A Failadelphia Story.

The Phillies were Bottom-Feeders for Most of the 20th Century; the A's weren't much better most of the time..

I like stories about Philadelphia that have nothing to do with Ed Wade. This one starts off simply with a few numbers and a couple of questions:

1940, 1941, 1942. 1943.

Questions: (1) Did you know that both of the Philadelphia big league clubs, the Phillies and the Athletics, each finished in last place simultaneously for these four consecutive seasons? (2) Do you now think that there may be some historical reason for the fact that Philadelphia fans are still the crankiest and hardest to please? (3) Ya’ think?

At least, Connie Mack of the Athletics would periodically mobilize his resources and put together a pennant and World Series winning team through the early 1930s. Then he would back up the truck and allow the A’s to slip all the way to oblivion in a single season. After 1931, the A’s never rose again. The Phillies won pennants in 1915 and 1950, but only first tasted a World Series championship in 1980. That was the year that the Houston Astros lost the NL pennant to the Phillies due to some late inning playoff pitching failures and a ton of bad luck and bad umpiring calls. The bad luck actually began earlier when the league-dreaded giant fastballer, J.R. Richard, was lost to the Astros club via a career-ending stroke.

Back in the Failadelphia Folder days of World War II, there wasn’t much hope for any kind of early recovery or advance into winning for most bottom-feeding big league clubs. Those also happened to be the days in which the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals established their league leadership roles as frequent-flying pennant-winners, a situation that continues to grow, even in this era of greater parity and quicker hope for losing clubs transforming themselves into pennant winners.

Back in those buried-in-the-reserve-clause days, poor clubs survived by selling or trading their better prospects and players to the richer clubs for the sake of paying the rent. Crowds and gates were small. There were no revenue streams beyond the leaking-faucet trickle of gate ticket sales. Most clubs even gave away the radio broadcasting rights. It would take the later big money contracts with the television networks, free agency, the construction of super-duper gimmick stadia, Bonnie and Clyde pricing of ballpark food, the cutting edge marketing of game similar and game worn uniforms and collectible items, and corporate support of luxury accommodations to stir Mississippian movement in multiple new revenue streams.

Philadelphia of the 1940s had none of these advantages, but neither did any other city. In effect, this thing I’ve called a “Failadelphia story” was really baseball’s story until recent times. It was a plight that hung out as remarkably bad in the City of Brotherly Love during those four ungracious years, but other clubs like the St. Louis Browns and Washington Senators also felt its regular sting. How either Philadelphia club got any fans to the park in 1943 after heaping that much failure on the citizenry is almost beyond reasonable  comprehension. I guess people will take bad baseball over none at all.

Speaking of bad baseball. it was the Athletics who broke the double cellar deal with the Phillies by rising to a 6th place American League finish in 1944. The Phillies’ consecutive last place skein for that era ran for eight consecutive years, from 1938 to 1945.

Phillie home attendance in 1938, the first year of their eight season run as last place residents in the National League was 166,111. Phillies attendance in their 1945 eighth season of cellar-dwelling futility had risen to 285,057. Go figure. The late ’30s found people still digging out of the Great Depression. 1945 was a time of new hope with World War II wrapping up as a victory of freedom over fascism.

My favorite fan story from that era concerns an advertising sign that once hung at the ballpark during their long era of failure. It originally read that  ‘THE PHILLIES USE LIFEBUOY SOAP!”

A Phillies fan had taken a paint brush and made this addition: “…AND THEY STILL STINK!”

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2 Responses to “A Failadelphia Story.”

  1. David Munger Says:

    What’s ironic is that story carried to Kansas City, when the
    A’s moved there. Trade your studs and prospects to the Yankees
    for washed up players.

    They finally sruck gold in Oakland, in the 70’s, but Charley O Finnely
    backed up the truck and unloaded his stars, one more time.

    Thanks for sharing these intersting trips back in time.

  2. Art Audley Says:

    Thanks for another interesting vignette Bill. As one who grew up suffering with the expansion Washington Senators, today’s writeup serves as a reminder that Washington wasn’t the only city to see its baseball team suffer through years of mediocrity and that those of us in Washington and environs aren’t the only ones who’ve seen more than our share of failures.

    As always, some great research.

    Perhaps another comparison of other 2 team cities (Boston, New York and Chicago) would be in order. I think I’ll check it out myself, I’d be especially interested in comparing the fates of the Cubs and White Sox over the decades.

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