1965 Proposals for Vet Stadium, and Subsequent Dome Proposals

Courtesy of the Temple University Library, here are scale models of the Vet, presented to the Mayor in 1965 (above). There seemed to be a lot of excitement about the proposal above. In the following photo, you can see then-Mayor James Tate (in glasses, between the woman and guy pointing at home plate) looking at it excitedly. I think that while it’s not great, it would have undoubtedly been better than the Vet. The proposed stadium would have housed both the Eagles and Phillies, as you can see above.

I love the flags leading up the walkway to the main entrance. I’m guessing they had all of the MLB teams on them? Notice how low and dark the entrance to the stadium is, though. Really weird. Also, what’s that white box at the bottom? Is that the subway stop?

Now, what would this stadium look like if you just plopped a dome on top of it and changed almost nothing else? This. In the age of the Astrodome, people were nuts about domes, and Philly would have probably gotten one if voters had agreed to a tax hike.

That wasn’t the only dome proposal either. The other one was for the ultimate Vet Stadium winner, except with a big ugly dome on top. Interesting to think about how loud it would have gotten in a Philadelphia dome. When doing research I found that the Daily News did a poll in 1984 asking fans if they wanted a dome at the Vet. 93% said yes. The idea gained political steam, as then-Mayor Wilson Goode said, “We will, over the next several weeks, take a good hard look at the economics of whether or not there should be a dome placed on the stadium.” In fact, the stadium had been constructed in a way that if voters ever changed their minds, the city could add a dome. And 1984 wasn’t the first time the topic of a dome had come up. According to the Gettysburg Times, in 1982,  Owens-Corning proposed a dome that would cost between $34 and $42 million. “The 10-acre roof would be woven from Teflon Coated Fiberglas yarn, according to a spokeman for Owens-Corning. Air pressure from constantly operating electric fans would support the fabric, the same technique Owens-Corning used to cover Detroit’s Silverdome.” 

The football team was interested, and the city thought a dome might bring a Super Bowl here, but the Phillies weren’t as intrigued. Here’s an incredible quote from Bill Giles in 1984: “My personal preference would be to make JFK a domed football stadium.” That would have been…something else. Obviously, none of these plans made it past the initial proposal stage.

Here is more or less the winning proposal, followed by an actual photo of the Vet. A few differences from the final product. Less dirt on basepaths (not sure when they decided to go with artificial turf) and the “roof” didn’t extend as far as it did in the proposal.

And it’s pretty obvious where they got the inspiration for the Vet’s design.

RELATED: Steve Wolf’s miniature models of Shibe Park.

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Awesome Drawing of Shibe Park

This drawing of Shibe was made by Gene Marks of the Boston Globe, who in 1946 drew all of the pro ballparks at the time. (If you want to see the others, click here.) One thing instantly stands out. How about that “Unusual 2nd base cutout”? I had never heard of that. Has anyone else? In looking at some old Shibe photos, I don’t see it in this 1943 shot, but I do think I see it in this 1945 photo. You can sort of see it in this 1963 shot as well, though it looks like it was worn out grass more than anything stylistically the team was going for.

Cool knowing where the home and visitors bullpens were, and I love how the view really gives you a feel for what it looked like inside. For Shibe Park buffs, here are a couple of other must see’s: the  miniature Shibe Park made by artist Steve Wolf. Just incredible. And here’s an interview with Wolf. If you want to know more about the history of Shibe Park, check out this interview I did with Shibe historian Bruce Kuklick.


The 15 Most Underrated Athletes in Philadelphia History

Here’s our final list. A bartender who heard the list thought it should have been most under-appreciated, not underrated. “Everybody knew Joe Frazier was great, they just didn’t appreciate that he was great.” Perhaps a fair assessment, but I guess the final word here is that these are guys who don’t get their just due when great athletes in this city come up in conversation, and we want to make sure they don’t get overlooked. Whatever word best applies to guys who don’t get their just due, please feel free to apply. Feel free to agree, disagree with these in the comments. Thanks to Lalli for helping me put this together.

#1. Paul Arizin

#2. Hal Greer.

#3. Donovan McNabb.

#4. Ricky Watters.

#5. Joe Frazier.

#6. Bobby Abreu.

#7. Kimmo Timonen.

#8. Dick Allen.

#9. Eddie Plank.

#10. Del Ennis.

#11. Brad McCrimmon.

#12. Freddy Leach.

#13. Von Hayes.

#14. John LeClair.

#15. Byron Evans.

 


When Connie Mack Had a Heckler Arrested

I did a lot of talking about fan behavior last week. First in my column for the Philly Post. Then on WIP Thursday night with Spike Eskin. Then Friday on the podcast. And there was one thing I learned that I couldn’t put in the column but thought was really remarkable and thought you guys might dig. 

In the 1920s, the Philadelphia A’s had a solid outfielder named “Good Time” Bill Lamar (left). He was a solid hitter, batting .310 over his 4 seasons in Philadelphia. But the hecklers at Shibe Park would simply not let him off the hook. Fans like the Kessler Brothers and their cousins, the Ziegler Brothers, worked as food vendors during the mornings, then let off work to go to games in the afternoon. And, since they had paid for their tickets, they believed they had carte blanche to mentally destroy the home players. They were the 700 Level before the 700 Level existed. But what made it strange is that unlike the Vet, Shibe was a nice place for a ballgame, and unlike the Phillies, the A’s were usually pretty damn good.

