#9 Most Underrated Philly Athlete of All-Time: Eddie Plank

Eddie Plank is the best Philadelphia athlete you’ve never heard of. Yeah, some guys beat him as more underrated, but you’ve heard of those guys. Odds are you’ve never heard of the former A’s great (I had never heard of him until I did that piece on the 1911 World Series), which is nuts because he’s one of the greatest left handed pitchers in the history of baseball and the argument could be made that he’s the greatest lefty in the history of Philadelphia baseball.

I know. I know. Blasphemy, right? Well, not so fast. Carlton won 329 games. Plank won 326. Carlton had an ERA of 3.22. Plank had an ERA of 2.35. Plank’s career WHIP was 1.119. Lefty’s was 1.247. The only place where they don’t compare is strikeouts. Lefty fanned 4,136 to Plank’s 2,236. I think the slight edge overall goes to Carlton, but not by much.  And the fact that it’s even up for debate shows you exactly how good Plank was.

Born in Gettysburg, PA, in 1875, Plank was known as Gettysburg Eddie. He made his debut with the A’s in 1901 at the age of 25, and he would stay with them until 1914. He helped them to World Series wins in 1911 and 1913. He still holds the record for most shutouts by a left-handed pitcher, with 69.

Of course, it’s kind of fitting that he’s overlooked now, because he was kind of overlooked in his own day as well. Pitching at the same time as Cy Young and Walter Johnson, the quiet lefty’s trademark was consistency, which was just as sexy back then as it is now. As his former teammate Eddie Collins once observed: “Plank was not the fastest. He was not the trickiest, and not the possessor of the most stuff. He was just the greatest.”

All Gettysburg Eddie did was win baseball games. A lot of them. He may have been forgotten in Philly, but not in his hometown. He is a Philadelphia athlete you absolutely, positively should know about.

Who is the Only Person to Play for Both the Eagles and Phillies?

The correct answer to this awesome trivia question? Walt Masters, born on March 28th, 1907 in Pen Argyle (near Easton). Masters was a Philly boy, though, graduating from West Philly High School and then attending the Wharton School at Penn.  He played baseball and football at Penn, and was a star at both.

Masters made his MLB debut for the Washington Senators on July 9th, 1931, when he pitched an inning in a 14-1 blowout over the Red Sox. He pitched twice more that year, and then disappeared from baseball. He was also making money as a semi-pro football player, and baseball didn’t allow people to play other sports in the US. Masters tried to get around the rule by moving to Canada and playing for the Rough Riders (those Penn kids are a sneaky bunch aren’t they?) But the Rough Riders wouldn’t let him play football because they were amateurs and he had gotten paid for baseball, so he coached football and played baseball for an Ottawa team for a few years. He returned to Philly in 1936 and played briefly for the Eagles at QB. He went 1-6 for 11 yards with one INT, and ran 7 times for 18 yards. After the season, he signed with the Phillies and was on the team briefly in 1937. He didn’t have much more success on the diamond, where the pitcher appeared in one game and got blasted for 4 earned runs in a single inning of work against the Reds. Two years later, he would reappear on the Philadelphia A’s (making him also the answer to the question, “Who is the only player to play for the A’s, Phillies, and Eagles?”) He pitched in 4 games and finished the year with a 6.55 ERA.

During the war, former sports stars were in high demand, so in 1943 the 36-year old Masters played a few games for the Chicago Cardinals. He wasn’t very good, going 17-45, 249 yards, with 2 TDs and 7 Ints. He tossed 7 more passes for the Cards in 1944, and then was out of pro sports for good. He returned to Ottawa, where he played both football and baseball. He then worked in public relations for a company specializing in cleaning buildings in Ottawa. He died in Canada in 1992 at the age of 85.

Masters NFL stats.

Masters MLB stats.

Sweet 16 Voting Has Just Begun in Philly’s Most Infuriating Competition

Howard Eskin vs JD Drew is probably the premiere matchup in the Sweet 16. But Kobe vs. Fred-Ex is no slouch either. And Billy King, fresh off his upset of McNabb, is going toe to toe with “For who? For what?” himself, Ricky Watters. Billy Wagner is finally matched up with a true heavyweight, Norman Braman.

