Yes, “they booed Santa Claus.” Here’s why.

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There’s been so much lately on the nature of Philly fandom — hey look! It’s another “they booed Santa” screed! — but I feel at least one more thing needs to be said.  Not by me, though. By reader and Philadelphian TC Shillingford, who sent me a note yesterday explaining the Santa incident and so much more about Philly fans than most people usually consider.  And yes, fans of every city have their own creation story and their own quirks that arise from it.  Philly’s just seems more in need of telling at the moment, so I yield the floor to TC.

Philadelphia used to be the capital of the US, of course, the hub of government and business, and one of the city’s earliest and wealthiest fellows was Stephen Girard (he owned the First Bank of the US). Yellow fever broke out in the 1790s in Philly, and the upper class largely moved away from the city. Girard moved the financial institutions that eventually became Wall St to New York, and a number of government agencies to DC. When the outbreak ended, he prevented them from returning to Philly, saying that New York would be the financial city, DC the government city, and Philly would be the village in between. Of course, the way it worked out, people wanted to live a little closer to where they worked, and despite Girard giving most of his fortune to the considerable poor in the city, since the 1830s (when Girard died), Philadelphia has been a low-income city with ongoing identity issues, living in the twin shadows of NYC and DC. It’s a great city, and I love it here, but one of the most troubling things about Philly is how deeply self-loathing it can be. Philly is a pretty girl with low self-esteem who keeps going out with some lousy guy because every once in a while he says she’s pretty.

Anyway, Santa Claus. In 1968, the Phillies finished 7th in the NL that year. The 76ers had just traded Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers. And worse than any of them, were the Eagles. (My father used to have the ability to express the moment in which any Philadelphia sports year became a disappointment, and so I’m doing all this based off his recollections).

Going into the game, the Eagles were something like 2-10, and played so poorly the two wins seemed like miracles. The weather was awful–cold rain and wet, heavy snow. Fans showed up to protest the team with signs about firing the head coach, getting rid of the owner, everything. The original jolly St Nick hadn’t made it to Franklin Field due to the inclement weather, and so the Eagles found some kid off the street to fill in. He looked terrible, ramshackle. For the fans in the stands, blue collar, lower middle class people who were paying money to see one of the NFL’s worst teams, seeing that Santa was a slap in the face. They had no way of knowing that this Santa was not the intended Santa. From the stands, it looked like these incompetent owners were rubbing the fans noses in it. If they wanted to watch football, they were stuck with the Eagles, and lousy fans get a lousy team, and on Christmas, they get a lousy Santa. That’s what it felt like. Like a “fuck you”, from the team to the fans. And so they booed, they threw snowballs.

And somehow, that story has been repeated over and over again as the hallmark of Philadelphia FANS: that they’re so brutal they boo Santa Claus. In Philly, when we’re not tearing our hairs out after hearing it every time a team does something stupid and worthy of national attention, it’s a story about how Philly fans have constantly had to take it up the ass from the teams they root for. The Eagles and Phillies, especially, but the Sixers, too (the Flyers play hockey, but they’ve had the decency to be competitive virtually every year they’ve been in the league).

So, I don’t know if Philly fans are really worse than other places. I’ve never personally seen anything so bad in Philly as the time I saw a man punch a pregnant lady in Shea Stadium. In Philly, famously, batteries were thrown at JD Drew, responding to another (perceived) slight. In San Diego, less famously, at least one fan threw a real syringe at Barry Bonds. Maybe it’s because almost every year someone in Philly has to get tased, has to vomit on a child, that only in Philly was there a court in the stadium. I don’t know.

I don’t personally feel this Philadelphia insecurity. New York can be amazing and so can Philadelphia, and just because someone thinks the Giants will win the NLCS doesn’t mean Philly is lame. But I think the insecurity, the subconscious belief that all of this is soon to fall apart (at least, with regards to the Phillies’ success) or that history will look upon it as a fluke, is common in the city, and, sadly, in so many ways, all too easy to explain. The Phillies went 100 years before they won their first World Series, and 28 more before they won their second. And each year we won’t win, all we seem to be left with is a reputation that this is not a safe place for children or for Santa.

Rob Manfred is prepared to implement a pitch clock unilaterally for 2018

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Rob Manfred has long been on record wanting to speed up the pace of play in baseball and, to that end, last year proposed a 20-second pitch clock. Pursuant to baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, he could not implement that unilaterally last year. However if, one year after a proposed rules change, no agreement can be reached with the union, he has the power to impose the originally-proposed change unilaterally.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says today that he is prepared to do just that — imposing that pitch clock and a rule limiting mound visits — for the 2018 season. He further says that the players might very well allow him to do that, despite the fact that they and Manfred are currently negotiating an agreed set of rule changes.

