July 31, 2007

Barry Bonds Really is Our Homerun Champion

As I write this, San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds has 754 career homeruns. He stands one homerun behind all-time leader Hank Aaron who hit 755. Be it in a matter of hours, games, or days, Bonds will soon break Aaron’s record and be the career leader.

Janie McCauley, writing about Bonds for the Associated Press yesterday in the article “Big day brewing in baseball: Bonds, A-Rod and Glavine could go for milestones all at once”, put it succinctly, “The 43-year-old slugger… is booed and derided on the road, partly because of steroid suspicions surrounding his quest.”

Aaron himself spoke as loudly about Bonds’ pursuit of the milestone. Michael Melia reported that Aaron told the AP yesterday, “I am making a comment by not making a comment.” Aaron was offering neither encouragement nor congratulations to Bonds.

After Bonds hit number 752 and 753 in Chicago against the Cubs on July 19, Commissioner Bud Selig relented and decided that in fact he would go and see Bonds play in person and perhaps be present for the record tying homerun. From Chicago, the Giants traveled to Milwaukee for games on July 20 and 21. Selig was the long-time owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and maintains a personal residence and office in the city. It would have been hard for Selig to have been unavailable those nights.

Selig was spared from attending the Giants’ games this weekend in San Francisco against the Marlins. The Baseball Hall of Fame induction weekend took place in Cooperstown, New York. One of the duties of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball is to attend such festivities. (What, you thought Commissioner’s only pursued gambling officials and dog-fighting superstars? They do fun things, too!)

Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn were inducted into the Hall this weekend but baseball fans could not even escape the shadow of steroids in idyllic Cooperstown. Ripken and Gwynn retired at the end of the 2001 season. So did Mark McGuire who would have certainly been standing on the stage with Ripken and Gwynn on Sunday afternoon had he not cast himself under the same dark shadow in which Bonds now plays.

The Giants begin a three-game series this evening in Los Angeles against the rival Dodgers. The fans are expected to boo Bonds relentlessly. There is a picture from the July 19 game in Chicago. As Bonds rounds the bases during of the homeruns, one can clearly see a fan in the stands holding up a white poster-board with an asterisk on it.

Major League Baseball did not test for steroids until 2002. Under the terms of this testing program, a positive test resulted in counseling and the player’s identity was kept confidential. The MLB steroids test as we know it today began only with the 2005 season.

Barry Bonds hit his season-record 73 homeruns in 2001. Bonds hit well over 500 homeruns before MLB began testing. To date, Bonds has never tested positive – at least to public knowledge – for steroids. Thus, every article about Bonds and about his pursuit of the homerun record uses words such as “suspicious” and “alleged”. There is no smoking gun as Major League Baseball has defined the smoking gun. This is the reason that Selig has to show for Bonds because Selig as official MLB adjudicator does not have his conviction.

I could type a couple thousand words recapping the thousand points of evidence of Bonds’ use. Bonds has changed his story about his not using; his personal trainer remains in prison for refusal to testify to the grand jury currently investigating Bonds; his change in physical characteristics. One can go on.

For the sake of this piece of writing, let us pretend that Bonds really did use steroids. Let us pretend that that we do not need to use the word “supposedly” or any other clarifying words to say what we want to say without saying so. Bonds used steroids and will break the record.

My buddy Jake was over for dinner on Friday night and declared that sports was dead. It was not nearly as funny as last week, when having just seen Transformers, he kept booming ala-Optimus Prime, “When the time comes, put the cube in the chest!”.

It was a rough week for professional sports and I suppose it was all an example of just how professional (which means, “for money”), professional sports are.

Michael Vick, quarterback for the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons entered a plea of not guilty in the federal courthouse in Richmond, Virginia on Thursday. Public opinion has turned on him so much that Reebok pulled his Falcons jerseys from retail stores and the Upper Deck sports-card company removed his football cards from card sets. This was the same week that a National Basketball Association referee was accused of betting on games for which he officiated. This was the same week that the Tour de France became a Tour de Farce as top readers were led away in handcuffs by the French police.

