A few days ago, JGT posted a really interesting 1946 drawing of Shibe Park. In keeping with a Shibe Park theme, I found this spectacular shot of fans during the 1914 World Series on shorpy.com. To see the photo in full size, click here. You won’t be disappointed.
The remastered photo shows, in great detail, fans crowding the rooftop bleachers built by home owners along 20th Street outside Shibe Park. These bleachers served as the inspiration for the “Rooftop Bleacher Section” at Citizens Bank Park. The photo also shows, in great detail, just how poorly dressed fans are today. Instead of having a cheesy 80s Retro Night, I say the Phils organize a “Back to the 1910s Night.” I’ve been waiting for an occasion to break out my spats.
Although the fans along 20th Street may have had a nice view of the games, they didn’t go home pleased. The A’s would lose this series to the “Miracle” Boston Braves in 4 games.
On May 29, 1989, Michael Jack Schmidt announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.
Schmidt played out 42 games of the 1989 season, but stepped away from the game just prior to his 43rd. He announced his retirement at Jack Murphy Stadium before the Phillies took the field against the Padres.
Nagging injuries and age had caught up with the 39-year-old infielder. He missed the last two months of the ’88 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. His struggles to open the ’89 season led him to admit that he simply couldn’t do it anymore. He was hitting only .203 with 6 HR at the time of his retirement. He was mired in a 2-41 slump at the plate and was leading the Phillies with 8 errors. In his tearful speech, the opening of which is below, he said: “Over the years, I’ve set high standards for myself as a player, and I always said that when I couldn’t live up to those standards I would retire. I no longer have the skills needed to make adjustments at the plate to hit or to make some plays in the field and run the bases.”
Schmidt retired with 548 career home runs, 3 NL MVP Awards, a World Series MVP Award, 10 Golden Gloves, 6 Silver Slugger Awards, and 12 All-Star Game appearances. He led the National League in home runs 8 times and in RBI 4 times. In 1995, he was inducted as a first ballot Hall of Famer.
If there were an award given for a player who is most respected by basketball insiders, while getting the minimum public appreciation, Greer could win hands down.
The reason that so many players are on this list is timing. And that couldn’t be more true for our 2nd Most Underrated Philadelphia Athlete, Hal Greer. He was a guard at a time when two of the best guards in the history of the NBA played. And he was teammates with the best Sixer in the history of the franchise. Being compared to Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, in addition to playing second-fiddle to Wilt Chamberlain in Philadelphia lands Hal Greer on our list. His unmatched production and consistency are what rank him so high.
There aren’t many guys in pro sports like Hal Greer anymore. He was born June 26, 1936 in Huntington, West Virginia and became the first black athlete to receive a scholarship at Marshall University. After graduating in 1958, he was drafted by the Syracuse Nationals, who later became the Philadelphia 76ers. He went to the university located in his hometown and then played out his 15-year professional career for the same franchise.
He was most known for his speed and his mid-range jumper. His style was much more hard work than it was flash. Greer’s teammate, and then coach, Dolph Schayes had this to say: “Hal Greer always came to play. He came to practice the same way, to every team function the same way. Every bus and plane and train, he was on time. Hal Greer punched the clock. Hal Greer brought the lunch pail.” He is also remembered for his quirky style at the free-throw line, from which he would shoot jumpers. His career free throw percentage is 80.1%.
Over the course of his NBA career, the 6’2″ guard averaged 19.2 points per game, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds. He scored more than 20 points per game in eight seasons. He played in ten consecutive All-Star games from 1961 through 1970. Although he was the smallest player on the 1968 East All-Star team and although he played just 17 minutes, he earned the MVP Award after going 8-8 from the field, 5-7 from the line, and scoring 21 points. From ’63-’69 he was named to the All-NBA Second Team. He was the type of player that always turned things up in the playoffs. In the 1967 playoffs, he averaged 27.7 ppg, 5.9 rebounds. and 5.3 assists while quarterbacking the best team in basketball history to an NBA Title.
The fact that he scored so well while playing alongside Wilt Chamberlain speaks volumes about Greer’s abilities.
Greer retired after the ’72-’73 season. At that time, he had appeared in more games (1,122) than any other player in NBA history. His 21,586 career points ranked among the all-time top 10, as did his totals for minutes played, field goals attempted and field goals made. His numbers still stand up almost 40 years after he retired. He currently sits 30th all-time in scoring, 22nd in field goals made, and 26th in total minutes.
