History is so easy to understand in retrospect. The narratives are so clean and the paths to the conclusion seem so obvious. And yet they can only be examined as something that happened in the past. And in many ways, tiny moments where history zigged instead of zagged could change what narrative we all know.
Take the Philadelphia Phillies. They are the last pre-expansion franchise to win the World Series. For the first half of the 20th century, they were the OTHER team in Philadelphia. As the Athletics won pennants and titles in the 1900’s, 1910’s, 1920’s and 1930’s, the Phillies were irrelevant winning two pennants between the 1903 and 1980.
Even when the Athletics left, the Phillies were mainly irrelevant except in 1964 when they had one of the great collapses in baseball history.
The Phillies franchise transformed in the mid 1970’s and by 1976, the won three straight NL East titles. In 1976, they were swept by the unstoppable Reds, so there is no shame in that.
In 1977, the team won 101 games and looked like a pennant winner. A controversial 9th inning in Game 3 of the NLCS against Los Angeles turned a potential 2-1 lead into a 2-1 hole which they lost in Game 4.
This card shows the 1978 squad, who again lost to Los Angeles for the pennant in 4, this time on a walk off single in the 10th.
When they finally won in 1980, as the narrative goes, the Phillies couldn’t win the big game. They were too loose, too cliquey and too disjointed. They needed two key changes. Danny Ozark was the wrong manager and Dallas Green, a “I don’t care what you think of me” hard nosed manager was the right fit. And they needed Pete Rose, the free agent pick up from the Reds who basically taught the Phillies how to win.
Of course had the Phillies won the Game 3 in 1977 or the Game 4 in 1978, they might have won the pennant and the World Series and the narrative would have been Danny Ozark had the right laid back approach.
The narrative would have said they were a close knit team that played off of adversity, because the narrative is always written in retrospect.
This team picture, showing the 1978 NL East Champs does not help their cause, I must say. It is a very strange team picture. No hats, sitting in what looks like a high school bleacher instead of the stadium. Clearly this was taken in Spring Training as there are palm trees in the background. I have been to Philadelphia enough times to know they have a big lack of palm trees there.
So instead of being in rough and tumble Rocky Balboa era Philadelphia, they are seen, caps off, relaxing in Florida.
Maybe the narrative WAS right. Maybe they WERE a little too laid back.