Bonds was one more reason to be gloomy about sports. Former United States Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren is quoted as having said, “I always turn to the sports page first. The sports page records people's accomplishments; the front page nothing but man's failures.” Last week, the ongoing devastation in Iraq was beginning to look a bit more promising than the sports section.

Bonds and his pursuit of Aaron’s record remains unpopular. PollingReport.com, to which I usually turn for updates on presidential races, has a section cataloging public opinion surveys regarding Bonds. You can explore it at http://www.pollingreport.com/baseball.htm.

For all the public displeasure with Bonds, I have a hard time vilifying him, let alone rooting against Bonds. The new career homerun record will belong not only to Bonds and testify to his steroid use, it will be about us and how much we wanted our baseball heroes to use steroids. This record is as much for us as it is for Bonds.

On a certain level, we wanted ballplayers using steroids. We did not want to talk about it and we did not want to call it what it was when so many individual voices called to us of its elephant presence in the middle of the living-room ballpark.

The Baltimore Orioles’ Brady Anderson appeared with ripped muscles in 1996 and hit 50 homeruns that year. This was at age 32. He had broken 20 in one season only once in his first eight seasons in the major leagues. It must have been the juiced baseballs or the short fences in the new ballparks.

Sammy Sosa went from a high of 40 homeruns a season in 1996 to 66 in 1998. Sosa made $5.5 million in 1997 and saw his annual salary jump to $11 million in 2000, according to baseball-reference.com. In January 1999, Sosa was a guest of the President and First-Lady at the Capital for the State of the Union. It pays to hit the homeruns.

There are more examples of how individual players benefited from using steroids and how we as baseball fans loved the explosion of offense. We showed our approval and joy with the new state of the game in how we tuned into McGuire’s and Sosa’s 1998 pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season homerun record. We showed our approval in joy in the merchandise we bought. Todd McFarlane purchased McGwire’s 1998 homerun ball number 70 for almost $3 million.

Major League Baseball showed its own approval for the steroid use by refusing to test or push for a test with the MLB Players Association. MLB showered praise on Sosa and on McGwire. It sold tickets and television contracts and counted the dollars pouring in. MLB waited until 2005 to start testing with juicy consequences.

We loved what steroids was doing for baseball. We loved the offense that steroids brought us that revived interest in the game after it was devastated by the 1994 players’ strike. We chose not to ask too many questions or press too hard.

Barry Bonds thrived in an environment that the Commissioner’s office condoned in its silence and which we the fans encouraged in our spending. Bonds looked around and saw the opportunity – there was no test and he would not be caught – and he used steroids and put on tremendous displays of offense for our pleasure.

The use of steroids in pro sports is so complicated. We do not know precisely how long they have been used in baseball. We do not know who used how much and when. Even today, current tests cannot detect all kinds of steroids so players may still be using. We know some are as they continue to fail tests (see Neifi Perez). For all of Commissioner Selig’s assertions, we do not know for sure.

Bonds is now at the center of the baseball world, at a crossroads in our reckoning with steroids in the game, and on the verge of the record. I believe we boo Barry Bonds because he has come to embody all of our baseball-world ambivalence and anger around the proliferation of steroids in the game. We cannot return to 1989 or 1998 or 2001 to stop the game and be that child on the parade route laughing at the king for not wearing any clothes. Even if we could, we might have been enjoying the balls flying over the fences too much to even notice or be that child.

It is not so much that Barry Bonds deserves the career homerun record but that we deserve Barry Bonds. He really is our homerun champion.

July 24, 2007

Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, and the Creation of Brand Equity

Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this coming Sunday. They were elected in January by the Baseball Writers Association of America in each their first year of eligibility.