The usual waiting period for induction into the NBA Hall of Fame is 5 years. Underrated as always, Greer was forced to wait nine.
#15- Byron Evans, #14- John LeClair, #13- Von Hayes, #12- Freddy Leach, #11- Brad McCrimmon, #10- Del Ennis, #9- Eddie Plank, #8- Dick Allen, #7- Kimmo Timonen, #6- Bobby Abreu, #5- Joe Frazier, #4- Ricky Watters, #3- Donovan McNabb
The defining moment of Ricky Watters career in Philadelphia came in his first game as an Eagle. On September 3, 1995, the Eagles opened up the season at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During the second-half, Ricky Watters alligator-armed not one, but two Randall Cunningham passes over the middle of the field. It didn’t help that the Eagles lost 21-6, and Watters was held to 37 yards rushing with two fumbles. Sure, Watters was booed by the hometown fans for not sacrificing himself for the team, but those boos were nothing compared to the aftermath of Watters’ postgame comments to the media.
Watters was honest, maybe too honest:
“Hey, I’m not going to trip up there and get knocked out. For who? For what? I mean, there’s another day. I’m going to make a whole lot of plays. I made a whole lot of plays where I was at before. I’ve always made plays.”
“For who? For what?” Those four words damned Ricky Watters in this town. He had committed a cardinal sin. The fans and the media jumped on Watters. The Inquirer labeled it “Wattersgate.” His words were spread in large print on the back cover of the Daily News. No matter what Watters did from that point forward, he didn’t have a chance to be accepted in Philadelphia as one of our “Philly guys.” And it’s a shame, because his on-the-field play stood in stark contrast to that comment.
His numbers are staggering. After scoring three touchdowns in a winning-effort for San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIX, Watters came to Philadelphia as a free agent. It didn’t take long for him to make an impact. In 1995, he rushed 337 times for 1,273 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also added 434 yards on 62 receptions. In ’96 he amassed 1,855 yards from scrimmage with 13 total touchdowns. In ’97, he had 1,550 total yards and 7 touchdowns. He never rushed for fewer than 1,110 yards and never caught fewer than 48 passes. From ’95-’97, he carried the ball 975 times, more than any other player in the NFL. In ’95 and ’96 he was selected to the Pro Bowl team and named All-Pro.
Even though he spent just three seasons in Philadelphia, Watters ranks 6th in franchise history in rushing and 5th in rushing touchdowns. He is the Eagles all-time leader in rushing yards per game.
Based on his numbers, Watters is clearly one of the best running backs in Eagles history. But he didn’t let his numbers speak for themselves, and so he lands on this list as the 4th Most Underrated Athlete in Philadelphia Sports History.
Kimmo Timonen was underrated from the start of his career. He was selected in the 10th Round (250th of 286 total picks) by the L.A. Kings in the 1993 Entry Draft. In today’s NHL, there are only 7 rounds in the draft, so it’s pretty easy to see what NHL front offices thought of Timonen. That being said, there’s a reason the Flyers haven’t missed the playoffs since Kimmo joined the team.
After playing several years in Nashville, the Flyers acquired Timonen in what now looks like one of the more lopsided trades in team history. As part of the deal that sent an aging Peter Forsberg to the Predators, the Flyers obtained a 1st round pick which they then traded back to Nashville in 2007 for Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen.
In hockey, it’s easy to underrate good defensemen. The guys you don’t notice are likely the ones who are most effective. Timonen fits that description to a tee. Night in and night out, Timonen is paired against the best offensive lines of the Flyers’ opponents and he puts in his work, quietly. Even when an HBO camera crew was following around the team for weeks prior to the Winter Classic, Timonen didn’t want any part of the spotlight and made himself an extra.
He’s not the type of player who’s going to deliver bone-crunching hits, or picks fights, or dazzle the fans with flashy play, or fire 105 mph slapshots from the point. At 5’10” and 194 lbs, he surely doesn’t stand out because of his size. But he brings his mistake-free play, both mentally and physically, to the rink every game. And I do mean every game. Although he’s built like a finesse winger, he is one of the more durable players in the league. Since joining the Flyers in 2007, he’s never missed more than 6 games in any season.
His decision making, puck movement, and positional skills are probably his greatest assets on the ice. As a Flyer, Timonen has averaged 36 assists and 41 points per year. He’s also a plus 38 over that span. This year, he hit both the 100 goal and 500 point milestones in his career. Timonen shines on the power-play. From ’06-’07 to ’07-08 (Timonen’s first year in Philly), the Flyers power-play success rate shot up from 14% to 22%.