Anyways, Lamar started tanking at home in 1927. Seeing that they were getting to him, the fans laid into him even more, and the results were obvious: Lamar batted .272 at home with a .369 slugging %, while he batted .312 on the road with a .452% slugging percentage. The heckling so got to Lamar that Mack sat him for home games…he played in 28 home games that year and 56 away games. Finally, Lamar told Mack he could no longer play in Philadelphia and asked for his release. Despite the fact that he was a .310 career hitter, he never played in the Majors again. (The Washington Senators picked him up off waivers, but when he demanded a $1000 bonus to join Washington, they blanched and no-one else signed him.)

Mack was furious, at one fan in particular. His name was Harry Donnelly, and the 26-year old had ridden Lamar harder than anyone else at the park. Finally, after Lamar was granted his release, Mack decided to get his revenge. A month after Lamar’s exit, Donnelly started jockeying another A’s player. Mack had had enough. He had Donnelly arrested and taken out of the Park. After the game, Mack walked down the street to the police station and swore out a warrant against Donnelly for disturbing the peace.

“This man’s rooting has damaged the morale of my team,” Mack told the magistrate. “He has been razzing us all year with a voice that carries like a three-mile loudspeaker. Because of him I have had to dispose of Bill Lamar, a competent outfielder. He has assailed other players until they are of little use to the club at home…He has done more to ruin the morale of the Athletics than any other factor, including the bats of Ruth and Gehrig.” The magistrate held Donnelly on $500 bail and threatened to fine him if he were again “handing out raspberries.” I have to assume that Donnelly learned to shut his fat mouth. There is no more historical record of him after his arrest.

A lot of info for this piece came from Connie Mack: the Turbulent and Triumphant Years. Photo of Bill Lamar comes from his SABR Bio


Phillies You Should Know: Bo Belinsky, Playboy Pitcher

Born on December 7th, 1936, Bo Belinsky once said, “It’s no fun knowing that in every home in America your home is celebrated as a day of infamy.” He was known for his self demeaning wit, his playboy persona, and his electric fastball. But by the time his career was over, he was also known as one of those tragic figures whose vices prevented him to ever reach his full potential.

Bo Belinsky began his career as a rock star in LA. As a handsome 25-year old rookie, he won his first five starts, threw a no-hitter in his 4th start, and dated Playboy models, soon becaming the toast of the town in a city that rarely elevates baseball players to the level of movie stars. But it wasn’t long before his hard living took a toll, and his fall from grace was swift and spectacular.

In some ways, Belinsky was a perfect example of a typical “What if?” question: if you could be a superstar for 2-3 years, dating Playboy models and partying with the Rat Pack, but have a rough life for the next 40 years, would you do it? It’s a question worth pondering, especially when you consider that his stay at the top included girlfriends such as Connie Stevens, Tina Louise, and Mamie van Doren, the latter of whom he was engaged to. (He later married Playboy Playmate Jo Collins, though the marriage was brief).

His wanderlust and naivete were paradoxically charming and destructive. This from an incredibly fascinating piece by Pat Jordan on Belinsky in SI in 1972 (seriously, a must read).

“My problem was simple, Babe,” he says, staring straight ahead. “I heard music nobody else heard. I remember once in the Texas League when the team bus stopped in Veracruz so we could eat. All the players went into the restaurant except me. I thought I heard music down the street, so I went looking for it. I found a two-piece jazz band playing on the sidewalk in front of a bar. I listened for a while, and when they went inside, I followed them. I had a few drinks and then left. I had every intention of returning to that bus until I ran into another jazz band. I followed them into a bar, too. What I didn’t know was that all these bars hired jazz bands to lure customers inside. Man, after that bar, it seemed like every step I took there were these buglers waiting for me. I woke up six days later in a hotel room in Acapulco. I had a sponsor. This blonde Mexican—she had to be blonde, right!—was sitting by the bed saying, ‘Belinsky! Belinsky! I make you great yanqui bullfighter! But first we must change your name.’ I said, ‘Sure, Babe, we’ll change it to Lance. Lance Belinsky, how’s that?’”

After such a promising start with the Angels, he quickly came crashing down to earth, never to rise again. A month after his no-hitter, he was accused of pulling a woman out of his Cadillac and assaulting her. Two years later, he punched a 64-year old reporter. His days as an Angel were done. His next stop? Philadelphia. The Phillies were, like Belinsky, coming off a disastrous year, and manager Gene Mauch was hoping two negatives would equal a positive. Belinsky arrived with much fanfare, making the cover of SI before throwing his first pitch in Philly. The team was excited that Belinsky was bringing some LA glamour (and his on again off again girlfriend Mamie van Doren) to Philly.