They are both well deserving inductees who put up stellar numbers, Gwynn in 20 seasons and Ripken in 21. Gwynn finished his career with 3,141 hits, a .338 career average, and led the league in average in eight years. Ripken won two MVPs, hit 431 homeruns, and holds the record for consecutive games played.

They are connected by their mutual stardom through the late-1980s and 1990s, meeting regularly each summer in the All-Star Game. Gwynn went to 15 games and Ripken to 19. They are now linked by their shared induction in Sunday.

They are also connected as two players who played their entire career for one team. Cal Ripken is identified with the Baltimore Orioles and Gwynn with the San Diego Padres.

Bill Carle studied players who played their entire career for one team and published his findings in the article, “One-Team Players” in issue 35 of The Baseball Research Journal published by SABR.

Carle identified 63 players in the history of major league baseball who played for one team for a minimum of fifteen years. Wally Ritchie, who pitched his entire four-year major league career for the Philadelphia Phillies, does not count. Carle does include Gwynn and Ripken in the 63.

Let us dispel the idea that the advent of free-agency has brought the number of players who play for only one team plummeting. Gwynn and Ripken are two of six players who made their major league debut in the 1980s and played for one club for at least 15 seasons. Six is the same number of single-club players who made their debut in the 1930s. The most for one decade is 11 – in the 1960s.

A third of the six 1980s-players is Craig Biggio. Biggio announced today that he will retire at the end of this season. When he does, he will have played his entire 20-season career with the Houston Astros.

Carle concludes his article on the subject by opining that “a player playing his entire career with one club has always been a rarity… and should be appreciated for their loyalty to their clubs.”

I would respectfully disagree with Carle on the issue of player loyalty to clubs.

First, I cannot fault a man for choosing an alternative employer who offers him more money. A player plays out his contract and while he is healthy enough to play the game, I wish him all the power in the world to try and make as much money as he can for himself and his family.

Second, loyalty only makes sense if it is reciprocal. Mike Lieberthal played thirteen seasons with the Phillies through 2006. When his contract expired last year, the club made no effort to resign him. Not that the Phillies should have resigned him. But just as players can be fickle in choosing money over a single postal-address, teams can be equally shrewd in cutting its employees.

Third, I would argue that the terms of this discussion is not so much “loyalty” to clubs, or even the fans, but rather the creation of a player’s brand-equity as identified with a team. Ripken, Gwynn, and Biggio are all paradigms of the successful creation of such equity.

Ripken is identified with the Baltimore Orioles. Gwynn is identified with the San Diego Padres. Biggio is identified with the Astros. When each goes into the Hall of Fame, there will be no question about which ballcap they will wear on their plaque. They are each not just great ballplayers but they are city heroes.

This is especially important in their post-career lives and in the creation and trade of memory and nostalgia. They each have value as personalities in their communities and because they played for one team can be associated with ideas like “trust”, “loyalty”, their individual cities, “reliability”. (This “loyalty” is the result of the career and not necessary the motivation for staying with the club).

Barry Bonds has such equity in San Francisco playing for the Giants. Bonds came to the Giants after starting his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bonds came to San Francisco in part because his father, Bobby Bonds, had played for seven seasons with the club and because his godfather, Willie Mays, played most of his own career with the organization. Today, Barry Bonds might be one of the most disliked current players but he is loved at home. Beyond his role as a baseball player, he has a role as city hero in San Francisco which he would not have elsewhere.

Each city has its own icons. In Philadelphia, these icons include William Penn, Ben Franklin, David Rittenhouse, and Frank Rizzo, as much as it includes its sports heroes, Wilt Chamberlain, Bobby Clarke, Julius Erving, Ron Jaworski, and Mike Schmidt.

Think about Pittsburgh with Andrew Carnegie, the Heinz family, August Wilson, and its own sports heroes, Roberto Clemente, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino, and Mario Lemieux.

