The city that W. C. Fields would have preferred to live in if the only alternative was the grave is about to reach a milestone unprecedented in the annals of sport. Sometime in early July - or possibly even late June, if they revert to prior swooning form - the Philadelphia Phillies will lose their 44th game of the season, and the 10,000th in their history. No professional team, in any sport, has been there before.
Philadelphians, a notoriously but maybe understandably vituperative bunch, are readying to mark the occasion. Considering that Eagles fans booed Santa Claus at halftime of the last game of a 2-12 season back in 1968, it could be memorable.
Fans' Web sites abound. (One notes that the Phillies recently got through a game using two pitchers whose combined age was 91.) Forget Barry Bonds - this is epochal. This is a moment to celebrate - yes, to celebrate - a city that has hung in there through 124 years of the bad and the ugly, a century and a quarter's worth of succor to the rest of the National League, and still keeps coming back for more.
From the start, they stank. The Phillies lost to the Providence Grays, 4-3, on May 1, 1883, their first Opening Day. Then they lost two more to Providence, and one to Boston, and then played a game that this newspaper likened to Waterloo, losing again to Boston, 20-8. Another loss to Boston, and then they were swept by Chicago. Finally, two weeks into the season, The Sun could report: "The Philadelphia Jonahs created additional astonishment, however, by winning a game from the Detroits."
They didn't get into the habit.
Between 1918 and 1948, they put together exactly one winning season. They blew a pennant race in 1964 and a World Series in 1993. Today, the Phillies are more than 1,000 games below .500. That puts the Orioles' travails into some perspective. If the Birds lose every single game for the next 37 years, their total number of losses going back to 1954 would still be less than that of the Phils today. Never lovable or heart-breaking - no, but there's something heroic about Philadelphia's relentless and cumulative ability to come up short. Philly fans have been to a place the rest of us will never know. They deserve this moment.