In sports, teams occasionally go from “worst to first,” finishing last one season and first the next. But the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies are destined to be “first to worst”—the first professional sports franchise to suffer 10,000 defeats. While the Phillies aren't the only Major League Baseball club approaching 10,000 losses—the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds have all lost more than 9,300 contests each—it's still a dubious distinction, a milestone that the Phillies organization would prefer to ignore.
Yet, Charley DeBow, Andrew Deck and Gautham Chowdry—co-founders of Celebrate10000.com—refuse to let such a historic occasion pass unnoticed. Recently this trio of lifelong Phillies "Phans” launched the Web site to, in the words of DeBow, “honor the fans who have endured painful, losing seasons, year after year.”
DeBow, 28, developed the idea for Celebrate10000.com back on January 13 following the Philadelphia Eagles' 27-24 divisional playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. “I was in a bad mood because the Eagles had lost, and suddenly I remembered that the Phillies were going to lose their 10,000th game during the 2007 season. I said, ‘We should make a toast,’ and a few beers later it was, ‘Hey, let's start a Web site,’” he recalls.
While DeBow admits Celebrate10000.com was born out of frustration, he denies it is designed to portray the Phillies in an unfavorable light. “On the face of it, the Web site looks like I'm trying to be negative—that stereotypical Philadelphian who has nothing nice to say,” relates DeBow, referring to the reputation of Philly sports fans, who are perceived to be the most cantankerous, hard-to-please fans in the country. "Celebrate10000.com was created to celebrate the folks who will be standing by the Phillies even as they become the losingest team in professional sports history,” he insists.
But DeBow can understand how the uninitiated might question his motives, especially when one considers certain isolated incidents that reflect poorly on Philly fans as a whole. During the 1999 NFL draft Eagles fans booed lustily after the organization selected QB Donovan McNabb second overall, a rude reception for a quarterback expected to be the franchise's savior. Later the same year a fan (or two) hurled batteries at St. Louis Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew, who had been drafted by the Phillies but chose to sign with the Cards instead. Then, in October of 1999 Eagles fans cheered as Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin lay motionless on the turf of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, having suffered what would turn out to be a career-ending cervical spinal cord injury.
Finally, critics will never let Philly fans live down that day at Franklin Field in December 1968 when Eagles supporters pelted Santa Claus with snowballs. DeBow reasons that the Santa incident is illustrative of the passion of Philadelphia fans, saying, “That Santa had a terrible beard and his suit was dirty. In Philadelphia, if you aren't going to come out and do your best we're going to boo you.”
Certainly, the Phillies have been less than the best for most of their 125-year existence. On May 1, 1883 the team lost its inaugural game, and things went downhill from there. The club won only 17 of 98 games that year, with pitcher John Coleman single-handedly suffering 48 losses. Between 1938 and 1942 the team lost 103-plus games each season, during which time staff ace Hugh Mulcahy earned the nickname “Losing Pitcher,” because the letters “LP” so frequently preceded his name in the box score. And no 1960s-era Phillies fan can forget 1961 (when the club endured a 23-game losing streak) or 1964, when Philadelphia had a six-and-half game lead with just 12 games to play, and still failed to win the pennant.
Of course, it hasn't all been doom and gloom. The Phillies did win the World Series in 1980—the franchise's lone championship—and the 76ers won the NBA title in 1983, the last time any of Philadelphia's four major sports teams won a league crown. But DeBow, who manages parking garages for a living, notes that “we've had very few bright spots in all the years that I've been a Phillies fan,” which makes the personal vignettes posted on Celebrate10000.com's message board all the more remarkable.
There's a four-page submission by “Morrie,” a Philadelphia native who now lives in Herzlya, Israel, and religiously follows the Phillies, Eagles and 76ers, despite the fact that watching the games live results in “major sleep deprivation,” thanks to the seven-hour time difference.
And “Matt,” from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, relates how on September 9, 1997 he was driving to the hospital to witness the birth of his first-born when the local sports radio station announced the death of his idol—Hall of Famer, Richie Ashburn. “One of the saddest moments of his life became one of the happiest when his son was born,” begins DeBow. “He was holding his newborn son when he realized he had just lost his childhood hero, and that he was going to be his son's hero.”
Tapping in to all this pent-up emotion, DeBow and Co. are selling Official Celebrate 10,000 merchandise on the Web site (including a Celebrate 10,000 pint glass, which Philly fans can use to drown their sorrows), with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit Alex's Lemonade Stand, a local non-profit dedicated to fighting childhood cancer.
Meanwhile, as soon as that ten-thousanth defeat is in the books—most likely, sometime in July—DeBow plans to give Celebrate 10,000 supporters the chance to publicly vent their frustrations. “We plan to hold a parade from the Connie Mack statue [outside Citizens Bank Park, current home of the Phillies] to Chickie's & Pete's sports bar [on Packer Avenue in South Philly], where we're going to put a microphone on stage and give people an opportunity to ‘air their grievances,’” says DeBow, referencing the Festivus holiday tradition popularized by Seinfeld's Frank Costanza.
The irony is that Phillies fans don't have much to complain about right now. As of June 20 the team is three games above .500 and just two games behind the first-place New York Mets in the National League East. One could also argue that the club's long-term prospects are bright, with the roster featuring young standouts like first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, and pitcher Cole Hamels.
Yet, Philly Phans know better than to get their hopes up. And anyway, DeBow doesn't expect outsiders to understand the subtle distinction between celebrating the Phillies and celebrating defeat. “We're not really celebrating losing,” DeBow begins, “we're celebrating the fact that we still care about this team when all they do is lose.”