I wonder what Alex Rodriguez’s baseball career might have been like had he spent it all in Seattle with the Mariners. He played his first seven major-league seasons with the Mariners. He left as a free-agent after the 2000 season and is now on his third-team.

When he hits his 500th career homerun in the next few games, he will be the youngest player to reach the mark. He has won two MVP awards and if he retired tomorrow at age 31, would still make the Hall of Fame. He is that good.

But for one of the best players of this generation, he is not exactly popular. He has an uneasy relationship with Derek Jeter. It is even unclear if the Yankees will bring him back in 2008. Even without his wife wearing obscene t-shirts to the ballpark, he does not bring much to the table beyond his bat. Yes – it is a ginormous bat. But the Yankees are struggling this season because of pitching and ARod is playing third.

Rodriguez could have owned Seattle from simply being so good in one place for so long.

I also wonder if Roberto Alomar will be elected into the Hall of Fame. He illustrates what not to wear in building such brand-equity.

Alomar has Hall of Fame numbers. He has 2724 career-hits in 17 seasons and a career .300 batting average. He won ten Gold Glove awards at second-base and went to twelve All-Star Games. By comparison, Ryne Sandberg finished his 16-year career with 2,386 career-hits and a .285 average. While Sandberg did have 282 career homeruns, Alomar had 210 and more career RBIs than Ryno.

The biggest difference between Alomar and Sandberg is that Sandberg was a one team player. Yes, Sandberg started his career with the Phillies and we see that “1981 PHI G 13 AB 6…” on his career stats entry. But Sandberg is not a Phillie just as Lou Brock is not a Chicago Cub and Trevor Hoffman is not a Florida Marlin.

Roberto Alomar played for seven teams in his 17 seasons. His longest stint came with the Toronto Blue Jays where he played for five years. I associate Alomar with Cleveland where he played from 1999 to 2001. I was living in Oberlin, Ohio then and he and Omar Vizquel anchored the middle-infield for those great teams.

Ripken and Gwynn have each leveraged this regional brand-equity in their post-playing careers. Ripken has established a base in Aberdeen, Maryland where he runs an operation that includes ownership of minor league baseball franchises, a youth baseball camp and academy, and a memorabilia company, Ironclad Authentics. Gwynn is the head coach of the San Diego State University baseball team and often sits in on television broadcasts of Padres games.

I am all in favor of ballplayers spending their career with one team because it is not just the team and fans who stand to benefit, but the players who give themselves a chance for increased future earnings when their playing career is done.

July 17, 2007

Ordinal Numbering and the Pennant Races

I maintain my primary personal email address on Yahoo!. My email account is attached to my personal settings on the system so that when I visit Yahoo! Sports, a small box is set-aside with my baseball team's of choice - the Phillies - most recent scores as well as their record and standing in the division.

As I write this today, before the team plays the Dodgers in Los Angeles, Yahoo! tells me, "(46-46), 3rd NL East". The team has been in third place for most of the season which might not seem too bad. After all, third place is right behind second place which is one off from the top.

Pretty good, it would seem. But while the Phillies are the third-best team in the National League's Eastern Division, they are third out of five teams. There are now six divisions in Major League Baseball. Four of the six have five teams. One division has four teams and one has six.

Major League Baseball teams are divided into two leagues, the National and American Leagues, a remnant of the time when they were two separate business operations. The American League became a major league in 1901 and by 1905, the two leagues had worked out an arrangement to play a championship series at the end of each season. We call this series, the World Series.

Baseball was the last of the four major professional sports in the United States to stage post-season play-offs. Until 1969, the regular 154-game and then 162-game season served as a six-month playoff series in which every team in the league competed against the others. The team with the best record at season’s end was the league champion.

This system is most familiar to us today in European football leagues. For example, Manchester United football club won the English football Premiership. They 89 total points for the season in a system in which wins count for 3-points and ties for 1. They finished six points ahead of second place Chelsea. In baseball-speak, we might say that Chelsea finished two-games back.

