THE PHILLIES have never been much for "Hey, look at us" ostentation. When in doubt, hitch a guy to a giant kite, shoot somebody out of a cannon. Bring in a senior citizen to walk a swaying wire with no net. Let the players dazzle on the field.
Back when the Carpenter family owned the ballclub they purchased out of bankruptcy from the National League in 1943, the attorneys wore wax mustaches and sleeve garters. You just knew they used quill pens and kept the balance sheets in thick, lined ledgers.
A high-school band showed up on Opening Days to play the national anthem. On July 4, Connie Mack Stadium's neighborhood provided the fireworks.
They brought in Bill Giles to spice up the 1971 opening of Veterans Stadium. It was like lurching out of a phone booth and into Yellowstone Park. The Bopper responded with Krashing Kitemen, all of whom somehow lived to flight another day. And who can forget the World's Highest-Jumping Easter Bunny? When the national knee-jerk chorus slimes Philly fans for "even booing the Easter Bunny" . . . well, yeah, that's true. After all, it was supposed to be a light-hare balloon.
The best of the promotions, of course, was the 20 heart-in-our-throats minutes it took venerable wire walker Karl Wallenda to walk from the rightfield foul pole to the left, pausing in the middle to holler down instructions to a ground crew that wasn't applying enough tension to the wire. Afterwards, The Great Wallenda sat in the media dining room and knocked back a trio of double martinis, straight up. One, I presumed for each time his heart nearly stopped as he sagged 150 feet above second base with no net amid a ground-crew chorus of, "Do what?" His second Vet walk was less intense.
Cash Scramble was cool, all those halter tops stuffed with dollars that actually were worth nearly a dollar. And Benny the Bomb, half-deaf, resembling a Larry Bowa popup on a flight from cannon to net.
Then there was the hilarious ostrich race featuring Harry and Whitey.
But perhaps the gaudiest promotion in Phillies history, and rare because it focused on players, took place nearly 1,100 miles from Citizens Bank Park on the first formal day of 2011 spring training known fondly as "Pitchers and Catchers."
Even if the February calendar is a contradiction, Pitchers and Catchers has become our unofficial first day of spring.
On this day, with TV cameras recording video, a national media presence in the Bright House, five pitchers, three of them righthanders, two lefthanders, filed into the crowded room, glowing with the aura of five astronauts just returned from a Space Shuttle mission.
It was supposed to be just the Four Aces - Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. But in a show of unity, the Fabs sent word to the PR folks that, "No Joe, No Go." So top-shelf journeyman Joe Blanton, who had one more World Series ring than exalted newcomers Halladay, Lee and Oswalt, was permitted to join what had become a less slogan-evoking fivesome. Blanton was even compared to Fifth Beatle Peter Best.
Today, the Phillies are astride the cusp of the Stretch.
With an 85-46 record after last night's victory over the Reds and club history onrushing, the Phils can go 15-16 and reach my injury-revised and Pence-less April prediction of 100-62. A modest 20-11 will take them to 105. But a 25-6 Secretariat kick to 110-52 is probably not gonna happen, not with the M*A*S*H unit that Scott "Hawkeye" Sheridan and his athletic trainers have been forced to set up for a down and walking-wounded list that includes Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Blanton, Jose Contreras (done), with Oswalt and Hamels on short pitch-count leashes.
Blanton went DL 34 1/3 innings into the season. So much for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, right?
Counting Blanton's 1-2, the patch-and-fill segment of pitching coach Rich Dubee's remarkably elastic staff - there is as much flex in the bullpen as in the rotation - is an unforeseen 14-7. Vance Worley is a dazzling 9-1. Kyle Kendrick comes out of the 'pen with often-heroic results and is an emergency 4-4.
The questions, of course, are twofold. What would this team's record be with 31 to play if it had all unfolded as seamlessly as some projected it would when they were arrayed that Pitchers and Catchers day in Clearwater? What if Blanton was his innings-eating self and kicked it into overdrive the second half, which is his history here? What if Oswalt had been dropping and driving from the jump without the disc miseries that threatened his season and career? Instead, Roy was forced to alter his style, shut it down and suck it up through a long, one-bullpen-at-a-time rehab.
What if Worley had pitched like a deer-in-the-headlights rookie? What if Kendrick had failed to dramatically improve the quality of his pitches and turn himself into a 'pen-starter hybrid?
They'd probably be looking up at the Braves . . .
The fingerprints of Worley, Kendrick, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes and even much-maligned but solidly effective David Herndon are all over this amazing, pitcher-led sea change.