PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Mitch Williams was signing autographs before the Philadelphia Phillies played an interleague game last week when a young boy spotted the former reliever in the suite level.
``Dad, dad, who's that guy?'' the excited voice shouted. ``Did he play for the Phillies?''
The father stared toward the pitcher once known as ``Wild Thing,'' and muttered a profanity under his breath. He shook his head and turned away before answering the child's question.
``Well, son, that's the bum who blew the '93 World Series for us. He broke our hearts,'' said Ralph Venuto, a 37-year-old lifelong Phillies fan.
Without hesitation, 6-year-old Matthew looked up at his pop and replied in typical Philly fashion: ``He stinks!''
Fourteen years later, some still haven't forgiven Williams for surrendering the game-ending homer to Joe Carter that gave the Toronto Blue Jays their second consecutive World Series title. It was an agonizing defeat for a team - and a city - that's too familiar with losing.
No franchise in any sport has lost more games than the futile Phillies. Now, they're nearing an ignominious mark: 10,000 losses. Going into Friday night's game at St. Louis, the Phillies were 10 shy of that unimaginable number.
It would take one loss every day for more than 27 years to reach 10,000. To make it worse, the Phillies have just one World Series championship (1980) in 125 years.
``If you've been around that long, you're going to have a couple losses,'' reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard said, minimizing a milestone the current players would rather not discuss.
In a hard-core sports town with passionate fans starved for a championship - it's been 24 years since the 76ers captured the NBA title - a few of the faithful have chosen to embrace the moment and commemorate many years of misery.
One Web site,, offers long-suffering fans an opportunity to share stories and buy a T-shirt or pint glass stamped with the box score from the 10,000th loss. Site founder Charley Debow is a season-ticket holder who grew up in nearby Willow Grove.
``It's not to throw mud in the Phillies' faces,'' the 28-year-old said. ``It's to show the city and the world that Phillies fans are a different breed. To go through all the losing and we still follow them. Every year when spring training comes, we forget about last year.''
Some fans want to celebrate with a parade on Broad Street, a tradition normally reserved for championship parties and the annual Mummers march on New Year's Day, Philly's version of Mardi Gras.
``I was 3 when the Sixers won, so I don't remember it,'' said Joe DiRenzi of South Philadelphia. ``At the rate these teams are going, I might be 50 before somebody wins again. Might as well celebrate this. We're the best at losing.''
Don't expect the Phillies to go along with any wild plans. They won't set off fireworks, flash ``10,000'' on their giant video screen or even acknowledge the dubious achievement. And, really, why should they?
``We don't celebrate losing,'' said Larry Shenk, vice president of public relations. ``In my lifetime, the only team that celebrates losing is the Washington Generals when they play the Harlem Globetrotters.''
Shenk joined the team in 1964 - the year of the infamous collapse when the Phillies held a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to play only to blow the National League pennant by losing 10 straight.
A generation of fans remains haunted by the way that season ended. Old-timers still blame manager Gene Mauch for panicking and starting aces Jim Bunning and Chris Short seven times during the losing streak. Those who witnessed Cincinnati's Chico Ruiz steal home with slugger Frank Robinson at the plate in the 1-0 loss that started the skid still have nightmares about that play.
``The Reds manager (Dick Sisler) said if Ruiz would've been thrown out, he should've just kept running back to the minors. Nobody did that with Robinson at the plate,'' said Joe Cammarota, a fan since 1943.
Thrifty owners concerned more about the bottom line than winning it all have plagued the Phillies throughout the years. Even when they spent the big bucks, it didn't always pan out. High-priced free agents often flopped in Philly. Die-hards still shudder when they hear the names of Lance Parrish, Gregg Jefferies and Danny Tartabull.
Sometimes rewarding their own All-Stars backfired. Lenny Dykstra ($25 million) and Darren Daulton ($18 million) signed huge contracts after helping the Phillies win the pennant in 1993. Neither played 100 games in any season afterward due to injuries.
Pat Burrell ($50 million) earned a hefty deal after a breakout year in 2002, but his inconsistent performance has made him a whipping boy for frustrated fans.