Man U had the best record. The season is over. They are the champions.

Some will argue that European football (and basketball) is not a fair comparison. There are parallel club competitions which crown their own champions like the English Football Association Cup. Imagine if every professional baseball team from Single-A minor league teams all the way up to the Boston Red Sox competed in a season long knock-out tournament. Professional soccer in this country has its own version called the U.S. Open. That is the FA Cup.

The fact remains that there is one league champion in England which is the team with the best record over the course of the season.

The National League and the American League each expanded from ten to 12 franchises in 1969. They divided each league into two-divisions, an east and a west. Each division would crown a champion and then play each other for the league’s championship and right to play for the championship in the World Series.

The play-offs were expanded by Major League Baseball in 1995. The now 14-team leagues were divided into three divisions each. Each of the six division-champions would qualify for the play-offs as well as a wild-card team, the club with the best-record who did not win a division.

The justification behind the expansion of the number of divisions and qualifiers was that it would maintain the interest of fans late in the season when their team would have otherwise been eliminated from post-season qualification. Rather than have two pennant races or four divisional races, there would now be six divisional races and two playoff qualification races. Eight races! Woo hoo!

Rumor has it that there was a proposal to create 15-divisions of two teams each to enable all 30-teams to enjoy a pennant race. Well, there was not such a proposal but why should any team be made to feel excluded? They should not and we could take it to the logical conclusion like they did when I played little-league and give every player a trophy. If only we really did all win when everyone wins.

The consequence of the current Major League Baseball playoff scheme is such that there are zero pennant races and two wild-card races.

We as baseball fans remember with fondness, honor with pre-game ceremonies, and price with commemorative prints and autograph baseballs great moments and games that decided seasons.

There never would have been the Bobby Thompson’s homerun to win the pennant for the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 had it taken place today. Both teams would have been on their way to the playoffs. In fact, it is likely that many of the stars, Willie Mays, Thompson, Jackie Robinson, and Duke Snider might have been rested that day to rest for the playoffs.

Our current playoff system has actually created more late-season meaningless games for the best teams and more late-season meaningful games for the good-but-not-great teams. In this sense, we are rewarding mediocrity. Well, maybe not mediocrity, but certainly devaluing the games of the teams that proved themselves over the course of the season.

This led me to wonder what the current season would look like were we using pre-1969 standings. The standings here are for all games until the All-Star Game which was last Tuesday. These standings are five-days of games stale and not too-stale as the positions are relatively unchanged in the past-week.

These are the current regular standings in the format with which we are familiar.

I also adjusted for interleague play because it brings an unequal level of imbalance to each team’s schedule.

Teams already play unbalanced schedules. That means that each team currently plays about 19-games (give or take a couple depending on the number of teams in the division) per-season against each team in its division. This fosters divisional, and therefore geographic rivalries. For example, the Phillies play the New York Mets 19-times a year, the Boston Red Sox play the New York Yankees, the Chicago Cubs play the St Louis Cardinals, and the Los Angeles Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants and so-forth. Each team plays the balance of the teams in the same league six or seven times each. It is unbalanced but kept within the league.

Interleague play messes with this balance. Each team plays only five or six other-league teams per year. For example, the Phillies do not play all 14-American League teams each season; the Phillies play about five or six.

Major League Baseball schedules Interleague play in roughly three-year cycles so that each team will have played every one of the teams in the other league in a three-year period. This means that one year, a National League team might have to play the best of the American League in the Yankees and Red Sox six-times while another National League team might score the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. This is unbalanced and creates unfair grounds of competition.

From each team’s All-Star break record, I subtracted their Interleague games. I then calculated the winning-percentage for each team and ordered them by this percentage. I used the formula for games-behind described in “How to compute standings in baseball” at http://www.math.toronto.edu/mathnet/questionCorner/baseball.html.

