Philadelphia Phillies' Trea Turner, right, jumps over the ball next to Oakland Athletics second baseman Tony Kemp during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 18, 2023. Turner advanced safely to second base after Phillies' Alec Bohm walked on the play. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The Phillies, and Philadelphia sports, have built a reputation on playing the underdog. It’s one of the foundational cliches holding up the city. 

That’s partially because movies and media narratives have painted us that way. And partially because our sports teams rarely dominate, even when they’re good. The Phillies were the biggest underdogs in the National League last postseason, cast as the scrappy ankle-biter against each of their opponents: the innocent Cardinals, the pompous Braves, the overpowered Padres, and the scandalous Astros. 

Eventually, the media got it through their heads that the 2022 Phillies had become annoyingly hot at just the right time, and they’d be traveling back and forth from Philadelphia all October. 

This year, the Phillies entered the season as the defending NL champs, situating them on a pedestal before the schedule’s first pitch. A real hard faceplant to start the year brought them down to everyone else’s level, and once again we’re forced to hope they can make up some ground in the NL East on the Braves and Marlins (???) by getting annoyingly hot in June. 

As the Braves, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks dominate the league, the Phillies are starting to turn the corner: Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, and J.T. Realmuto have all found their strokes, and Zack Wheeler, Taijuan Walker, and Ranger Suarez are starting to give this team some pitching it can lean on. 

Even with their recent success, the Phillies are again a largely ignored underdog trotting behind the rest of the pack, fattening up on scraps. It’s what makes their series wins in L.A. and Arizona (and Houston, back in May) even more satisfying: They’re beating better teams. 

But when they landed in Oakland, the Phillies were out-underdog’d by a team that isn’t just a longer shot at the playoffs — it probably won’t even exist soon. Versus the A’s, the Phillies go from the darlings of the National League’s middle class to the anonymous bad guys.

All eyes have been following Oakland team owner John Fisher and president Dave Kaval’s unrelenting pursuit of moving the team to Vegas, something desired by no one other than hyped up partisan Las Vegas rags. Part of Fisher and Kaval’s strategy in moving the team is blaming the fans for not showing up to support the malformed baseball atrocities they’ve called a roster over the years. Without putting money into the A’s, Fisher has wound up with exactly no postseason success. Naturally, folks have stayed home. This is the fans’ fault, somehow. 

The process reached another milestone last week, as the Nevada State Assembly passed a bill to allow the A’s move. A fan-organized protest framed as “Reverse Boycott Night” on June 13 packed Oakland Coliseum to show that the fans ARE out there — they just don’t want to come see a team that ownership puts no effort into assembling. Fans chanted for Fisher to sell the team. Sportscasters wept on-air. 

Then again, the A’s have been on fire. They took two of three from the Pirates and have done the same to baseball’s best team, the Tampa Bay Rays, after sweeping the Brewers in Milwaukee. Even the Braves lost two of three to the Athletics not too long ago.

“The team that owns the Majors’ worst record is playing with a swagger that is 100% justified,” wrote Henry Schulman of 

This does make them sound better than they are. Their recent hot streak accounts for seven of their 19 wins this season. They’ve already lost over 50. It is not even July.

With their charmingly desperate back story, their sobbing, passionate fans, and their terrible, terrible record, Oakland is the ultimate underdog. The Phillies’ own comeback narrative must be put on hold as they play the villain role in the Athletics’ tragic tale. 

Ripping the A’s out of Oakland is wrong, selfish, and further proof that teams are the playthings of thoughtless, spineless billionaires who don’t really understand what baseball is. Any support Oakland can get, they deserve; the city has been the A’s home since 1968 and they have played in front of generations of fans to whom they mean more than they ever will to their owner. Baseball can do that, assuming the local team makes the playoffs at least every couple of years. If the fans somehow manage to keep Fisher from dragging his club into the desert, maybe he’ll finally understand: That’s baseball. 

But the Phillies need wins badly. If they had to run over the A’s to get a couple of them, well.

That’s baseball, too. 

Justin Klugh has been a Phillies fan since Mariano Duncan's Mother's Day grand slam. He is a columnist and features writer for Baseball Prospectus, and has written for The Inquirer, Baltimore Magazine,...