PHILADELPHIA — Steve Carlton showed up to throw a ceremonial first pitch. Robin Roberts, too.
Mike Schmidt schmoozed behind the batting cage, Tug McGraw’s ashes were scattered on the mound — hey, there goes Dallas Green down the hall.
With such a long history of losing, the Philadelphia Phillies and their loyal fans certainly adore stars of the past. You get the feeling that if Chuck Klein and Grover Cleveland Alexander were still alive, they’d be co-hosting a World Series radio show from Ashburn Alley.
With Schmidt, Carlton and McGraw leading the way, Green managed the Phillies to their first championship at old Veterans Stadium in 1980 — a team that’s still cherished like an only child in this tough-talking town.
Going into Monday, it was the club’s lone title in 125 seasons. Now, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and these Fightin’ Phils are eager to leave their own lasting legacy at sparkling Citizens Bank Park.
“I think they deserve to put 1980 in the past,” Green said. “It’s about time. Let’s face it, we’re almost ancient history for crying out loud! It’s time for this organization to freshen up its history.”
Philadelphia is 6-0 at Citizens Bank Park this postseason. One more win would set off quite a party — and another packed parade.
Green remembers the one 28 years ago as if it happened yesterday, with millions of people lined up on Broad Street.
“That team is still revered. These guys I hope get a chance to experience that,” said the 74-year-old Green, now a senior adviser to Phillies general manager Pat Gillick, 71. “This is a great sports city. They’re dying for a winner.”
The City of Brotherly Love hasn’t had a major pro sports championship to celebrate since the NBA’s 76ers in 1983. So it’s no wonder fans embrace all the Phillies lore at their new ballpark, which opened in 2004.
There is Greg Luzinski’s Bull’s BBQ out in right field, located at one end of Ashburn Alley. The festive walkway is named for Hall of Famer and late broadcaster Richie Ashburn, one of the city’s most popular figures.
He’s also honored with one of four statues around the stadium, along with Schmidt, Carlton and Roberts, who pitched the 1950 “Whiz Kids” to an NL pennant.
Inside, ex-closer Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams hosts a radio call-in show on the main concourse, greeting fans and signing autographs during commercial breaks.
And before Game 3 against the Rays, McGraw’s son, country music singer Tim McGraw, accompanied kids from a local chapter of the Boys & Girls Club to the mound. He brought some of his father’s ashes along and sprinkled them near the rubber.
“It’s good to have those guys around, just because they’re Hall of Famers and stuff like that. To meet ’em and actually talk with ’em and then tell us good luck,” Phillies pitcher Brett Myers said. “But they had their time, you know what I mean? They did what they had to do. Now it’s our turn to be talked about for the next 28 years or whatever.”
All-Star reliever Brad Lidge has only pitched in Philadelphia for one season, but he quickly realized how much history means around here.
“You can get a feeling of it, for sure. And it’s a pretty special feeling right now to be where we’re at,” he said. “Those guys are inspiring. I mean, seeing Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt walking around the clubhouse is pretty cool. Those are two of the better players in the game. Hopefully for us the magic they had will continue to flow.”
Nothing would be more satisfying for Rollins and Howard, the past two NL MVPs. The Phillies, who reached 10,000 losses last season, have piled up more defeats than any franchise in pro sports.
“I didn’t really buy into the whole thing about the city and the drought and all that kind of stuff,” Howard said. “The team that we have right now, I mean, we’re in that position to change the label.”
Rollins articulated a similar sentiment.
“When I first got drafted to this organization I kind of vowed to myself that I was going to try to change the face of it and change the way people think about the Phillies and note them as winners,” he said. “It’s just taken a whole bunch of years.”