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Tom McNichol Headshot

Season of the Boo-birds

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The Philadelphia Phillies are in the World Series and global financial markets are in utter chaos. You might think these are unrelated events, but they're not.

The fact is, worldwide markets go into a worldwide panic about as often as Philadelphia sports teams win championships. Trust me, I've been a Philadelphia sports fan all my life, and we're seeing a once in a generation realignment of the natural order, both on Wall Street and on Broad Street, where Philly's pro teams play.

Philadelphians have suffered more disappointment than fans in any other city. You hear a lot about long-suffering Cubs fans, but at least Chicago fans got to watch their Bulls win six NBA titles during the 1990s.

When it comes to losing, Philadelphia sports teams are champs. No Philadelphia team in the four major sports has won a championship in a quarter century. The last Philadelphia team to win it all was the basketball 76ers in 1983, back when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was still industrial, and the index was posting all-time highs around 1,130.

The Phillies, in their long and storied history, have lost more games than any professional franchise in any sport. The Fightin' Phils have wracked up more than 10,000 losses in 126 years of reliably futile play, with one lonely World Series title (in 1980) to show for it. Even when the Phillies were good, they managed to screw it up. They blew the pennant in mind-boggling fashion in 1964, frittering away a comfortable 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to play by losing ten consecutive games.

Like many kids who grow up in Philadelphia, one of the first things I learned to do at a sporting event was boo. Boo the players, boo the manager, boo the umpires, heck, even boo Santa Claus if he happened to be a 19-year old kid wearing a fake beard and an ill-fitting Santa suit who was trotted out to divert attention from a last-place Eagles team. My dad would unleash the sort of boo that only a native Philadelphian could pull off -- a booming foghorn of a boo that rattled your bones and actually made players on the field turn their heads.

It's a common misconception that Philadelphia fans boo everything. Actually, Philly fans are incredibly supportive of athletes with only modest skills, provided they play their hearts out. It's how the city views itself, an underdog battling in the shadow of New York. What really brings the boo birds out is a privileged player who selfishly plays for his own gain while pulling down a huge salary.

Privileged high-paid people who rip off the average Joe's hard-earned money -- sound familiar? The wizards of Wall Street are just the sort of folks that Philadelphia fans have been booing for years. Top corporate execs and high flying stock traders have enjoyed every imaginable advantage during their long winning streak, and for the most part, the rest of the country stood up and cheered. They were superstars and had the bank accounts and the oceanside vacation homes to prove it. Somehow, they had figured out the game completely and reduced the risk of losing to practically zero.

The longer the Wall Street winning streak stretched on, the more the players forgot they were still, after all, playing a game. The roar of the crowd can be intoxicating, especially when it's accompanied by a monstrous salary and the occasional corporate retreat with expensive spa treatments. Wall Street had assembled a Murderer's Row of sluggers who took turns socking stock prices over the fence, going, going, gone.

Just when it seemed that the winning streak would go on forever, it came to a crashing end, as winning streaks always do. One by one, once proud players stepped up to the plate and struck out miserably. The fans stopped cheering. Overnight, it seemed as though the rules of the game had changed, perhaps forever.

But here's where the game takes a curious turn. While the fans in the stands hunkered down for their grim future -- rising unemployment, tight credit, disappearing retirement savings -- the hotshot players got bailed out. Billions are being spent to rescue billionaires; the selfish mistakes of a few are being borne by the many. The high fliers who lost the game are being turned into winners, while the average fan foots the bill.

And so, it turns out that we're all Philadelphia fans now. Life is unfair on a scale we never imagined. There's not much we can do about it, besides giving voice to our outrage. It's time to stand up, America, cup your hands around your mouth, and let it rip for all of Wall Street and Washington to hear: Booooooooooooooooooooooooooo.