Chris Ryan: Andy, we now interrupt our decade-long reenactment of the gas station scene from No Country for Old Men — wherein we are the old man behind the counter and life is played by Javier Bardem, who tells us to call it in the air before it shoots us in the head with a captive bolt pistol — to talk about Andy Reid, the Philadelphia Eagles, and personal accountability.
Look, I admire taking responsibility for a mistake as much as the next guy who may or may not have knocked the side mirror off a Volvo in a Grand Union parking lot in Waitsfield, Vermont, in 1992 with his mother's Toyota Corolla and not left a note. Hypothetically. I think it was General George Custer who once said, "Oof, my bad, dog. This one is on me." But is there a point where taking an L actually ... shirks responsibility? Is saying something is your fault actually different from taking the blame?
Baseball is the most cinematic of our major sports but it rarely follows a script. With dozens of individual matchups, hundreds of pitches, and countless loogies, the national pastime lacks the simple, dependable narrative thrust of Montana-to-Rice or Paul-to-Griffin. Like a Bourne sequel, you sort of have to find the story in the editing room.
Philadelphia sports fans are regarded as a nasty bunch — jeerers of Santa Claus, cheerers of paralysis, heavers of battery acid at toddlers — but the only venom produced this week was a half-hearted “Beat L.A.” chant. Instead, Wednesday’s press conference introducing Andrew Bynum as a member of the Sixers was an adorable congregation of the optimistic. To giddy hooting, the new centerpiece of the franchise declared affection for the city, rattled off native credos, and coyly alluded to sticking around for longer than the final year of his contract. Damn that flirtatious, Shrek-size rogue. Meanwhile, GM Rod Thorn, for whom the acquisition of Bynum represents an opportunity to leave a legacy in Philly, looked like a proud grandfather at a wedding reception after too many toasts.
Because I am an American, one of my favorite scenes in cinema history occurs about a quarter of the way through Old School. At a fratty party at his friend’s house, newlywed Frank Ricard (Will Ferrell) is waylaid in the kitchen by some young scholars. After boring them to near tears with his disquisitions on the “pretty nice little Saturday” he and his wife have planned (“Maybe Bed, Bath and Beyond. I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll have enough time”), his underage interlocutors exchange a look, then, quite rightly, offer Frank the receiving end of a beer bong. Frank demurs, but only momentarily. I think we all know what happens next.
This quick escalation from staid, conservative moderation to drunken debauchery should be familiar to any fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. Until five years ago, we were a downcast lot, conditioned to an unloved life of failure and mediocrity. The team was always rebuilding, but nothing was ever built. We were content to cheer for Rico Brogna and eat at the Olive Garden. Yet one improbable run to the playoffs and an even more improbable world championship later, we found ourselves fat, drunk, and happy. A coterie of homegrown, lovable stars had suddenly coalesced into exactly the sort of successful nucleus that seemed only to happen in other, less self-loathing cities. These were the good times, and the team — and its suddenly ascendent fan base — spent the ensuing seasons streaking through the National League. The line of free agents hoping to pledge membership snaked all the way to the Jersey Shore and, desperate to avoid a comedown, Ruben “The Godfather” Amaro Jr. started handing out nine-figure contracts like Jell-O shots. That’s the thing about success: it’s so good when it hits your lips!
Cool story: Today I went to get a physical because I am very into reading Men's Journal and sitting in waiting rooms and I also want to live to be 150. Anyway, more about my day: I got an EKG and the doctor was like, "Damn, son, your heart is not beating!" And I was like, "Let me check Twitter and see if something happened in Philly sports to cause that." And lo and behold, my smartphone hummed with the straight stupid news that the Philadelphia Eagles were bringing Juan Castillo back as defensive coordinator.
Watching our favorite teams lose in the postseason can make us do silly things. Some of us weep. Others set fire to our own cities. And still others write indulgent, self-pitying blog posts. Regardless of how we mourn, on some level we expect the players wearing the nonreplica versions of the uniforms to mirror our own emotions — to sob and moan or, at the very least, clobber a defenseless water cooler until it bleeds bright-orange rivers of sugar water. What we don’t want in those highly charged moments are the very things we claim to admire in professional athletes the other 364 days of the year: professionalism and perspective.
