Sunday, October 24, 2010

Living in a Golden Age

I am a teacher of history for a living.  And at times my focus has been the history of baseball.  I became a baseball fan at an early age, and growing up in Warminster, PA (a suburb of Philadelphia), I became a Phillies fan.  

In the mid 1970's through early 1980's, the Phillies had a remarkable run of success.  They won 101 games in 1976 and 1977, won the National League East title 1976,1977 and 1978, then won the World Series in 1980.  The were very competitive in the strike year of 1981, and won a final pennant in 1983, losing the World Series to the Baltimore Orioles in six games.  I turned six in 1976 and was 13 when I was one of 60,000 fans at game five of the '83 Series.  I naturally assumed that the Phillies had always been, and would always be, a great team.
And then the bottom fell out.  As the Phillies plunged into basically two decades of sub-mediocrity (except for the brilliant, blazing comet of the 1993 pennant winners) I learned a disturbing truth: the Phillies have basically ALWAYS been BAD.  The first team in professional sports to lose 10,000 games has, it turns out, enjoyed nearly all of its success during my lifetime.  In fact, it was learning the truth about the Phillies that led me to the study of history as a vocation.

I am still a passionate baseball fan, and the wonders of the internet have given a whole new thrill to my fandom.  During important Phillies games, friends of mine from as far back as first grade from all over America gather on Facebook to collectively expound about the game at hand.  In most cases I haven't seen these people since 1988, but we unite as one behind the team we grew up following.  

As I write this today, mere hours after the Phillies fell one run and one game short of being the first National League team to go to three straight World Series since the Cardinals of the 1940's I am conscious of something that was not aware of as a youth: I am living during the time of (and watching all the games of) the greatest Phillies team ever.  Since 2007 they have won four straight National League Eastern Division titles, they won the pennant in 2008 and 2009 and won the World Series in 2008.  They have had outstanding players and the talented, patient managership of Charlie Manuel has been inspiring (though it drives me crazy how rarely he has players bunt).  Basically, we are going through a Golden Age of Phillies baseball.

I often wonder if people have recognized that they are living in a special era.  I imagine, for instance, that many Americans were conscious of a "Golden Age" of sorts in the four years between the end of WWII and the detonation of the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb.  During that time, as the United States bestrode the world like a colossus, recovered its financial footing while the rest of the planet was in a shambles, and saw the rise of new arts and technologies, it must have been hard to imagine that there could be a better time or place to live (at least for middle-class, white Americans).  But on the other hand, after the turmoil of the Depression followed by the terror of the War, the time of peace might have been treated with more of a weary distrust, especially with a Cold War looming in the wings.  Similarly, did the people of Greece in the age of Pericles know that they would be known as the "Golden Age" for the rest of time?   All I know is that I want to savor every moment of the Phillies success.  Because if history  teaches us anything, it is that success it fleeting, Golden Ages turn into long epochs of, at best, tarnished brass, and that it is important to have memories of the fruitful harvest during fallow years.

So I salute the Phillies, applaud their success on the diamond in 2010, and look forward to the chance to watch them continue to succeed in the future.

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