On the other side of the brackets, you can vote in an all-radio matchup, Angelo Cataldi vs. Mike Missanelli. Loudmouth Stephen A. Smith is up against Hip-hop, while Cinderella story Sam Dalembert has probably met his match in Rich Kotite. TO takes on Andy Reid in what should be a classic. To vote, click here. To see the full brackets, click here. Oh, and we’ve got our first reaction from a contestant. On Tuesday night, Howard Eskin wrote me on twitter, asking “What am I doing in this Sweet 16?”

How Connie Mack Beat a Hall of Famer With Horsesh*t

Big Ed Walsh was a baseball superstar. The Chicago White Sox pitcher dominated American League hitters early in the 20th century. In 1908, as he mastered the spitball, he went from solid to spectacular. His final numbers for the year: 40-15 with 1.42 ERA (He’s the last pitcher to win 40 games in a season). He pitched an amazing 464 innings. His workload decreased the next year, but he bounced back with an insane 0.82 WHIP in 1910 and 27 win seasons in 1911 and 1912.

The secret to his success was his incredible spitball. As Tiger Hall of Famer “Wahoo” Sam Crawford would note years later, “I think that ball would disintegrated on the way to the plate, and the catcher put it back together again. I swear, when it went past the plate, it was just the spit that went by.” Big Ed was plenty confident about his best pitch too. “”When I’ve got the spitter breaking right, I can beat any ball club in the world. No use trying to bat against it. It’s simply unhittable.”

But Ed pitched an average of 375 innings from 1907-1912, and the innings started to take their toll. After the 1912 season, he asked Charles Comiskey if he could take a year off to rest the arm. I don’t need to tell you what one of the most despicable owners in the history of sports had to say about that. And so Big Ed was back on the mound to start the 1913 season.

The Philadelphia A’s were at their peak then, in the midst of winning 3 pennants in 4 years. But Connie Mack was sick of losing 1-0 games to Big Ed, and he looked for a way to beat the spitball. He found it in a strange intricacy of Walsh’s spitball. Ed cut out the middle man, and just licked the ball.

Back in those days, the home team supplied the game balls. So Mack had his ball boy run to a nearby stable and grab a bucket of horsesh*t. Mack then had all of the game balls rubbed in horse manure.

The game started, and Walsh began his normal routine. It didn’t take long for Walsh to realize that something was wrong. “I vomited all over the place,” Walsh would say later about that game. Walsh was infuriated, and lost his cool. He began beaning A’s. The Athletics crushed the White Sox.

Big Ed  was struggling with a dead arm at the time, and the game didn’t do him any favors. After the A’s blasted him again that July, he took the rest of the season off. He was done. He had won 189 games by age 32. He would win 6 more over the rest of his career. One book claimed that the manure game was the turning point of his career, that other teams began using manure and he couldn’t get over it, but that seems highly unlikely. Walsh was in extreme arm pain by 1913, and had considered taking the year off before the manure game even occurred. Nonetheless, the only pitcher to get beaten by horsesh*t was so dominant for those 6 seasons that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

Anyone who has any further info on this story, please let me know. There is very little information on it. I don’t even have a final score on the game (baseball reference doesn’t have winning and losing pitchers for the 1913 season). I first read it in the Incomplete Book of Baseball Superstitions, Rituals, and Oddities, by Mike Blake. I also found some backup in another book called How Baseball Works, and there is a quote from Walsh about it in Baseball’s Most Wanted. But incredibly, there is really no info on this online, and no mention of it in Walsh’s biography. Of course, part of the beauty of old baseball legends is that they are just that: legends. Did the Babe really call his shot? We’ll never know. Which makes it all the more compelling. Same goes for this story, though I would like to learn a bit more about this actual game. -ed.

Phillies Owner William Cox…Suspended for Life

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Manager Bucky Harris, coach Earl Whitehill, owner William Cox, and coach Chuck Klein. Photo courtesy of Temple University Libraries.

