What is it about baseball that attracts the literary crowd? Maybe it’s the drama of the game itself.
“I like the mano a mano of the confrontation between a good pitcher and a good batter,” said Pennsylvania Gazette senior editor Sam Hughes, a Phillies fan since he was a mere youth. “It has to be the most interesting confrontation in sports.
“I also like its sense of time—the fact that there is no sense of time. It’s not played against the clock, and you really do have to get that third out in the ninth, and it’s not easy to do, even if you’re ahead by three runs with two outs and nobody on [base].”
Of course, being a Phillies fan, Hughes is familiar with both joy (on occasion) and pain (lots of it). He shared some of both with us and his thoughts about the only sports team he cares for in our interview.
Q. Are you a baseball fan in general, or just a Phillies fan?
A. I’m a Phillies fan. I’m thoroughly provincial that way. I could not list the starting lineup of the Chicago White Sox or half a dozen other teams. I guess I’ve been a fan since I was eight or so.
Q. When did you first get hooked on the game?
A. It has always been on one side of my family. My mother was a bit of a fan, and my brother and sister were baseball fans. I was the only thorough Phillies fan, since the rest of them were Dodgers fans for some inexplicable reason.
Q. Aren’t they from Philly too?
A. We grew up in the area, but [my mother’s] allegiance was to the Brooklyn Dodgers and my sister and brother both followed in her footsteps. I lacked the imagination to follow a team that was farther away than Philadelphia.
Q. Do you go back long enough to remember the collapse at the end of the 1964 season?
A. Unfortunately, yes. It has probably informed my world view in ways that I shouldn’t even speculate about. That was a very traumatic time.
I realy don’t focus on all the horrors and indignities of being a Phillies fan over the years, because I’ve had a lot of fun, but ’64 was certainly a traumatic year, particularly for a 10-year-old kid. It remains with me still.
Q. Was 1980 in any way a redemption?
A. It was a redemption. And when they finally beat Houston in the fifth game of the playoffs in 1980, it was probably the single most delirious moment of my baseball-following career. All five games were extremely exciting, and the fifth one was just unbelievable. And to win the World Series was absolutely gravy and complete vindication of a lifetime of following a team. Being a Phillies fan is not for the faint-hearted.
Since then, there have been some highs, and there have been some lows, and it’s nice to see that, I think, we’re getting back into a high period again. Jim Thome’s been a delight. It’s the first time they’ve had a really exciting free agent signing since Pete Rose, and [he is] really a better player than Pete Rose. Not to mention [he] possesses much more integrity as a human being.
… Feel free to ask me my thoughts about Larry Bowa.
Q. Okay. What do you think of Larry Bowa?
A. Terrible manager and I wish the Phillies would come to their senses and fire him. I think he’s a toxic little psychopath who has no business running, being manager of a big-league baseball club. I had mixed emotions about Bowa in his first year or two, but after this past year, I just thought he was a disaster. The players hate him, it seems, almost down the line.
Q. What’s your opinion of “boobirds” and local sports fans in general?
A. That’s a very good question, because I’m of two minds on that. One, I think it sometimes gets blown out of proportion by the national media, because they’re not very imaginative. On the other hand, they got their reputation the old-fashioned way—they earned it. I don’t think Phillies fans are as bad as Eagles fans, but they certainly can be pretty bad and they can be pretty vicious.
I’d like to write a book on the origins of Philadelphia negativity, because I think there’s a lot that goes into it. There are a lot of strands that go into that hard, gnarled psyche of the Philadelphia sports fan that is just the tip of the iceberg that is Philadelphia.
Q. Speaking of suffering, do you have any advice for Chicago Cubs fans now?
A. Well, it’s a slightly different situation. The fan base is fairly different. The Cubs, no matter what they do, their fans are going to be perceived as lovable, because they inhabit that lovable park [Wrigley Field], and even though some of them are troglodytes just like some of our fans are troglodytes, I think they have a cheerier attitude towards their lovable Cubbies than Phillies fans do.
So...advice for Cub fans? I would say, enjoy being in the playoffs as much as you can. I don’t think there’s any terrible shame in not winning the World Series. I think too much is now made of this notion that if you don’t win the World Series, then somehow your season has failed. As far as I’m concerned, if you get all the way to the World Series, you’re a big winner.
Originally published on October 16, 2003