In the wake of Jimmy Rollins' recent comments on Philly fans being front-runners, there has been much discussion on the definition of the term front-runner around the area. While some front-runners are obvious and/or easy to recognize, it is a very loaded term in the world of sports.
However, any successful team has to deal with their share of unforseen mini-problems such as increased media coverage sometimes misconstrued as favoritism, fair-weather fans driving up ticket prices (whether they want to see the game or not), and the prospect of management holding onto players for too long due to their part (or non-part)in a successful season for the team.
Philadephia is a hardcore sports town, supporting all of its teams with great passion. However, this pricing-out phenomenon is one that is not foreign even to die-hards like those in Philadelphia. After the 76ers' magical run through the 2000-01 NBA season and playoffs, the City of Brotherly Love was enamored with its hoops team and was certain that they were a team on the rise. The team (Allen Iverson) played with great passion and heart, something Philly fans sometimes seem to value over sheer skill.
However, following the surprising and entertaining run to the '01 Finals, Sixers management made several stupid decisions with the future of the Sixers. The Sixers held onto the same core of players, but starting in '02 and finally ending when Iverson was sent to Denver in exchange for a package including Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two first-round picks (Thaddeus Young and Jason Smith), the team failed on several attempts to find the right combination of role players to complement the skills of their superstar.
The result was wonderful for Ed Snider, Comcast Spectator, and anyone else with a vested interest in the Sixers ticket sales, but tantalizingly disappointing for those of us with a rooting interest in the win-loss success of the squad. This was not only a stressful time to be a Sixers fan due to their perennial early-round playoff exits in the JV Eastern Conference, but also because it became increasingly apparent over the years that the organization was wasting the prime years in the career of a bona-fide superstar and Hall of Fame shoo-in.
Now, it is the Phillies riding the wave of recent success in the standings as well as at the ticket offices. With their own likeable core of young fan-favorites, the future seems bright for the Phightin' Phils. But already the new "fans" are coming out of the woodwork, and prices are going up. (I mean come on $2 for a hot dog at the Phanatic Kids Corner concession stand?) On the field, we can already name quite a list of failed experiments with veteran players. (So Taguchi, Geoff Jenkins, Jon Lieber, Freddy Garcia, Jeff Conine, Arthur Rhodes, Ugueth Urbina, etc.) Luckily, the Phils are still several futile seasons and management blunders away from reaching the early-playoff exit doldrums and repeating the mistakes of their crosstown basketball counterparts.
Unfortunately, as a lifelong Philadelphia fan, it is very difficult to anticipate anything more from the Phils than the early playoff purgatory shown to me by the sixers years ago, and similarly easy to expect much less, likely in the form of losing seasons like the ones we saw in the old days.
Here's hoping this is the team to turn the trend around in Philadelphia sports, God knows we've waited long enough...