On March 20th, 1943, things finally started to look up for the Philadelphia Phillies. After being owned by the disastrous Gerry Nugent, who had sold all of the Phillies prospects to keep his own head above water for the past 10 years, the Phils were sold on that day to an energetic young entrepreneur named William Cox (the man he outbid? John Kelly, Sr. Grace Kelly’s dad). Only 33 years old, Cox was determined to turn around the fortunes of a team that had finished last or next to last in every single season that Nugent owned the team, and had finished over .500 once since 1918.

Cox started with a bang, hiring future Hall of Famer Bucky Harris as manager. Harris had managed the Senators to two pennants, and his hiring energized both the players and the fanbase. Right off the bat, the Phillies showed improvement. In fact, they were in 4th place in the National League as late as June 30th, unheard of for a team that usually hit rock bottom two weeks into the season and stayed there. The team struggled in July, however, and by July 28th, they were back in familiar position, 7th place in the NL (out of 8 teams).

William Cox was young, and he was impatient, and he wanted to win NOW. So despite the fact that Harris had led the team to almost as many wins (39) in little over half a season than they had had in an entire season the year before (42), he told reporters that Bucky Harris was fired. Didn’t tell Harris himself, but told reporters. He then hired a Brooklyn Dodger pitcher with no experience named Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons (seriously). Harris was stunned when told the news. “This is the most shocking thing that has happened to me in my entire life. I have not talked with Cox and this is all a surprise to me. I have nothing to say.”

The players were outraged, and threatened to go on strike if Cox did not apologize to Harris (right). So the next night in the clubhouse, Cox apologized to Harris in front of the team. But the two men sniped at each other through the press for the next few days, with Harris calling Cox “an All-American jerk” and Cox releasing a 2000 word statement essentially accusing Harris of insubordination. Finally, Harris dropped a bombshell. “He’s a fine guy to fire me, when he gambles on games his club plays.” The quote didn’t make the papers, but a Philadelphia editor sent a note to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Baseball began an immediate investigation. On November 3rd, Cox met with Commissioner Landis and admitted that he had made some “sentimental bets” on the Phillies, and that he didn’t know it was illegal at the time. The story reached a farcical level when Cox then told a story about how the whole thing was a trap to ensnare a disloyal employee, and that he was betting on games to “smoke him out”. Landis had a hard time believing this remarkable tale, and gave him a lifetime ban on November 23rd. Cox appealed. The following comes from a 2004 Baseball Digest article.

In Landis’ final hearing, on December 4 in New York, (former manager) Harris testified he was in the office when he overheard Cox’s secretary, Dorothy Massey, making a phone call asking for the odds on that day’s game.

When she completed the call, Harris asked, “What were the odds?” and she replied, ’13-5 on Brooklyn.’

“I said to her, ‘Do you mean to tell me that Mr. Cox is betting on baseball?’ She looked startled and said, ‘I thought you knew that.'”

Cox was finished. He sold the team to the Carpenter family, who would run it until 1981. Cox went back to manufacturing lumber and would never be reinstated to baseball. Harris would return to the baseball as manager of the 1947 Yankees, and would lead them to a World Championship that year. He led them to 94 wins in 1948, but it wasn’t enough to win the pennant and he was let go in favor of Casey Stengel. And you have to wonder what would have happened to the Phils if the powers that be had sold them to Philly legend John B. Kelly instead of a New York lumber magnate with a penchant for gambling.

RELATED: Phillies owner Horace Fogel banned for life. 

Anyone for Ennis? Philly’s 10th Most Underrated Athlete

Del Ennis’s treatment at the hands of Philadelphia fans has never quite made sense, other than the fact that this city has always had a very strange relationship with its power hitters. The city never warmed to Mike Schmidt, jeered Richie Allen, and booed Pat Burrell. Even so, the city’s treatment of Ennis is particularly hard to understand, because he was a hometown kid who made good.