He’s won three Barry Ashbee Awards, given to the Flyers’ most outstanding defensemen as decided by a panel of sportswriters. He’s just the third Flyer to take home that honor three times (Eric Desjardins- 7, Mark Howe- 4). Over the course of his career, he’s been selected to 5 All-Star teams (3 with the Flyers).
Just as important as his durability and play is the leadership that Kimmo brings to the Flyers. In years past, he was a locker room and on-ice leader, but with Chris Pronger’s injury this year, Timonen has had to become team spokesman. With his direct, no-nonsense approach to the Philadelphia media, his teammates know they are going to be held accountable for mistakes or lack of effort. For example: When he was asked what the difference was between the Rangers and Flyers this year after the Rangers 4th straight win against the Orange and Black, Timonen had two words: “The goaltending.” After a February loss to those same Rangers, Kimmo didn’t mince words about the effort: “The emotional level, playing against the top team in the conference…league…to be honest I think we got half the guys going half the guys not.” Hearing those kinds of quotes in the land of “upper body injuries” and “maintenance days” speaks volumes about how much respect Timonen has in the Flyers locker room.
129 years ago, on May 1, 1883, Philadelphia’s National League team was opening up its season, the first in the team’s history.
John Coleman was the Quakers opening day starter, and thus, the first opening day starter in the history of Phillies baseball. He’s shown to the left holding a bat like, well, a pitcher. The Quakers opponent that day was the Providence Grays, who threw Charles Radbourn. Facing Radbourn in their first ever game was a challenge for the Quakers. Radbourn would win NL’s Pitching Triple crown the next year with 59 wins, an ERA of 1.38, and 441 strikeouts. His 59 wins is a major league record that will never be broken. He was also the first major leaguer to flip the bird during a team photo. (If you can’t see it, here’s a closeup.)
The upstart Quakers got off to a hot start at Recreation Park with some small ball and scored 2 runs in the first inning. Blondie Purcell led off the game with a single and Bill McClellan followed that up with a double. With runners on second and third with no outs, two consecutive infield grounders led to two fielder’s choice RBI. The score remained 2-0 until the 7th inning, when a 2-out single by catcher Frank Ringo scored third baseman Bill Harbridge to give the Quakers a 3-0 lead.
In the top half of the 8th, the Grays finally got to Coleman. A leadoff walk surrendered to Radbourn was followed by consecutive singles and a double. After forcing a groundout, Coleman gave up another single before finally ending the inning. All told, the Grays put up 4 runs to take a 4-3 lead.
The game wasn’t without the type of nostalgic controversy that we all love about old-time baseball. In the Quakers’ half of the 8th, Purcell led off with a single. On his way to first, he sprained his ankle. After reaching safely, he requested to have another player run for him because of the injury. However, he needed not the umpire’s permission, but rather that of the captain of the Grays. Purcell’s request was denied, leading to the 1,000 or so in attendance to voice their displeasure with the visiting Grays. Next up, Bill McClellan reached first on an error and Purcell limped safely into second. Two pop-outs later, there were runners on first and second with two outs. Radbourn threw a wild pitch and in the words of an Inquirer article:
“Purcell started for third, and fairly reached there, but was decided out at third, a very unjust decision, which was vigorously hissed.”
In the ninth, neither team scored. Opening Day for the history of the Phillies ended with a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Providence Grays. Things wouldn’t get much better for the Quakers in 1883, but the fledgling franchise got its start and National League baseball has lived in this City ever since.
Our 8th Most Underrated Philadelphia Athlete of All-Time is Dick Allen. Allen’s relationship with the fans of this City was unlike any other. The picture above is definitely worth 1,000 words: you’ve got Dick Allen playing first base at Connie Mack Stadium for the hometown Phils, he’s traced “Boo” into the dirt in front of him in response to the crowd’s relentless booing, and he’s wearing his batting helmet in the field- not because he had suffered a head injury, but to protect himself from the batteries, pennies, fruit, and garbage thrown at him from the stands. Merely calling Allen “underrated” doesn’t do any justice to how Philadelphia fans treated the star.