Just ask Shane Victorino. The hyperactive Phillies center fielder joined Twitter earlier in the fall and was soon chattering merrily about mixed martial arts and dropping more “Bros” than an Entourage marathon. All was well: The Phillies were thundering toward the playoffs with the best record in baseball, and Victorino was one extended jag about “chompasauruses” from exactly living up (or down) to the enthusiastic man-child personality longtime "Phans" had dreamed up for him. In the days leading up the fateful Game 5 against the Cardinals, Victorino was his usual, guileless self — raving about Raul Ibañez’s swings in batting practice and shouting out “Chef Yung” at his favorite local eatery. After the brutal loss, Victorino was contrite, calling it “tough/frustrating” but hoping to wake up the next day and “understand the greater things in life.”
But as the optimistic outfielder went about his offseason — enjoying his kids and global cuisine, making jokes about Tony Romo, shouting out an up-and-coming “Christian reggae” artist (!) — the fan base wasn’t ready to move on with him. The quick implosion of World Series dreams was devastating to a city conditioned for failure yet recently deceived into expecting success. And so, to some, Victorino’s tweets seemed somehow inappropriate. As he joshed with Vance Worley about vintage kicks, compared travel plans with Brandon Phillips, or big-upped Tommy Bahama for donating polo shirts to his charity golf game (OK, that one is a pretty unforgivable), an unbrotherly fury swelled in the same streets Bruce Springsteen once serenaded. How dare Victorino consort with rival players! Or eat sushi! Or continue to watch organized sports! Phillies nation demanded blood or, at the very least, sacrifice. Cliff Lee, for example, would never be having so much fun. (This video perfectly sums up what most denizens of Ashburn Alley expected of the vanquished players. It also wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.) A beef was simmering, one not even the estimable Chef Yung could tenderize.
It got so bad last week that Victorino had to take a break from his semi-official duties tweeting about the World Series for MLB.com to formally apologize to the entire city of Philadelphia. It was another example of Twitter messily melting the barriers that have sustained our relationship with athletes for decades; think of poor Arian Foster infuriating a legion of fantasy football loons when he publicly put concern for his real-life body ahead of their quest for made-up points. But this baseball business was worse — if only for practical reasons. Let’s be clear: We don’t really want Shane Victorino to be as crazy as we are. Just like we wouldn’t want Jimmy Rollins to be racked with self-doubt and self-loathing, or Cole Hamels to scream obscenities and punch the clubhouse wall with reckless machismo after every bad play. (OK, maybe we do want that.)
Baseball players are a funny breed: They have to fail well more than 50 percent of the time just to be considered a success. They play 162 games — and sometimes more — over the course of six grueling months. They experience unbelievable highs and unspeakable lows. They have to play in Miami. No matter what, major leaguers have to be able to shut out the noise and negativity that surrounds them daily (Marlins players don’t have to worry about the noise) and focus instead on a crazy, internal confidence that past performance does not guarantee future results.
Take Albert Pujols over the weekend. Do you think the slugger was able to rebound from an 0-4 performance and a national debate over clubhouse access with one of the best offensive games in history because he spent the night listening to talk radio and berating himself? No! He did it because he’s a 45-year-old man with illegal horse blood coursing through his veins! He did it because he is a baseball player, and the only thing that matters to him is the present.
When Shane Victorino comes to the plate with a game on the line, all Phillies fans should be grateful the Flying Hawaiian’s mind will be untroubled by last season’s failure or the rising price of Wawa hoagies or the relative merits of Greek austerity measures. We want him to change the engrained hopelessness of Philadelphia sports fandom, not embody it. If listening to terrible Christian reggae can keep him hitting triples after doing things like this, then all we should do is shrug our shoulders and say “mahalo.” We may not want our favorite players to be Ed Hardy-wearing, perpetually positive goofballs. But we just might need them to be.
Chris Ryan: I guess that's what happens when you bring a knife to a Stratego tournament. In this series, the Phillies were put to death by a hundred dying quails, ground balls with eyes, and worked counts. And on Friday night, the fatal blow was dealt early by Skip Schumaker. Skip Schumaker — if he didn't exist, the Cardinals would have had to invent him.
Chris Ryan: So after Chase Utley got thrown out at third base by God's bouncer, Albert Pujols, in the sixth, I pretty much knew Wednesday was not going to be our night. I feel OK about this for two reasons: