- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2008

No one at Fox Sports is celebrating this World Series between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, but the matchup has potential for an interesting reality sideshow.

Turns out Hulk Hogan is a big Rays fan. Fox should arrange for the Hulkster to make the trip to Philadelphia for Game 3 and send a camera crew with him.

Hulk Hogan vs. Philadelphia sports fans - that’s pay-per-view material. My money is on the Citizens Bank criminals.

Wouldn’t you love to see what happens in Philadelphia to the cowbells Rays fans use to cheer on their team?

To borrow from a phrase from the team the Rays just beat, the Boston Red Sox: Cowbell Up!

The whole cowbell phenomenon is disturbing: You have all these Rays fans ringing these bells with no clue about the tradition. (Incidentally, these fans must have been ringing their cowbells in the comfort of home most of the season - they sure weren’t coming to Rays games until recently.)

The Rays’ cowbell craze was the idea of owner Stuart Sternberg, who reportedly got the idea from the “Saturday Night Live” sketch calling for “more cowbell.” But the cowbell is part of the history of one of the most storied franchises in baseball.

The most famous fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers - and possibly the most famous fan in baseball history - was Hilda Chester, a heavyset woman who was a fixture at Ebbets Field for more than 30 years. She made her presence known in the stands by banging on a frying pan with an iron ladle. She became a favorite of the Dodgers players, who presented her with a brass cowbell to replace the ladle and pan.

Hilda Chester and her cowbell are as much a part of Ebbets Field lore as Pee Wee Reese at shortstop. Yet a baseball owner gets his cowbell inspiration from Will Ferrell.

That’s what happens when you have a team in the World Series that didn’t even exist the last time the Baltimore Orioles had a winning season.

Then there is another tradition at play here, a Phillies tradition: losing.

The Phillies last season became the first baseball franchise to lose 10,000 games over the course of its history - a feat that took 125 years.

The Rays seemed on course to pass that mark in significantly less time - until, that is, this season. The franchise entered this season with the worst winning percentage of any team in baseball: .399 over 10 years.

Losers no more, though - the Phillies and Rays turned out to be the two best teams in their respective leagues. The clubs hold just one World Series championship between them - the Phillies in 1980.

Six games from now, the Rays will earn their first championship - and they will win title No. 1 in 98 years fewer years than it took the Phillies.

The Phillies are the more veteran team, but the Rays grew up a lot in their seven-game ALCS triumph over the Red Sox. They won’t be intimidated by the surroundings.

This Phillies team is not deep in postseason experience: The Phillies had just one previous trip here, last year’s pathetic performance in the division series that resulted in a three-game sweep by the Colorado Rockies.

The Rays hold home-field advantage, which could play a role in a stadium as bizarre as Cowbell Park. And they have the superior starting pitching. Phillies ace Cole Hamels will start Game 1 on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Fla., so they may have the matchup in that game against Scott Kazmir.

But Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton are a mismatch against James Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine. And as we have seen in the postseason time and time again, pitching wins.

It still is hard to believe Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel do the same job. Maddon seems so confident and intelligent, and he took his team far beyond expectations. The same can’t be said for Manuel. He is the Phillies’ manager by default.

Manuel was about to be fired in the middle of the 2006 season, but his team got hot, nearly made the postseason and saved Manuel’s job in the process. And you can’t fire a guy who wins the NL East as the Phillies did last year, even if they turn around and get swept by the Rockies. So he got a two-year contract extension.

He has managed his teams just well enough to stay employed, but he also fell short of expectations until this year.

Now the Phillies will fall short again - the ghost of Hilda Chester and her cowbell win this series.

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