Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lunching With Les Invisibles


It was a shade past noon, and I was late for my lunch with the Phillies “limited partnership” at the Union League. I stumbled on the way up the S-curved steps and tore a hole in the knee of my trousers. It was a bad start to my big day on Mt. Olympus.

I was ushered in by a gay waiter who cast a sideward glance at my crumpled attire and harumphed his way with me over to the awaiting table. There they were! The limited partnership! But…only two were visible. There was Dave Montgomery and Bill Giles alright, but…where were the others? What about Claire S. Betz? Where were the Buck Brothers, Alexander, J. Mahlon and William? And what of the bluest blood of all, John Middleton? Wait…a glass of water was being lifted – by what? There was no hand, no wire. What kind of trickery was at work here?

What had I gotten myself into?

“Sit down,” Montgomery told me – commanded me, really. He didn’t seem too chipper. Giles sat there, silent, and stared at me like an old Soviet KBG chief. Then he spoke.

“Hello there, asshole. I love misery, too.”

Uh-oh.

“Mr. Tacony Lou – or shall we call you Tacony?” Montgomery asked.

“Well, Giles prefers ‘asshole.’ Just go with that.”

“Okay, asshole,” Monty said. “I think that’s fitting, too. After all, Mr. Giles and I are one and the same person, after all.”

A loud cackle of laughter broke out around the table. That’s an eerie sound coming from invisible owners, let me tell you, but it’s more than most people have heard from them. I could see one of them was working on a Waldorf salad. Maybe one of the Bucks.

“Asshole,” Monty started in, “we feel your pain. Believe me, we do. But you’re a little out of hand with this blog thing. Where do you get off saying we’re bottom-feeders? We all have Ivy League degrees except for Mr. Giles - and he’s a baseball pedigree. Did you know his father was the President of the National League and the General Manager of the Reds?”

I was about to remind him what a resounding failure the Reds were during his ’46-’51 tenure, but it was clear it’d be difficult to get a word in edgewise during our little confab. I waived the waiter over to place my order.

“Separate checks,” Monty told the servant.

“Gimme a cheesesteak wid,” I said.

Again, laughter around the table.

“A what?” the waiter asked.

“Oh. Let me clarify that. I’ll have a steak sandwich with provolone cheese and fried onions. Put some hot peppers in a monkey dish on the side.”

“Sir, we take orders in French. This is the Union League. When placing your order, please speak French.”

It was obvious Joe Vento was not a member of this club.

“Sure,” I said. “Un sandwich à la viande avec du fromage de provolone et les oignons frits.”

I couldn’t tell whether it was one of the Bucks or Middleton – maybe it was Betz -- but one of Les Invisibles gasped and spilled his water over the linen.

“Right away, sir,” the waiter replied, and bounced away from the table.

“Look,” Giles started in, “what do you expect from us? A miracle? We provide entertainment. Baseball is a business. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make. My job is to put fannies in the seats. We sign players who are popular with the fans. In this age of free agency, we are a small market club. Red means go. Green means stop. Ignorance is strength. Freedom is slavery…”

“Stop,” I told him. “You’re going to hurt yourself – wait a minute, that’s what you want, right?

“No. That’s what you want.”

“I want to hurt you?”

“No. You’re the one who says he’s a masochist.”

“But how else do you explain my willingness to root for the horseshit team you put out there, year after year?”

“You’re a fan. A fan doesn’t criticize – he accepts his fate.”

“But our fate is and always has been, with few notable exceptions, mediocrity.”

“That’s the media’s fault, the way you think.”

At that point, Giles lost me and the argument at the same time. It’s the media’s fault. That’s news to me. I’ve known my fair share of sports writers and television hacks, and if anything, they prefer to cover a winner. The second best subject to report on is an awful team, if only for the comedy and rebuilding storylines. But a mediocre team like the Phillies is banishment to purgatory, and even a nun would agree that waiting to be uplifted to heaven can be worse than hell. And, in terms of dollars and cents, newspapers sell more copies and get more clicks when the local team is a winner. That’s a fact as publicly available as the Phils' current 33-35 record.

“Let me ask you something,” I said to the two visible members of the limited partnership. “Do you take the fan base here to be idiots?”

“Yes,” the chorus came back from all.

“Why?”

The chorus returned, as if rehearsed: “Because we make more money than they do.”

“So you’re laughing all the way to the bank, then?”

“Well, we get a good chuckle watching the team play at the ballpark, if that’s “The Bank” you mean,” said Betz.

The waiter came with my cheesesteak and the check. It was $65 for the sandwich. “Eat up and get out,” he instructed.

“Sixty-five bucks for a cheesesteak?” I moaned.

“They’re a steal for $10 at the ballpark,” Giles said. “And you can order in English there.”

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