On July 8, 2007, a wild storm blew into Denver while the Phillies were playing the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies grounds crew tried to put the tarp down to cover the field, but the wind was gusting uncontrollably, and the tarp flipped over and started whipping wildly, the men getting knocked around by it. Then suddenly the Phillies team came galloping out of the dugout, grabbing the corners of the tarp, allowing the grounds crew members who were stuck under it to escape, and making it possible for the crew to get things under control.
The display showed the Phillies not to be out-of-touch wealthy athletes, but human beings, rushing to help their fellow humans in need. And when the team got hot later that season, and made a furious run to overtake the New York Mets and win the division, it was made all the sweeter by the fact that we really, really liked these guys.
The Phillies are once again in the mix with the Mets for the division, but it’s almost impossible to imagine this year’s team lifting a finger to help anyone. Marcus Hayes reported a few weeks ago that about half of the 2021 Phillies were vaccinated, a jaw-droppingly pathetic number that meant the Phillies lagged behind essentially every other team in Major League Baseball. For this piece, The Inquirer emailed the Phillies asking for an updated percentage of team members who are vaccinated. A representative told us it’s higher than 50% but would not disclose the number.
As Matt Gelb wrote in the Athletic: “… there is a contingent of Phillies players who have hardline stances against taking the vaccine no matter how much management encourages the shot.”
A hardline stance against helping to lower the number of COVID-19 cases, which will in turn help the fans whose support pays the Phillies enormous salaries. A hardline stance against overwhelming science. A hardline stance for know-nothingism.
It is depressingly dumb and stunningly selfish, this ignorant insistence to treat the people who pay to come to the games like garbage. Their excuses just made it worse. Aaron Nola, the team’s star pitcher, said that not getting vaccinated was a “personal decision” (which was supported by manager Joe Girardi). Nonsense. Choosing to not get vaccinated is as “personal” as sending your kid to school with the measles or holding up a 7-Eleven. It is reckless, it is antisocial, and it is potentially deadly.
The Phillies don’t care.
There is a dark humor to the fact that the Phillies started winning, for basically the first time in a decade, almost immediately after the vaccine story broke. And it leads us to our current and rather unique conundrum.
After a year in which we sacrificed for each other, a year in which we stayed out of the ballpark, what could be better than being together and experiencing the communal joy inherent in rooting for America’s pastime together? But how can we do so when the very team we’re rooting for is so selfish that that they have no interest in our health? How can we root for a team that is quite willing to lose players down the stretch to COVID-19, making it clear that they are losers who would rather blow the division than get a simple shot in their arms?
We root for our athletes to win, and our team has flat-out declared that they don’t care about winning the fight against COVID-19.
One of the lessons we should have learned in 2020 was that role models tend to work in hospitals, not on baseball diamonds. As much as I love baseball (and I do), at the end of the day these men get paid a lot of money to excel at something rather arbitrary, and perhaps expecting them to do so much as lifting a finger otherwise is asking too much.
Nonetheless, baseball players, like all people, are capable of showing great displays of humanity. The 2007 team did that, running onto the field in a storm to save the day. When the proverbial winds started howling in 2021, the Phillies did the opposite. When the opportunity came to help, they did less than nothing.
So I’ll watch the games sporadically, and I suppose I’ll still cheer for the Mudville Nine, albeit with less enthusiasm than I did before. Watching them get swept by the worst team in baseball last week sure didn’t carry the sting it would have before I knew how much they hated their fans.
Regardless of what they do on the field for the final games, their legacy is now tainted. When the time came to be a part of the community in the midst of the greatest challenge to America in our lifetimes, they failed. Miserably. They are simply mercenaries in baseball uniforms, men paid to wear the letter P on their hats. The Philadelphia Phillies are absolutely, positively, not one of us.
Johnny Nottingham — also known to legions of local trivia fans as Johnny Goodtimes — has been hosting Quizzo in Philadelphia since 2002. @johnnygoodtimes