After he broke Ennis’s RBI record last May, Ryan Howard was given a note from Liz Ennis, Del’s widow, congratulating him on his feat. Howard handled it classily, but it made you wonder if he even knew who Ennis was. If not, he wouldn’t be alone. Ennis is the guy whose name is in the Top 10 of pretty much every Phillie career category, and yet every time I stumble across Phils career stats, I find myself thinking, “Who in the hell is this Ennis guy?” I figured it was time to find out.

Ennis was born in North Philly in 1925. He was signed by the Phils out of high school but instead went into the Navy, where he fought in the Pacific Theater. After the War, he joined the Phils and made an immediate impact, batting .313 with 17 HRs and 73 RBIs. The left fielder was also known to have a cannon of an arm, and was named the Sporting News Rookie of the Year. In 1950, he propelled the Whiz Kids to the World Series with a remarkable season in which his numbers were .311-31-126, the latter of which led baseball. And yet despite being Philly’s first bonified batting star since Chuck Klein, he was routinely booed by Philly fans. In 2003, Frank Fitzpatrick wrote an excellent piece called, “Why Did They Boo Del Ennis?

Talk to aging Phillies fans and they all seem to have a different reason: Ennis was a clumsy outfielder; Ennis struck out too often (though his season high was 65); Ennis didn’t hit in the clutch (though he drove in 100 runs in each of six seasons between 1949 and 1955 – excluding 1951 – in an era of relatively subdued offense); Ennis didn’t hustle.

“Del lumbered in from the outfield. He wasn’t dashing like Richie Ashburn,” said Phillies scout Maje McDonnell, a coach with the team in the 1950s. “But he bore down every play, every day. On balls hit back to the pitcher, he ran harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. I saw him drive second basemen into center field breaking up double plays. He hustled all the time.”

And so not only was it classy of his wife to send the note to Howard, it was remarkable that she still pays attention to the Phillies. In the Fitzpatrick article, it is obvious that the pain of Del’s treatment is still with her.

“The booing was hurtful to him. It really was,” said Liz Ennis, surrounded by a basement full of photos, newspaper clippings and memorabilia from her husband’s playing days. “Every time he was interviewed, the very first question everybody would ask is, ‘Why did the fans boo you like they did?’

“He always said that as long as they paid money to get into the ballpark, they were entitled to boo. But the fact of the matter was, he didn’t understand it. He really didn’t understand it. And I don’t either.”

Incredibly, only one player over the 9 year period from 1948-1957 had more RBIs than Ennis. That would be Stan Musial, who is a demi-God in St. Louis. Ennis, meanwhile, has all but been forgotten in the town he not only played in, but was born in. The more I read about him, the only thing that makes sense is the Bobby Abreu charge…that he didn’t hustle in the field. Even if so (and he was known to be a slow runner), he more than made up for it with his rifle arm, as he recorded 14 or more assists 5 different seasons.

Ennis is not only one of the greatest Phillies of all time (Phillies Nation has him ranked 16th), I think that he is certainly on of the most underrated Phillies in the history of the team. 3rd in Home Runs, 3rd in RBIs, 4th in hits, 3rd in total bases, 7th in doubles, 5th in games played, 9th in runs scored, the list goes on and on. Del, for what it’s worth, we here at Philly Sports History tip our cap to you.

You can see PSH’s full list of Philly’s 15 Most Underrated Athletes here.

And Round Two Voting Has Begun!

You can vote for the first four matchups of Round Two of the Philly’s Most Infuriating tourney.

The Biggest Upsets in Round One and Best Games in Round Two of Philly’s Most Infuriating

What an opening week! (see the updated brackets here.) We see all of our #1 and #2 seeds advance, but after that it was wide open. Three number #3s (Lindros, Schmidt, and Mitch) go down to #14 seeds, and two #4 seeds (Dick Allen and Bobby Clarke-GM) go down to #13 seeds. We have two #11 vs. #14 matchups in round 2. Billy Wagner will take on Al Harris and Samuel Dalembert, who was obviously underrated, will take on Terry Francona. Some of the best 2nd round matchups (voting will begin this afternoon):

Howard Eskin vs. Von Hayes. Eskin cruised to a first round win over Lance Parrish, while Hayes eeked one out over Ed Snyder. I think Eskin takes this one.

