In politics, they say that “perception is reality.”
Fortunately, they do not say this in professional sports, because if they did, the Philadelphia Phillies would be in real trouble.
Take, for example, a conversation I had with a Philadelphia friend named Josh and a non-Philadelphia friend named Scott while I was in New Orleans for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival last weekend.
Scott and I love obscure baseball t-shirts, so while in town I presented him with a “Philadelphia Phillies Opening Week” t-shirt, which had been a give-away at Citizens Bank Park during the first homestand of the season. Scott, a lifelong Cubs fan, put on the shirt and said “it feels strange to wear the t-shirt of a winner.”
Then we had the following amusing exchange:
Me: “Wanna see something funny?”
Me: “Hey Josh, how do the Phillies look this year?”
Josh: “Oh, we’re so screwed.”
Now, from where I sit, Josh’s take on the Phillies is pretty consistent with what Philly fans and sports radio talkers seem to think about the 2011 incarnation of the Fightin’ Phils: That despite the amazing rotation, the bullpen is bad and the offense is anemic and even if Chase Utley comes back, we’ve got problems.
But is this fair? Are losing perspective? Are our expectations a bit high?
Forget fair; is it even true?
Never mind the fact that the Phils have the best starting rotation in baseball, and Vance Worley appears ready to be a great major league pitcher. Never mind the fact that, with the exception of Raul Ibanez, most of the Phillies’ hitters are having better seasons than they did a year ago. Never mind the fact that the Phillies sell out every game while the other four teams in our division struggle to turn the stiles.
Perhaps the best indicator of just how skewed our perspective is lies in this tasty little statistic:
The Philadelphia Phillies currently have the best record in baseball.
Perspective can be a funny thing in sports.
Right now in Kansas City, they’re dancing in the streets because the Royals are two games over .500 and in third place in the division. In Pittsburgh, optimism is through the roof because the Pirates are one game under .500 and in third place in the division.
But back here in Philadelphia, the local faithful are phreaking out because the Phillies have merely won two out of every three games.
Do not misunderstand me: I get it. I understand the consternation. This is a once in a lifetime team, and we have gone figurative (and maybe literally) “all in” on this 2011 squad which seems to be showing signing of stress.
With injuries to Chase Utley, Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt, our offense seems overmatched, our bullpen is a real balancing act and our rotation is showing cracks where we did not expect them.
At the same time, though, one has to wonder whether Philadelphia fans shall ever be happy. This is the city, after all, that absolutely loathes Andy Reid, a man who has almost literally had nothing but success in Philadelphia.
One of the city’s loudest voices, Angelo Cataldi, declares that it is time to run Andre Igoudala out of town after the Philadelphia 76ers—a team that defied odds and overachieved by even making the playoffs, had the audacity to lose to the Miami freakin’ Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
And now the Phillies merely having the best record in baseball is leaving Phillies’ fans disappointed and listless.
Of course, the reason that “perception is reality” in politics but not in sports is that in politics the voters actually get to vote based on how they perceive the country to be doing or their elected officials to be performing.
In sports, though, the fans do not get to vote, which is a good thing, because if Phillies’ fans were allowed to vote based on their perception of reality, the Phillies might be out of office in a hurry.
Which would be quite the outcome for the best team in baseball.