Boy Meets World, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Fall of ’93
In the fall of 1993, ABC’s infamous block of youth-specific Friday night programming, TGIF, introduced a show called Boy Meets World. As the title denotes, it was a coming of age tale — something prepubescent boys could easily identify with off the title alone. The show struck a chord with me on a deeper level because it was based in the Philadelphia area where I grew up and the main characters were, like myself, big Philly sports fans. It also happened to premiere the same magical fall that the Philadelphia Phillies made it to the World Series for the first time in my life. Now those two events are inextricably bound in my mind.
The pilot episode aired on September 24, 1993, with viewers learning all the key information about protagonist Cory Matthews: He was in sixth grade, he had brillow pad-ish hair, he was best friends with Shawn Hunter, and most importantly, he and Shawn were both huge Phillies fans. In the premiere, Cory goes to great lengths to hear the Phillies play the Atlanta Braves in class because the Phillies’ next victory would guarantee a playoff berth, only to be caught by the show’s preeminent voice of guidance, neighbor/teacher/principal/professor Mr. Feeny. While relaying game updates to Shawn, Cory makes references to former Phillies Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, and John Kruk.
Funny enough, the Phillies actually beat the Braves on the day the show premiered, and a few days before Boy Meets World’s third episode, the Phillies defeated the Braves in the NLCS to advance to the World Series for the first time in a decade.
I vaguely remember the heightened sense of pride in the city at the time, as the Phillies were coming off five consecutive sub-.500 seasons. Their 1993 World Series appearance represented the first time since the Philadelphia Flyers’ 1987 Stanley Cup run that a hometown team had a realistic shot at winning a championship. Like the rest of the city, I hoped that a cast of talent and mullets including Kruk, Daulton, Dykstra, Curt Schilling, Mickey Morandini, Milt Thompson, Jim Eisenreich, Pete Incaviglia, Terry Mulholland, and current Phillies general manager Rubén Amaro, Jr. would end Philly’s 10-year championship drought.
One day after Boy Meets World’s fourth episode, the defending-champion Toronto Blue Jays beat the Phillies 8-5 in the World Series opener. Still, there were glimmers of hope, like a Game 2 victory in Toronto and a series-saving Game 5 shutout by Schilling back at Philly’s Veterans Stadium.
The fifth episode of Boy Meets World aired on October 22, the pivotal day separating this moment of relief and an elimination game. While Cory was taking part in a geography tournament for the chance to be a bat boy during the World Series, the Phillies were staring the steely reality of a series-ending Game 6 loss in the face. The stakes and tension were at equal heights, but after the Phillies took a 6-5 lead into the ninth inning, it seemed as though they were about to even the series up.
Enter closing pitcher Mitch Williams.
Aside from sharing a nickname with Major League’s Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, Williams also wore the same number and an even worse haircut. His pitching mechanics reflected both the nickname and the haircut. Fate placed the series in his hands, and with the flick of his wrist and flip of his mullet, it came to a devastating conclusion a week after it began.
Philadelphia sports fans endured another 15 years of sustained bitterness before Brad Lidge, facing a similar situation, gave the city its first title in 25 years. Williams was crucified so that Lidge could later rise as the hero. Post-victory, I ran through the streets like a maniac, carried by the unfamiliar elation of victory. I couldn’t help but wonder how a grown Cory Matthews would react. Probably the same way I did — like a 12-year-old boy.
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