The Phillies signed the 18-year-old Allen as an amateur free agent in 1960. He worked his way through the minor league system and by 1963 he was ready for AAA ball. The Phillies AAA affiliate at time was the Arkansas Travelers, based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Allen asked the organization to send him anywhere but Little Rock, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Obviously, with it’s history of violently fighting desegregation, Little Rock wasn’t the greatest place in the world for an African-American in the early 60’s. Throw in the fact that Allen was the first black player in Little Rock’s minor-league history and you can imagine that his welcome wasn’t unlike Bart’s introduction as the new Sheriff of Rock Ridge (NSFW). Outside the stadium before his first game, Allen was greeting with a fan protest that included a picketing line and signs like “Don’t Negro-ize Baseball” and the ultra-created “Nigger Go Home.” During his time in Little Rock, he was chastised by the fans and the community. His car was vandalized. He received death threats. Thankfully, his talent on the field made for a short-lived career in Little Rock and he was sent up to the majors as an everyday player in 1964.
Although Allen’s stint with the Travelers lasted only a year, it affected him for the rest of his career. First, he started drinking for the first time in his life. And second, it made him angry. Angry at the Phillies brass that sent a 21-yr-old black kid into the racial powder keg that was Little Rock against his wishes.
Allen broke in with the Phillies in style. The rookie batted .318 with 29 HR, 91 RBI, 13 triples, and 125 runs. He led the majors in triples and runs and was the runaway winner for Rookie of the Year. His offensive prowess continued and over the course of the next three seasons he was selected to the All-Star Team each year. He played six years with the Phillies before being traded after the ’69 season. Over the course of that time in Philadelphia, he batted .300 while averaging 30 HR, 90 RBI and 98 runs per year.
Those numbers put him in the upper echelon of sluggers in Phillies history, and should put him in the upper echelon of fan favorites. But that’s not where he sits. Instead, partly due to things outside of his control and partly due to his own behavior, Allen drew much more of this town’s ire than its awe.
One of the things out of his control included the size of his contract. In 1960, he signed with the organization for $70,000 and then in ’67 he was given $82,000 (making him the highest-paid 4th year player in baseball history). With big contracts come big expectations. Although Allen produced offensively, he also struck out…a lot. He was no Ryan Howard, but he averaged 141 Ks a year. He also wasn’t the best defensive player, committing 41 errors in his Rookie of the Year season. Strikeouts and errors aren’t what fans look for in a high-priced athlete and so the boos started early in Allen’s career.
During the next season, Allen’s relationship with the fans took a drastic turn for the worse. Veteran Phils slugger Frank Thomas taunted Allen and his black teammate Johnny Briggs by calling them “boy” and referring to Allen as “Muhammed Clay.” Things boiled over after Thomas called Allen a “Nigger SOB” at batting practice before a game. Allen went after Thomas and the two fought, Richie Allen with his fists and Frank Thomas with a bat. After the two were separated, then-manager Gene Mauch approached Allen and told him that he’d been looking for a reason to dump Thomas but that he’d fine Allen $1500 if he ever leaked that fact. Mauch told the press that he had to choose between a 36-year-old and a 23-year-old. Not surprisingly, the fans blamed Allen for the departure of the favored veteran. Allen described the fans’ reaction to Life:
The next day, I stuck my head out of the dugout and I’d never heard such booing…People yelled ‘Nigger’ and ‘Go back to South Street with the monkeys’ and it hasn’t stopped yet.
While the fan’s mistreatment of Allen wasn’t justified, the slugger didn’t do anything to help the situation. Always at the forefront of controversy, Allen was both the victim and the culprit. He began showing up late for batting practice, not because he was stuck in traffic, but because he stopped at the bar first. He was fined and benched a number of times for his tardiness (read: showing up to the park after batting practice was already over, and being hungover or drunk). Not that it affected him. One of his teammates was quoted as saying, “He’d be all glassy-eyed and still hit one 450 feet.” He showed up to spring training in 1968 in a state described by reporters as “hopelessly drunk.” He missed team flights, was accused of faking injury to get out of playing, and became a divisive character in the locker room. The media blamed Allen for the firings of consecutive managers Gene Mauch and Bob Skinner. He dressed by himself in an equipment room separate from the rest of his teammates. In 1969, he missed a double-header in New York and was suspended indefinitely. In retaliation, he held out for 26 games and returned only when he was promised a trade out of Philadelphia. He said, “I can play anywhere; First, Third, Left field, anywhere but Philadelphia.”
The press took whatever ammunition Allen supplied and buried him with it, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. He was painted as a trouble-maker, as a player with entitlement issues. The stories wouldn’t have been as interesting if the reporters divulged that Phillies management granted the star certain privileges (driving to games, taking time off, etc.), so that never made it to print. And so with the blessing of the fan base, Allen was traded.