What emerges is a picture of what a league-wide winner-take-all pennant race would look like. It is pretty exciting.

These are the standings.

In these standings, Cleveland is in first place in the American League, but by only a half game over Seattle and Boston. Detroit and the Los Angeles Angels are right there, three games behind Cleveland. This would be a very exciting pennant race! Five of the 14 teams are right in there - more than 1/3.

The National League would also have five teams right in the race. Milwaukee would be in first place, half a game up on the Los Angeles Dodgers and one game in front of the New York Mets. The San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves are close behind. My second-place Phillies? They would be 8 1/2 games back.

I would welcome a change in league schedules and standings to this form. They could eliminate the divisional and championship playoff series which would transform the last month of the regular season into playoff-level games. We would watch tight pennant race games in September rather than World Series games in November.

This would be exciting and would then guarantee that the World Series pitted the team with the best record in the National League against the team with the best record in the American League.

July 10, 2007

**ON VACATION** It's the All-Star Break

July 03, 2007

Phillies' 10,000 Losses Is Sooooo 1930s

The Philadelphia Phillies are on track to be the first professional franchise to lose 10,000 games. Of course you knew this because the impending milestone has reached beyond the corners of the sports-pages, and up from the depths of niche sports blogs into the mainstream American media.

On June 12, the New York Times ran a 1400-word story “Climbing Towards 10,000 Defeats” by Jere Longman. Last Saturday, June 23, National Public Radio’s Linda Wertheimer reported on the losses on “Weekend Edition – Saturday” when she interviewed Phillies fan and writer Joe Queenan. The Phillies will have completed the Triple Crown of my non-sports-news sources if the New Yorker also profiles the accomplishment.

The 2007 Phillies are playing .500 this season as injured pitcher after injured pitcher is moved to the Disabled List leaving a potent offense at the mercy of a minor league bullpen.

The frustration of games lost in the seventh and eighth innings this year is compounded by the expectations for this club for which pitching was seen to be a strength and which has come close to playoff-qualification. The Phillies finished five games back of the Wild Card in 2003, six in 2004, one in 2005, and three last year. The Phillies have been close enough for Septembers to be interesting.

On June 18, Philadelphia marked the topping off of the Comcast Center. The new skyscraper will be the tallest in the city. Affixed to the last steel-beam was the traditional mini pine tree. Alongside of the pine was a small statue, a replica of the William Penn statue that stands atop Philadelphia’s City Hall.

The Penn totem was hailed to assuage the “Curse of Billy Penn”. A long-standing gentleman’s agreement held that no building in Philadelphia was to stand taller than City Hall. Liberty Place exceeded the Penn statue in March 1987.

Since this violation, Philadelphia has now gone the longest of all American cities with professional franchises in the four major sports leagues – Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Association, and National Hockey League - without a championship. The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers were the last in 1983.

Coincidence? Disregard at your own risk, sports-fan!

Philadelphia urban legend has it that the championship drought is result of the 1987 construction. The performance of the city’s teams in the playoffs is a direct result of 1987 urban development.

The problem with this line of reasoning – aside from the physics questions about the statue’s means of influence – is that the Phillies, NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, and 76ers were not exactlty racking in the championships UCLA Basketball or Boston Celtics-style prior to the 1974 to 1983 glory-decade. Which begins to tell the story of the Phillies’ 10,000 loss march.

Both the article in the Times and the story on NPR, as well as Daniel McQuade’s cover-story on the issue in the June 27 issue of the Philadelphia Weekly note the recent championship drought and also the Phillies’ history of losing (not just losses).

McQuade reminds us that the Phillies suffered the most lopsided shutout in Major League Baseball history, losing 28 to 0 to Providence. Anyone remember that game? Of course not. Providence has not had a major league team since prior to 1901.