It's not uncommon to see star players demand trades, either. Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen forced their way out of Philadelphia and won championships elsewhere. Others like J.D. Drew - yes, he's the guy who had batteries tossed at him from the stands - refused to come here.
There were plenty of foolish trades along the way, too. In 1917, pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander was sent to the Chicago Cubs after three consecutive 30-win seasons. Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins (1966) and second baseman Ryne Sandberg (1982) also had Hall of Fame careers after being traded to the Cubs. And, the still active Julio Franco was one of five players sent to the Cleveland Indians for Von Hayes a quarter-century ago.
It was just an odd coincidence that pitcher Don Cardwell tossed a no-hitter just two days after he was traded to the Cubs in 1960. At least the Phillies got second baseman Tony Taylor in that deal.
Fans were thrilled when All-Star pitcher Freddy Garcia was acquired last December. But, Garcia has one win and a shoulder injury that may require season-ending surgery. By the way, he's making $10 million this year.
Somehow the wrong brother always ended up in Philadelphia. Vince DiMaggio, Frank Torre, Ken Brett and Mike Maddux played for the Phillies. Joe DiMaggio, Joe Torre, George Brett and Greg Maddux never did.
Originally called the Philadelphia Quakers, the team's name was changed to ``Phillies'' in 1890. Though they briefly used the alternate name ``Blue Jays'' in 1943-44, the Phillies are the oldest continuous one-nickname, one-city franchise in American professional sports.
The Quakers replaced the disbanded Worcester Worcesters and played their first game on May 1, 1883. Of course, they lost that one and finished 17-81 in their inaugural season.
In 1904, the Phillies lost 100 games for the first time. They would reach triple digits in defeats 12 times from 1921 to 1945. A 23-game losing streak in 1961 - the only year the Phillies lost 100 games since '45 - is the longest in baseball's modern era.
It hasn't always been losing and bad times, though. A close look at the numbers shows the Phillies actually have a winning record in two of the three centuries they've existed. They had a .518 winning percentage in the 1800s and entered this season at .508 in the 2000s. The 1900s were tough, with 1,290 more losses than wins.
Since moving to Veterans Stadium in 1971 and then to Citizens Bank Park in 2004, the Phillies have posted a winning record overall.
Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, Chuck Klein, Richie Ashburn, Ed Delahanty, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts and Bunning played in Philadelphia all or most of their careers.
And, the Phillies have the Phanatic, one of the more entertaining mascots around.
The Phillies captured the first of five NL pennants in 1915, but lost the World Series to Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox in five games.
It took 35 years for the Phillies to return to the World Series only to get swept by the New York Yankees in 1950. Led by Ashburn, Roberts, Del Ennis and other youngsters, the ``Whiz Kids'' were supposed to be no match for the mighty Yankees. But the first three losses were each by one run, including a 1-0 margin in the series opener when relief specialist Jim Konstanty was called on to start.
``That was the toughest loss,'' said Maje McDonnell, a coach on the '50 team. ``We could've had them if we won that first game.''
The late 1970s were the glory days around here. Schmidt, Carlton, Greg Luzinski and Larry Bowa helped the Phillies win the NL East division three straight years from 1976-78. But they failed to win the pennant each time.
After adding Pete Rose in free agency and replacing manager Danny Ozark with the fiery Dallas Green in 1979, the Phillies finally won it all in 1980. A thrilling five-game NLCS against the Houston Astros featured several comebacks and four extra-inning contests. Still, the Phillies had enough left to beat the Kansas City Royals in six games in the World Series.
The image of Tug McGraw throwing his hands in the air and leaping off the mound after striking out Willie Wilson to clinch the championship is a permanent fixture in every fan's mind.
When the Phillies lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the 1983 World Series, they were an aging team finishing a fine run.
A stretch of losing followed with only one trip to the playoffs in the past 24 years. The Phillies came close the last two seasons, battling for an NL wild-card spot down the stretch before disappointing in the final weekend.
With young stars like Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels, this team could be contending for a while. If they don't make the playoffs soon, fans will blame manager Charlie Manuel, perhaps the most ridiculed man in team history.
After all, booing is as much a part of Philadelphia as the Liberty Bell and cheesesteaks.

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