When the Washington Generals Start Winning (or, How the Phillies' Current Run Is Ruining My Identity)

Being a diehard Phillies fan has been a major part of my world for the past three decades.  It has not only occupied an embarrassing amount of time in my life, but it has also built relationships with friends and family and shaped my personality and identity.

Being a Phillies fan has always meant something particular.  It meant suffering.  After all, over 10,000 losses (thankfully, I've been alive for only a small portion of them) doesn't induce much celebration.  And let's be honest -- as much as it was painful, did Joe Carter's home run really surprise you at all?  As Phillies fans, that was our lot in life.  We get hooked on an imperfect yet likeable team that surmounts the odds and dominates, but then we get crushed.  That's just par for the course for a Phillies fan, and we all knew that when it happened.  The only difference was that it happened in October rather than earlier in the season.

Being a Phillies fan also meant identifying with the underdog.  Back before I got old and when I used to indulge in such things, being a Phillies fan meant liking Pepsi instead of Coke, Burger King instead of McDonalds.  They were the underdogs after all, and that's what I, a Phillies fan, was drawn to.  It meant rooting for the Atlanta Braves when they faced the New York Yankees in the World Series because what Phillies fan would ever root for the dominant powerhouse Yankees, even if it meant rooting for your hated rival.

Although certainly the Phillies never approached this level of futility, being a Phillies fan was like being a fan of the Washington Generals.  For those who are too young to remember, the Washington Generals were the regular opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters.  Given that the Globetrotters and their acrobatics were the attraction, the Generals were almost always the loser in the exhibitions.  In their games between 1952 and 1995, the Generals lost over 13,000 games, while winning only 6, none after 1971.  Before they retired the team in 1995, the Generals had lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,968 games in a row.

As a fan of the Generals or the Phillies, you rooted for the underdog.  You expected bad things to happen.  You prayed they wouldn't, and enjoyed every moment they didn't, but you knew, ultimately, that your team was doomed to failure.  That's just the way it was.

Until now.

This is a different franchise.  People who are just now coming into Phillie fandom, whether because of age, geography, or new found interest in winning baseball, have a completely different conception of this team.  Look:  It's got a shiny new stadium that is a great place to watch a game!  The roster is filled with exceptionally talented individuals many of who came up through the farm system and want to stay here!  Free agents want to come here!  The owners care and spend money on talent!  The team has had over one hundred "sell outs" in a row!

And the team wins.  Four straight NL East championships.  Two straight World Series appearances.  One World Series championship.  And hopefully more to come this year and beyond.

That record is astounding for any franchise, but in particular for this one.  It would be like the Generals winning two games in a row against the Globetrotters.

And for someone whose identity is, in non-trivial ways, tied to this franchise, this change is as befuddling as it is welcome.  Do I start identifying with the favorite over the underdog?  Do I choose Coke over Pepsi?  Do I, *gasp*, root for the Yankees (when they're not facing the Phillies, of course)?

Because this is who this franchise has become.  We are the powerhouse.  We are the over-spenders.  We are the favorites.  We are the dominant team.  We, as fans, have to get used to this new sporting world . . . as much cognitive dissonance that that may cause in our personal world.

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