After his trade, he didn’t stop producing. He earned 4 more All-Star selections. He was awarded the MVP in 1972, a year in which he batted .308, with 37 HRs, 90 runs scored, 113 RBI, and 19 steals for the Chicago White Sox. He did return to Philadelphia in 1975 for two more seasons with the Phillies before finishing his career in Oakland in 1977.
Instead of going down in history with the likes of Schmidt, Roberts, and Carlton, Dick Allen is remembered more for being controversial than for being talented. Because Philadelphia couldn’t look past his off-the-field issues and see his on-the-field skills, he remains one of the most underrated athletes to play in Philadelphia.
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.
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.
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.
American-born NHL star John LeClair sits at No. 14 on our list of the most underrated athletes in Philadelphia sports history. His career spanned 16 seasons, 10 of which were spent wearing the Orange and Black (’94-95 to ’03-’04). There’s no denying the fact that John LeClair was one of the best scorers in the history of the franchise. A quick run-down of his resume makes this abundantly clear:
- As a Flyer, he averaged 43 goals and 83 points per year.*
- He scored 50+ goals in three consecutive seasons from 1995-1998, becoming the first American-born player to accomplish that feat.
- He amassed 70+ points in five consecutive seasons from 1995-2000.
- He won the NHL Plus-Minus Award for the ’96-’97 season and the ’98-’99 season.
- He was an NHL All-Star in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
- He ranks 5th in Flyers history in goals and 7th in Flyers history in scoring.
So how is a guy with those stats underrated? Two words: Eric Lindros. Most Philadelphia sports fans credit Lindros for most, if not all of LeClair’s production. Obviously, playing on the same line as one of the most talented players in the history of the league has its benefits, but the Vermont-native’s size (6’3″- 236lbs.), strength, and finishing ability can’t be questioned. Whether he was parked in front of the net- taking a beating, deflecting shots, or pouncing on rebounds; or letting one of his heavy slap shots go, LeClair was a force for the Legion of Doom. Lindros’ raw talent and play-making ability overshadowed LeClair’s consistency and production, which were vital to the success of that line. And don’t forget Mr. Lindros wasn’t healthy all that often. In the ’96-’97 season during which Lindros was absent for 30 games, LeClair still scored 50 goals.
No Flyer has dared to wear #88 since the Flyers traded Lindros to the Rangers in 2001, but there’s a 20-year-old kid wearing #10 for the Flyers now.
*In seasons he registered at least 76 games played.
On Sunday, at the age of 74, former Philadelphia sports broadcaster Andy Musser passed away in his Wynnewood home. Over the course of his career, Musser called games for the Eagles, Sixers and Villanova basketball, but his work in the broadcast booth for the Phillies defined his time in Philadelphia. From 1976 to 2001, Musser was one of the voices of Phillies baseball. Never the main guy, but always there in the background supporting Richie Ashburn or Harry Kalas. When I say always there, I mean it…the guy missed only 2 games during that 26-year span (both with laryngitis).
His most memorable call came late in the 1980 regular season, when Mike Schmidt hit a home run to defeat the Expos and clinch the NL East crown.
There have been a lot of articles written over the past two days about Musser’s life and his career, but none better than Tyler Kepner’s piece for the NY Times Baseball Blog published last night. You should read the whole thing, but the introduction makes clear the type of guy Andy Musser was:
Whenever I write a long feature story, I try to quote everyone I interviewed. I feel like I owe it to them, for helping me. I’ve been interviewed for stories but left out of the article, and it’s not a good feeling.
About three years ago, I wrote a piece on the epic 23-22 game between the Phillies and the Cubs in 1979. I talked to one of the broadcasters, Andy Musser, who died on Monday at age 74. I quoted Andy only once in the story – and once more in a blog entry – and I felt bad about that.
I shouldn’t have. A few days after the article appeared, a postcard arrived in my mail box:
“Tyler, Nice job on the 23-22 game yesterday. You really worked hard on it and brought back many memories for me. Thanks for the mention. Cordially, Andy.”
After his retirement in 2001, Andy Musser became the Philly Beer Ambassador for Anchor Brewing Company out of San Francisco. Musser was a lover of craft beers and used his down time on the road with the Phillies to tour breweries all over the country.
Baseball and beer. Not a bad life for one of the voices that brought us Philadelphia sports.