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August 2011: When the Phillies Became a Top-Tier Football Team

The metamorphosis of the Philadelphia baseball franchise has been fascinating over the past decade.  To me, it all started December 6, 2002, when Jim Thome signed as a free agent with the Phillies.  From there, you can pretty much trace a straight line through the ascendancy of the trio of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard to the hiring of Charlie Manuel to the first of four (and counting) NL East division titles, to the 2008 World Series, to Cliff Lee, to Roy Halladay, to Cliff Lee again and the four aces, to the best record in baseball for almost the entire season.

And then to now.  The Phillies' incredible path has taken them to the position of being treated like a top-tier football team.

Let me explain.  Baseball and football are different sports in so many ways.  But one important way is that top-tier baseball teams lose, and they lose a lot.  Since 2005, only 5 teams have lost less than 40% of their games -- the 2005 Cardinals and White Sox, the 2008 Angels and Cubs, and the 2009 Yankees.  Every other team in the past 6 seasons (not including this year) has lost more than 40% of their games, or 65 games or more.

Thus, being a baseball team and being a baseball fan means getting used to losing.  If you or your team loses, you shrug it off.  There's another game the next day.  If you can't do that, either as a player or a fan, this sport isn't for you.  Losing is a fact of life.  You either get used to it, or you pick up another hobby.

Football is different.  The best football teams lose very infrequently.  Just last year, 13 teams lost less than 40% of their games.  Four teams lost 25% or fewer of their games.  For top tier teams, a loss is a devastating thing.  The team takes it hard, trying to figure out what went wrong.  There's a long wait between games, so the fans stew, the media second-guesses, and the team regroups.

Simply put, the expectation for a top-tier football team is wholly different than in baseball -- the expectation is that the team will win all games.  When the top-tier football team loses, something went wrong.  In baseball, when the team loses, that's just a fact of life.

But what I've perceived over the past month for the Phillies is a complete change in perception.  We fans, and to some extent the team, have morphed our perception of the team into that of a top-tier football team.  When the Phillies lose, it's a shock.  Charlie Manuel is second-guessed.  The roster is re-analyzed.  The world's alignment just seems off.

The expectation we have now is not simply that the team is going to win a really high percentage of its games.  The expectation now is that the team is going to win every game.

That's just not possible in baseball.  But, given how amazing this team is playing this year and particularly right now, that's where we find ourselves.

In other words, this franchise and this team have completely altered the basic principles of this sport and being a fan of a team in this sport.