Philadelphia Athletics. What about all of them?

Well, what about them?

The World Series champion Athletics of 1929 and 1930 were amazingly talented. Comparing eras never works, but the Athletics had just one postseason round each year - the World Series. There were no division series or league championship series, no wild card teams that got hot in September.

Besides, like everything else in baseball before Jackie Robinson, the Athletics were the best all-white team around.

The Eagles of 1948 and '49? Great team, same deal. Regular season and then one game for the title. They had Steve Van Buren. In the wake of World War II, the NFL wasn't quite the monolith it is today. The 1960 Eagles were one title and done. So were the 1967 76ers.

The Flyers who brawled their way to consecutive Cups in the mid-1970's are strong contenders. Players from that team are still recognized and revered 35 years later.

You can make a case for the last great Phillies era: Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa and Bob Boone and Tug McGraw and Garry Maddox and, at the end, Pete Rose. They went to the playoffs every year and finally won the franchise's first World Series in 1980. Strong candidate.

The '83 Sixers were astonishing in their domination, but they vanished almost as quickly as they rose up behind Dr. J and Moses and Mo and Andrew.

There followed 25 years of drought, a biblical epoch in which the city's sports fans turned bitter and an all-new kind of media - mean-spirited, round-the-clock, on airwaves and cable-TV and via your computer - churned that bitterness up and firehosed it back onto the players. With each passing year, the pressure to end that drought became progressively more intense and suffocating.

Now a city of fans that grew up, had kids, got old, and died - wondering whether they'd ever see a championship parade - finds itself contemplating a second. These Phillies made that happen. By clinching a second pennant, they have staked their claim.

It becomes harder all the time to repeat in professional sports - free agency, big money, bigger egos, injuries, human nature, the expansion of the postseason - and they have overcome all of that to return to the World Series.

Howard ties Gehrig with RBIs in eight consecutive games. Rollins turns a tie series into a commanding 3-1 lead with a big hit. Jayson Werth delivers big hits. Cliff Lee pitches like there's no one in the batter's box. Lidge has found his '08 groove.

If you aren't persuaded that this is the city's greatest team, consider one last thing.

The Phillies aren't finished yet.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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