The Times reminds us of the Phillies-game losing streak, the longest in history. I rooted in 1988 for the Baltimore Orioles to break the Phillies’ streak but the Orioles lost only 21 and then played the White Sox.

And yes, we did boo Mike Schmidt, Dick Allen, and the Easter Bunny, and the Phillies traded away Ryne Sandberg, Ferguson Jenkins, and Julio Franco for the equivalent of 24 dollars in trinkets.

McQuade wants to conclude, “the Phillies are the biggest bunch of losers to ever grace a baseball field. But the Phillies are our losers, our 10,000-loss team.”

They are and they are not. The early history is such distant history that it has not been on the mind of the current field management. Longman quoted current Phillies manager Charlie Manuel as saying “I didn’t know [about the 10,000 losses] until a week ago. It means they’ve had a team here a long time.”

Oh yes, we also boo Charlie Manuel. But the man has a valid point. The Phillies of the past six years have been terribly frustrating and inconsistent, floating around .500. The 1995, 1996, and 2000 squads were pretty lousy. But the worst team? The “biggest bunch of losers”? I respectfully disagree.

The Phillies have been around a long-time, and for three decades, they did stink.

The Phillies’ first season of play was 1883 which makes 2007 the organization’s 125th. The Phillies were especially bad between 1919 and 1949.

How bad were they? The Phillies have lost 100 games or more in 14 of these 125 seasons. 12 of these 14 seasons are between 1921 and 1945.

It is not so unusual for a club to lose 100 games in a season. Teams do have bad seasons in the cycle of winning and rebuilding. So what I did is I looked at the Phillies’ winning percentage every year from 1883 through 2006. Since fans forgive short-runs of losing, I was curious to look at trends – when the losing begins to add up.

To look at legacies, I calculated each season’s ten-year trailing winning percentage. That is, for a fan watching the team in 1935, what was the Phillies’ cumulative winning percentage in the previous ten-seasons? I did this for every year from 1893 – ten years after the first season – through 2006.

Now, let us talk about scale. There is a difference between the team’s number of losses and the winning percentage. The team’s worst winning percentage of all-time is .173 in 1883 when the team played only 98 games and lost 81 of them. The most number of losses came in 1941 when the club lost 111 in a 154 game season for a .279 percentage. The best seasons are 1976 and 1977 when the club went 101 and 61 for a .623 percentage. The Phillies all-time winning percentage is .468.

Here is how these numbers translate into the contemporary 162-game season:

.173 is a 28 and 134 record in 162 games;
.278 is to go 45 and 117;
.300 is to go 49 and 113;
.400 is to go 65 and 97;
.468 is to go 76 and 86;
.500 is to go 81 and 81;
.600 is to go 97 and 65;
.623 is to go 101 and 61.

In every year between 1919 and 1949, a 31-season span, the Phillies have a ten-year trailing winning-percentage less-than .400. This would be like watching the Phillies every season from 1977 until today and the team losing between 95 and 100 games every year. For 30 years. 95 to 100 losses.

Talk about brutal.

We have known they lost a lot of games in this period for, well, since about the 1950 team won the pennant. That the 2007 Phillies will lose game number 10,000 is a reflection of three decades of losing that came between World War I and World War II.

What is the current ten-year trailing? The Phillies are currently holding at .491 which is a record of 80 and 82. A .500 record is neither good enough for the post-season nor bad enough for the second-division. It means the Phillies have been playing average baseball the past ten years. The team is average.

We the fans are dragging around a history of losing, cemented in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and reinforced by the 1961-losing streak and 1964 collapse. It is not that we have seen stretches of bad baseball. It means that my grandmother (she should live and be well until 120 years of age), who skipped school in the 1930s to see the Phillies play in North Philadelphia, saw losing baseball. But she has known that for the past seventy years.

It is nice that the Phillies made it to the Times and onto National Public Radio. But come on people! That the Phillies lost all those games between the two World Wars? Jeez, that is like, sooooo last century.