My World Series Ghost

The New York Times

October 27, 2009

By Doug Glanville

For years, I have waited for this moment: the Phillies and the Yankees going toe-to-toe in the World ...

I grew up a Phillies fan, wooed by the powder-blue road uniforms and a trio of Phillie's legends: Garry Maddox, Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton. If I wasn’t imitating them in Wiffle ball, I was playing their cards in Strat-O-Matic baseball. I remember 1980 being a transformational year for me because the Phillies won the World Series. Now they’re not only in a position to win another, but to start the whisperings of a dynasty by doing it back to back.

But my fascination with a Phillies-Yankees series dates to a few years earlier, an era when it seemed like the Phillies would roll into the playoffs each year and then run into the Los Angeles Dodgers — and every time the Dodgers would prevail. All those highlight reels of Reggie Jackson hitting home runs in the fall classic, I told myself, should have included the Phillies as his victims at least one year. But in 1977 and 1978 — two years in a row, a quarter of a lifetime for me then — I watched Tommy Lasorda run all over the field in jubilation as my Phillies went home. I was sure I would be sick.

So it matters to me that this World Series is against the Yankees, one of the greatest franchises in sports history, especially since the Phillies have already completed Act I (the division title) and Act II (avenging those ‘70s losses to the Dodgers). There have been years when I hardly saw a pitch of the World Series, but this year I’ll be surprised if I miss a single one. It’s not so much about rooting for the Phillies as it is redemption for the “wait until next year” patience asked of a young fan. And there is a stark difference between the two.

I was a loyal and obsessive baseball fan from the time I could walk, thanks to my big bro Ken, who sparked my early love for the game. I always made sure to get my baseball fix from somewhere — from hand-held video games to Strat-O-Matic leagues to the wonders of the Intellivision game system. I found a way to play when there was a foot of snow on the ground.
But I was a competitor, too, and played to win, and nothing was more disturbing than seeing my favorite team eliminated. It can be earth-shattering to a kid who took the time to make a Phillies uniform one Halloween (with Mom, of course), and cruise around town in it.

I don’t have a beef with the Yankees, even though they released me back in 2005. In fact, growing up in North Jersey, I knew many of them, or at least knew of them. Dave Winfield, Willie Randolph and Elston Howard all were residents of Teaneck, where I lived, and I played with Willie’s brother and against the son of the former Yankee general manager (and former player!) Bob Watson.

Nor do I have a beef with the Dodgers’ manager, Joe Torre, who was managing the Yankees when they let me go. I also have a lot of friends with the Dodgers, from Don Mattingly to Mark Loretta to my old teammates Randy Wolf, Jim Thome and Vicente Padilla (Randy and Vinny were my neighbors in Pennsylvania). I wish them well, but they may not understand that my issue began 30 years ago.

So finally it is here, it is time: the battle for pinstripe supremacy. The evil empire against the incumbent, red versus blue, New York against Philadelphia, A-Rod versus J-Roll. I like it.
It is said that baseball is just a game — another way of saying we shouldn’t take it so seriously. I understand that. These are not two nations fighting for the best soil for farming or to slow a truly evil empire from once again tainting an election. But many of us have moments, like these, that send us back to our eight-year-old selves, a time when meaningful global issues were most likely not our daily concern. What was a daily concern was whether the box scores from the Phillies’ west coast trip would make the morning sports page in New Jersey so I could find out what happened, since those late-night finishes always pushed up against east coast deadlines. Pure torture for me.

I need to put those baseball demons to rest. Even the Phillies’ 1980 championship didn’t completely satisfy me, since winning the title didn’t involve eliminating the Yankees and the Dodgers. (Nothing could have been sweeter than that. It would even have made up for 1977 and 1978.) This extra bonus item I’m asking for would touch up the circle of my baseball life that closed when the Phillies won last year. Sure, it’s greedy — I will live, either way — but as this season’s playoffs took shape, I saw an opportunity to find out what the Phillies might do against the mighty Yanks. I wish Jeter well, I am pulling for A-Rod to find redemption . . . I wish all the Yankees well. I had a nice time with them in 2005. But they’re up against something even bigger than their need to end their world championship drought: they have to deal with the Ghost of Teaneck Past.

This Halloween, pay attention to what kids are wearing when they knock on your door. Most will probably be dressed as Thomas the Tank Engine or Pinkalicious or something along those lines, but take special note if you see a kid in a baseball uniform who doesn’t even ask for candy. The best treat you can give him is to ask about the story behind his costume. You might find out that he (or she) is wearing it until his team finally takes the title, the way he dreamed it up when he was five. So put a little hope in his bag — maybe you can help prevent the trick from carrying on into his 40s.

New York Times 10/27/2009


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