Meet the new Philadelphia: fired up but not fanatical
Philadelphia hasn't won a major sports title since 1983
That's the same year that the Philly-based movie Trading Places was released
PHILADELPHIA -- When the World Series heads north to this ancient American city this weekend, we'll hear even more about the 100-season wait, going back to the last championship team (of the four big sports) here, the '76ers in 1983. Something else happened here in '83: One of the funniest movies of alltime, Trading Places, was released. It wasn't much of a sports movie, although you had the idea that Louis Winthorpe III would have been at home on a squash court.
Rocky made Philadelphia look gritty and The Sixth Sense made Philadelphia look spooky, but Trading Places made Philadelphia look like a national epicenter for high WASP culture, a corrupt police force, wily street hustlers and hookers with heart. At one point, Louis (Dan Aykroyd) tells Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) about the pressure of the trading floor. "Super Bowl, World Series," he says, "they don't know what pressure is." He was giving Billy Ray a reference he would understand, what with the Eagles and the Phillies being so good in those days.
Most of the movie was shot in Philadelphia, much of it on Broad Street. You see a lot of the Union League, then a proper old Republican white men's club where Randolph Duke and his brother Mortimer, principals of investment firm Duke & Duke, do their plotting over martinis. A scene:
Randolph Duke: Ezra. Right on time. I'll bet you thought I'd forgotten your Christmas bonus. There you are.
Ezra: Five dollars. Maybe I'll go to the movies... by myself.
Mortimer Duke: Half of it is from me.
Ah, Old Philadelphia.
On Wednesday night, for the first game of the World Series, the bar was hopping at the Union League, all mahogany and polished marble with a portrait of George Washington bigger than the side of your house. In one small room off the bar, there was nothing but men smoking cigars, watching the game. The Duke brothers would have fit right in.
And then there was the main bar: All the TVs showing the game, of course. There were black men at the bar and suited businesswomen at tables and a waitress wondering whether to leave Cole Hamels in for the eighth. A security guard talked to a guest about the '80 Phillies and remembered Pete Rose's shaggy hair and the '93 Phillies and Lenny Dykstra's cigs in the dugout. (He recalled, too, and most happily, Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places.) Everybody was familiar with one another. People were happy, but not in a crazy sense. The Phillies were in the World Series. Not only that, they were leading Game 1. Louis Winthorpe III suddenly seemed like the time piece he tries to sell in one scene.
Louis [at a pawn shop]: Fifty bucks? No, no, no. This is a Rouchefoucauld. The thinnest water-resistant watch in the world. Singularly unique, sculptured in design, hand-crafted in Switzerland and water resistant to three atmospheres. This is the sports watch of the '80s. Six thousand, nine hundred and fifty five dollars retail!
Pawnbroker: You got a receipt?
Louis: Look, it tells time simultaneously in Monte Carlo, Beverly Hills, London, Paris, Rome and Gstaad.
Pawnbroker: In Philadelphia, it's worth 50 bucks.
Louis: Just give me the money. [looking in display case] How much for the gun?
But you know how it is: Old stuff dies hard. Five drunk football fans, or whatever they were, booed Santa Claus a hundred years ago, or whenever it was, and Philadelphia fans, and the rest of the country, having been hearing about it ever since. Philadelphians can give it up, but others can't, even though this is a new and different Philadelphia, with buildings taller than the hatted statue of William Penn atop City Hall, and an all-business baseball team that wins not by being "macho" (the '93 Phils had a Macho Row) or by being bullies (the great Flyers teams of the '70s were the Broad Street Bullies) but simply by being highly competent and professional.
Visitors to Philadelphia, in press box and out, want to find some deep, crazy maniacal attachment between the city and the '08 edition of its baseball team. They're not going to find it, not at the Union League bar, not at Chickie & Pete's in South Philadelphia, not on the Penn campus in West Philadelphia, not at the Cherry Hill Mall, over the Ben Franklin Bridge and into South Jersey. The city has moved on. It's a nice thing to have, a successful baseball team. That was the vibe you got after Game 1.
Veterans Stadium, home of the Eagles and the Phillies, where sinks doubled as urinals, is now a parking lot for Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles, and Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phils. Five bucks won't get you half a parking space and inside five bucks won't get you a beer. What you will see -- what you'll see this weekend when the Series comes here -- is passionate fans waving white towels and, if the home team loses, filing out of the park, all orderly and well-behaved and polite. Somewhere along the the way, something got lost and no one noted it. Poor Billy Ray Valentine. In the new Philadelphia, he'd be lost.