Boos for Phillies rekindle much cheer Win (a little) or lose (a lot), The Vet brings home memories

July 08, 1993|By Steve Kelley | Steve Kelley,Seattle Times

PHILADELPHIA -- Some people travel to Graceland in the summer to worship Elvis. Some visit the Grand Canyon to worship nature.

I go to The Vet to revisit my memories. I watch the Phillies and remember the days I worshiped them. Jim Bunning, Dick Allen, Greg Luzinski and Larry Bowa.

"Philadelphia is such a bad city," Bob Uecker, Milwaukee broadcaster and former Phillie, once said, "that when a plane lands, nobody gets off. Everybody gets on.

Tuesday, I got off, rented a car and headed for The Vet to meet my hoagie-toting brother next to the statue of Connie Mack.

There is nothing particularly appealing about Veterans Stadium. It is one of those cookie-cutter, symmetrical parks that was the rage in the early 1970s.

BThree-hundred thirty feet down the lines, 370 in the power alleys, 408 to dead center.

The Vet is like Three Rivers Stadium, which is like Riverfront Stadium, which is like Busch Stadium. An architectural nightmare.

No nooks. No crannies. And plastic grass.

I suppose The Vet is ugly. But it is home.

This is where the Phillies play.

Growing up a Phillies fan teaches you humility. It prepares you for life's inevitable failures.

Throughout my almost four decades of fandom, the Phils have lost in almost epic proportions.

They lost in the early days when the games were played at Connie Mack Stadium. They lost a big-league-record 23 straight games in 1961.

"Spread out guys, so they can't get all of us with one shot," warned pitcher Frank Sullivan when the Phils came home from a road trip during the streak.

They squandered a 6 1/2 -game lead with 10 games to go in 1964. Manager Gene Mauch panicked. It seemed he pitched Bunning and Chris Short every other day. I never forgave him for the collapse.

"It was like watching someone drown," Mauch said.

We booed the drowning team.

The boo is considered a sacred chant in Philadelphia. It is the sound that has swirled through the late afternoon breezes at Connie Mack Stadium. The boos rise off the Delaware River and circle like vultures around The Vet.

"Philadelphia fans would boo funerals, an Easter Egg hunt, a veterans parade and the Liberty Bell," said Bo Belinsky, a loser with the Phillies in 1965 and '66.

Wouldn't you boo? The boo is restorative. CPR for the soul.

"They read the sports pages, know their statistics and either root like hell or boo our butts off," former third baseman Mike Schmidt said in 1975. "I love it. Give me vocal fans -- pro or con -- over the tourist types who show up in Houston or Montreal and just sit there."

As Rodney Dangerfield would say, "Tough crowd, tough crowd. Why, they are so tough, they booed Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address."

Jurassic Park is more hospitable. They don't sing the national anthem here, they hoot it. Morton Downey Jr. should be the public address announcer at The Vet. Sam Donaldson should be a bat boy.

Most memories here are painful. Ollie Brown misplaying a fly ball that cost the Phils a loss in the 1976 National League playoffs against Cincinnati. Luzinski botching another fly in another playoff loss a year later against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Steve Carlton winning 27 games in 1972. The rest of the team winning 32. A hang glider named Kiteman crashing into the center-field seats on a chilly, windy Opening Night in the early 1970s. They haven't had a winner here since 1980.

But every year we return to our sweltering summer home, hoping fora winner, like Elvis fans going to Graceland, hoping for a sighting.

This season, a bearded, bellicose collection of beer league look-alikes, who seem perfectly fit for Philadelphia, has turned The Vet into the City of Hope. These Phillies have led the National League East since Opening Day. But this is The Vet. They teach pessimism here.

zTC My brother and I saw Philadelphia lose 7-5 Tuesday night to the Dodgers. We walked into the steamy South Philadelphia night, uncomfortable with the knowledge that the shrinking Phillies' lead over St. Louis was down to six games.

"Down to five in the loss column," my brother said. "The starters are going too many innings. They're going to burn out. We'd better think about second place."

Boooo!

LATE ORIOLES GAME

Last night's Orioles-Royals game in Kansas City, Mo., did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions of The Sun and all editions of The Evening Sun.

@

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

White Sox starter: Jason Bere (3-3, 5.61)

Orioles starter: Rick Sutcliffe (8-3, 4.96)

TV: HTS

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)

Tickets: Scattered singles remain, not including 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.

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