Why The City Of Philadelphia Is Greasing Poles Ahead Of The World Series

In October 2022, the Philadelphia Phillies won the National League pennant, and as of Friday, October 28, they're scheduled to take on the Houston Astros in this year's edition of the Fall Classic (per ESPN). Philadelphia fans themselves are gearing up for a possible baseball world championship brought to their city for the first time since 2008. However, certain municipal workers are preparing the City of Brotherly Love in a way that may seem a bit unusual: they're applying grease to the city's light poles, as HuffPost reports. That's certainly a weird thing to do, but when you understand the city's reasons for doing so, it makes sense.

Specifically, Philadelphia fans, for reasons that will be explained later, have historically had a tendency to climb the light poles in their revelry following a championship by one of the town's sports teams. You can of course see why that won't do (it exposes the climber to injury, it exposes people on the ground to being injured by the falling climber, it can damage the city's property, etc.). And since taking down all of the city's light poles, or even some number of them, is out of the question, the city takes a more crude form of prevention: It applies grease to the light poles to (ideally anyway) foil would-be climbers.

The Relationship Between Sports Celebrations And Violence

It's an odd juxtaposition: sports fans celebrate a big win (such as a championship in their league) by engaging in acts of mayhem and violence. Sometimes it's just a mundane victory with comparatively low stakes that brings out the violence in fans. For example, as The Hockey News reports, Montreal Canadiens fans rioted following a victory in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2010, as they had done two years earlier in 2008. Similarly, in 2013, Baltimore Ravens fans rioted after their team defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII (via Bleacher Report).

Rioting after a loss makes some degree of sense, at least superficially. After all, the disappointed fans are releasing their anger (we're not saying that it's justified, just that it makes some degree of sense). But rioting after a win? What's that about? As The Washington Post reports, this isn't a uniquely American phenomenon — fan violence at European soccer games, whether the team wins or loses, is legendary. The reasons are complicated, but in the main, Indiana University social psychologist Edward Hirt says it has to do with a combination of factors. Mob mentality, the identification with something larger than ourselves (viz, the team and its fandom), and intense emotions — combined with alcohol consumption — can compel fans to engage in mob violence after a big win.

Philadelphia Fans Are Particularly Rowdy

For good or for ill, fans of Philadelphia sports teams have a reputation for being some of the rowdiest and most violent. In fact, according to a 2011 report in GQ, Philadelphia Phillies fans were voted America's worst, with the city's Eagles (NFL) taking second place. "They are tough and rowdy. They can be extremely difficult on visiting teams and the opponent's fans. They do not pull any punches (sometimes literally)," notes The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It bears noting that Philadelphia fans' collective bad reputation isn't limited to post-game violence — there's been plenty of in-game violence and otherwise unsavory fan behavior in the city's sports history as well. As to why, that seems to be one of those questions that doesn't have a ready answer. Mark Liftin, a fan of a rival team, suggests via NPR that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy; which is to say, they're expected to be rowdy, so they act rowdy. "They kind of wear their reputation as being a little psychotic as a badge of honor," he said.

Back on the ground on the streets of Philadelphia, it seems that the city's greasing of its light poles is less of a preventative measure and more of a harm mitigation one. As HuffPost reports, grease or no grease, fans make it up to the tops of the poles anyway. As recently as the 2022 National League playoffs, a few fans managed to climb greased poles, to the delight of their companions on the ground.