Michael Vick vs. JD Drew. This is an incredible 2nd round matchup. This could come down to the last minute. There is no love lost for either of these men in Philly.

Bobby Abreu vs. First Down Freddie. Two different styles here. Abreu, who people thought was too understated, against Freddie Mitchell, who had a mouth bigger than his game. Going to be interested to see how this one turns out.

Scott Rolen vs. Stephen A. Smith. I think the committee underestimated how much loathing there is for Smith’s big mouth around here. I think this is going to be a close one.

Angelo Cataldi vs. Wheels. Two men behind that mic that drive people crazy. Is it Angelo’s obnoxious blathering or Wheels just being Wheels that infuriates people more?

UPDATE: Round Two voting has begun! 

Most Underrated Philly Athletes of All-Time: #11 Brad McCrimmon

Brad McCrimmon was the kind of player that every coach would love to have.  The 5’11” defenseman combined exceptional positioning with hard-nosed play.  “Beast” did all the workman-type, little things that need to be done for a team to be successful, but also contributed offensively when called upon. He sits at #11 on our list of the Most Underrated Athletes in Philly Sports History mainly because he was paired with Flyers-great Mark Howe.  Howe was much more offensive than McCrimmon, and thus enjoyed much more of the spotlight.  However, McCrimmon’s teammates and coaching staff knew that his solid play and defensive mind allowed Howe to roam free without sacrificing the team’s defensive integrity.    

McCrimmon joined the Flyers for the ’82-’83 season and never registered a negative plus/minus in his five years in Philadelphia.  He was integral to the ’84-’85 and ’86-’87 teams that reached the Stanley Cup Finals.  Statistically, the Howe-McCrimmon pairing’s best season was ’85-’86: Howe scored 24 goals, totaled 83 points, and had a plus-minus of 83; McCrimmon scored 13 goals, totaled 56 points, and finished with a plus 83.  Surprisingly, not one other Flyer defensemen finished on the plus side that season.

It wasn’t just Howe who benefited from being partnered with McCrimmon.  McCrimmon’s error-free play and leadership made him a great partner for young defensemen.  In 1987, McCrimmon was paired with young Gary Suter in Calgary.  In 1991, while in Detroit, Brad McCrimmon was partnered with rookie Nicklas Lidstrom.  Two years later he was paired with rookie Chris Pronger in Hartford.

Bill Meltzer interviewed Brian Propp and Mark Howe, who echoed the fact that McCrimmon never got his due:

Brad was a tremendous defenseman and teammate.  He never got as much credit as he deserved, but the only thing he really cared about was winning.

-Brian Propp

He was a horse and an excellent all-around hockey player. I would play 33 and a half minutes a game and Brad played 27. He never got the credit he deserved but if you look at the defensemen playing then – or now for that matter – Brad was the kind of player who is rare to find.

-Mark Howe

The Brad McCrimmon story ends with tragedy.  After his playing career ended he got into coaching. He served as an assistant for various teams in the NHL over the course of a decade and was hired to coach the KHL’s Yaroslavl Lokomotiv just prior to the 2011 season.  Sadly, he was on the plane which crashed on September 7, 2011 and died along with 42 other players, coaches, and staff.

Philly’s Most Infuriating Brackets are Underway!

TO. Kobe. Toast. Eskin. Over the years, there have been plenty of players and sports personalities to come through this town that drove the local populace crazy. Well we’ve assembled them all, and they’re going head to head in a tournament that will determine the title of “Philly’s Most Hated”. The voting has already begun on our facebook page. I’ve posted 24 matchups so far, and will post 8 more tomorrow. First round voting will continue until Sunday at 5 p.m., when our first round winners will move on to the 2nd round. Voting for the 2nd round will then commence, and we’ll whittle it down to the Sweet 16 by next weekend. Here’s the full bracket, so you can start discussing future matchups if you so please. Be sure to vote, and tell your friends about it as well. We want to get as many votes as possible, so we can get a true taste of who Philly’s Most Hated are.