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.

And That Happened . . . Classic!

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Due to the All-Star break, we now bring you a special “Classic” version of “And That Happened.” The following originally ran in the HardballTalk Tribune, the former print edition of this publication, on July 17 1949. Here are the scores. Here are the highlights: 

Reds 7, Dodgers 6: I haven’t seen Reds rally like this since Mao kicked Chiang Kai-shek’s butt over to Formosa! Brooklyn built a 4-1 lead after seven innings, but then Preacher Roe began to falter and Cincinnati clawed back. After a run on a fielder’s choice, Virgil Stallcup knocked in two with a single in the eighth to things at four. They’d trade runs and it was tied at five after nine, but Walker Cooper’s two-run homer in the top of the 10th gave the game to the visitors. This is a terrible Cincinnati team overall — you’re more likely to get a hit from a Red on the Hollywood 10 list than from one who plays in Crosley Field — but they really put it together yesterday afternoon.

Braves 9, Cubs 1: Pete Reiser tripled and knocked in three. I was thinking of ole Pistol Pete just four days ago when the owners got together and agreed to build warning paths before each fence in the outfield. Nice move, but it’s a few years too late for Pete, even if he’s still grinding it out. Meanwhile, Johnny Sain went the distance, allowing one run on six hits. Spahn won the day before. Consulting the forecast for the doubleheader in Cincinnati tomorrow now and . . . ugh, it looks sunny. I like the Reds’ chances. 

Indians 7, Athletics 3: Jim Hegan hit a three-run home run to lead the Tribe’s offense, but I’m more taken with what happened with their pitching. Steve Gromek got the “start” for the Indians, but he’s more often used as a relief pitcher. He pitched only an inning and a third, after which three other relievers — Mike Garcia, Gene Bearden and Satchel Paige — finished out the game. Seems like a kinda loopy thing to do, but it worked. I wonder if manager Lou Boudreau is trying out some sort of new strategy in which he just uses bullpen arms every few games for some reason? I’ll call it “Boudreu-ing.” I’m sure it won’t catch on.

White Sox 5, Senators 1: Cass Michaels hit a two-run double and a two-run single and Chisox starter Bob Kuzava allowed only an unearned run in a complete game. You won’t see a performance from Senators this bad until the real ones get together to ratify that “NATO” treaty next week. Don’t do it, fellas! Sure, NATO is great in theory — I’m all for stopping those Russkies before they can even get going — but this joint-defense thingamajig is TOTALLY dependent upon everyone agreeing its good and showing confidence in it! If even one country — one backwards banana republic that elects some tinpot wannabe dictator somehow — starts to undermine it, the thing will unravel and Russia’s power will grow immensely! This report hopes to God it doesn’t happen in his lifetime, but what about down the line? Hopefully the US of A will keep all of these other shaky members in line and backing their commitments.

Red Sox 11, Tigers 1: The Bosox beat the tar out of Virgil Trucks and Marv Grissom, with Williams, Doerr, Zarilla and Tebbetts each hitting homers and driving in multiple runs. The Tigers — as close to two games back of the Yankees in the American league a couple of times this year — need to get their pitching on track or else they’re gonna plummet faster than James Forrestal did in Bethesda.

Too soon?

Phillies 4, Cardinals 2: Willie Jones homered and singled in a run and the Phillies scored two more on an error and a wild pitch. Guess the catcher was more crossed-up by Harry Brecheen’s screwball than the Phillies were. Despite the win, the Phillies are struggling lately and remain 6.5 back in the National League. A month ago they were only two games out. That injury to first baseman Eddie Waitkus (15-day DL, shot in the goddamn chest by obsessed fan Ruth Steinhagen) is really starting to affect them.

Browns 4, Yankees 2: 3,481 fans showed up for this one, which isn’t bad for a Browns game! They only played six innings here because of bad weather. It may have been the greatest game so far this season for the 25-55 Browns. As for the Yankees, yes, they’ve been doing OK, but rookie manager Casey Stengel is no Joe McCarthy, and I’d wager that last year’s third place finish is a more likely result this year than them staying in first place. The Red Sox are too strong and I think Boston will take the pennant. To be honest, those two clubs should investigate a big trade — Williams for DiMaggio — that helps unload each team’s biggest problem on the other. Do it Yawkey and MacPhail! 

Pirates 9, Giants 0; Pirates 7, Giants 6: From 30 feet away the Giants look like they have an OK lineup. From 10 feet away it looks like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away. At least that’s how it was in Game 1 of this twin bill when Bob Chenes shut ’em out. Wally Westlake — who hit two longballs — and the rest of the Pirates lineup beat Giants starter Clint Hartung’s teeth out and then kicked him in the stomach for mumbling. Game two was a closer affair. The Giants still couldn’t find a way to win but when you play extra innings you lose more slowly. The Giants were in first place for a time this year, but not anymore. Now they’re in the deep water. It’s dark and unclear and the taste of the salt is in their mouths. By the time the second game of the twin bill was over it was getting dark on the streets of the big city, with the rain-clouded lights of the stores soaked up by the black street.