Why? Because, Rosenthal says, if they step aside and let Manfred do it by himself and the rules changes prove unpopular, he’ll take the blame for it:

If enough players oppose the changes, they could absolve themselves of responsibility and allow Manfred to force the issue by introducing the two key elements of MLB’s plan: a 20-second pitch clock and reduction in mound visits. The onus then would be on Manfred to deal with any public fallout and unintended consequences the new rules might trigger.

I’m not sure, based on the story itself, if that’s just Rosenthal’s speculation or if it’s actually a potential union strategy to do nothing and let Manfred own the rules changes. If it’s the latter, though, it’s a monumentally stupid strategy. For a few reasons.

The first and biggest reason is that it is not a union’s job to play public relations games. It’s a union’s job to make workplace conditions as good as possible for its membership via bargaining. Rob Manfred is required to engage with the union on these rules changes for a limited time and is doing so, apparently in good faith. The union, while not possessing great leverage here, has at least some ability to put its two cents in on a rule that impacts all of its members and could, conceivably, make the rules a bit better for them. Barring that, they could at least attempt to obtain some sort of concession in another area in order to get their agreement to the rule. Blowing the chance to have input on work rules because of a chance to win a public relations fight is an abdication of responsibility for a labor union.

Second: there is not going to be any sort of public relations win for the union regardless of what happens. Indeed, to even think there could be one is to ignore what has happened with every rules change in baseball history and how they have played with the public.

No matter how much some people complain about a change in baseball — and some people love to complain — most folks eventually get used them. The DH rule just celebrated its 50th anniversary. People moan, but it’s just part of life. Same with interleague play and divisional realignment and expanded playoffs and no-pitch intentional walks and the takeout slide rules and everything else. The complaints about such things are loud, but they’re not deeply felt or widely felt by any but a handful of self-proclaimed traditionalists. The game chugs on and most people get used to it without there ever being the kind of P.R. fallout that puts egg on the league’s face or which puts the players in some better light. If the pitch clock rule is imposed, people will complain a lot and lot of ink will be spilled about it, but it won’t do anything to substantially harm the league let alone help the players.

That speaks to a larger historical lesson about public relations and players, of course: they’re almost always going to be seen as the bad guys by fans, no matter what they do.

Owners abused their power for a century and fans didn’t care. Starting in the 1960s, when the players finally began to effectively assert their leverage, the players were cast as greedy mercenaries. An owner gives out a foolishly large contract and the player is blamed for taking it. The owners band together in an illegal scheme to harm the players’ interest and the owner who orchestrated it is inducted into the Hall of Fame. The DH rule gets imposed and players who excel as designated hitters are viewed poorly by the writers and the public when it comes time to consider their Hall of Fame case. A new rule gets implemented to deal with slides and it’s not “The Rob Manfred slide rule” it’s “The Chase Utley Rule.” The players are the visible ones. They bear the brunt of just about anything that happens.

Which is to say, if the pitch clock creates some weird situations or controversies, the players involved in those situations and controversies are going to be the ones to take the blame. Just imagine a Dodgers-Giants game that turns on some weirdness involving Madison Bumgarner taking too long to deliver a pitch to Yasiel Puig, forcing in the walkoff run. Imagine that both Bumgarner and Puig saying the other was to blame. Imagine that the umpires messed up the application of the rule. You think Rob Manfred is going to catch hell for it as opposed to the players and the umpires involved? Hell no. Giants fans will yell that Puig did something that should’ve caused the clock to be reset. Dodgers fans will blame Bumgarner for taking too long. It’ll dominate the news for a couple of days but it won’t be the league and its owners taking crap for it.

Against that backdrop, why in the heck would the union try to win some P.R. battle? Screw the P.R. battle. Union leadership — including Tony Clark and the player reps — should negotiate for the best rules possible for the players they represent and let the public relations chips fall where they may.

Will they do that? Based on how the last few management-labor battles have gone, I don’t have a lot of confidence. In recent years the union has seemed far more focused on relatively short term and picayune concerns while trying not to look like the bad guys to fans. Meanwhile, the meat and potatoes labor issues which sometimes require a union to take unpopular stances in the long term, big picture interests of the players have been dominated by the owners. Ask the free agents who can’t find a team because the luxury tax is far lower, compared to revenues, now than it was 15 years ago and is serving as a defacto salary cap. Ask the guys who are being lowballed because of the qualifying offer.

It appears as though we’ll have a pitch clock in 2018 one way or another. The players need to decide pretty quickly if they’re going to have some say in that process or if they’re going to allow themselves to be marginalized in the management of the game even more than they already have been.