Glamorous Mamie Van Doren was coming to Clearwater to root for ex-fiance Bo. During batting practice several players waited near the gate Mamie was supposed to enter. No luck. Once the game began, shiny heads kept popping up out of the dugout; shiny eyes scanned the stands for Mamie. No Mamie. The Phillies, left at the altar in last year’s pennant race, had been stood up again. Mamie sent word that the weather was too cold. The following day was overcast but mild. Again, no Mamie. “I wasn’t feeling groovy,” she explained. “This would never have happened,” Catcher Gus Triandos told Belinsky, “if we had won the pennant.”

Mauch wasn’t worried about Mamie van Doren, but he was hoping he could bring the former phenom back to the top of his game. He explained what happened in Philly in an excellent 2005 piece in LA Magazine (only the PDF is available, but it’s worth a read, and made the “Best Sports Writing of 2005″ book, where I first came across it.)

“I went to a great deal of trouble to get Bo. People said, ‘You’re crazy.’ But I was pretty cocky and thought I could take on anybody.” Convinced that Belinsky’s fastball was his most effective pitch, the manager did his best to persuade him to abandon the showier but less consistent screwball…At first Mauch appeared to make headway. “Bo went to Houston and threw a 3-hitter relying on his fastball. Four days later, we get to Los Angeles, Bo gets two strikes on a hitter in the first inning, and here comes the goddamn screwball. I go to the mound and say, ‘One more of those and you go to the bench.’ The fastball wasn’t flashy enough for Bo. Flash meant a lot to him, ore than baseball did, which he saw as sort of an hors d’oeuvre to get things started-girls, parties.”

Belinsky refused to abandon the screwball, and was relegated to a role in the bullpen. It was in the Philly bullpen that he got hooked on amphetamines. Things went steadily downhill. He left Philly and went to Houston, then to Pittsburgh, then to Cincy. He never recaptured the magic, and ended his career with a 28-51 record and a 4.10 ERA (the ERA sounds respectable, but remember the 60s were a pitcher’s decade).

The above SI article portrays him as a alcoholic, and after that article, things got a lot worse before they got better. He graduated from booze to coke, and began hanging out with gangsters and pimps. He got remarried, but while wacked out of his mind, he shot his wife in the hip. He went in and out of rehab. After he and his wife divorced, he neglected his children. He found Jesus, tried to get clean, and often would go years without a drink. He spent the last decade of his life gainfully employed at a car dealership in Las Vegas. But he never fully escaped his demons. He tried to commit suicide in 1997, and four years later he died at age 64. Interestingly, he was buried 5 plots away from another 1960s star who never could escape his demons, Sonny Liston.

PREVIOUSLY: Belinsky’s story sounds eerily similar to that of a Philadelphia pitcher we have previously featured, Slim Jones.

Another Philadelphia tragedy, if you missed it the first time, the Fast Rise and Tragic Fall of Tyrone “The Mean Machine” Everett.


The Most Fascinating Team in MLB History…the 1930 Phillies

Les Sweetland. Record Holder. Antihero.

On July 23rd, 1930, the Phillies took on the Pittsburgh Pirates in a doubleheader at the Baker Bowl. The Pirates had Hall of Famers Pie Traynor and Paul “Big Poison” Waner* on their squad, but were headed to a forgettable 5th place finish in the NL that year.

The 1930 Phillies, on the other hand, were probably the most fascinating team in MLB history. They hit .315 as a team, the 3rd highest total in MLB history (Interestingly, the Giants hit .319 that same year to set the record). They had 1783 hits that season, still the most in MLB history. The Phils had 5 regulars who batted over .300, including outfielders Chuck Klein and Lefty O’Doul, who both batted over .380. Klein had perhaps the greatest regular season in Phillies history, finishing with a line of .386-40-170, and a slugging percentage of .687 (Jose Bautista currently leads the Majors with a .686). And yet, these Sultans of Swat finished 52-102, 40 games out of first. You read that right. A team that batted .315 collectively finished 50 games UNDER .500. How is that possible?

Because the Phillies had the worst pitching staff in the history of baseball. The only team you could even compare them to was my Little League team that finished 0-15 in 1984 (True story). For some perspective, think about how terrible Adam Eaton was in 2008, when he went 4-8 with a 5.80 ERA. And just think, the 1930 Phils had 11 pitchers with worse ERAs than Adam Eaton.

Chuck Klein, preparing to use these bats to bash Les Sweetland's brains in.

A few years ago, a guy named Tom Ruane wrote a paper called “Modern Baseball’s Greatest Hitting Team”. The answer? The opponents of the 1930 Phillies. Try these stats on for size: Phillies’ opponents batted .346 that year (27 points higher than those record setting 1930 Giants), with 1994 hits (200 more than the record holders, the 1930 Phillies) and scored 1199 runs (Over 130 more than the record holders, the 1931 Yankees.) The ace of that staff was none other than Phil Collins. And you thought No Jacket Required was his worst work. (Rim Shot). Actually, Collins wasn’t the problem. He was an almost respectable 16-11 with a 4.78 ERA. Ray Benge came next, with a 5.70 ERA. Then came two record holders. Les Sweetland set a record that year that has never been broken, throwing for a 7.71 ERA, (the worst of all time among pitchers who qualify for ERA title). #2 for worst all time was his teammate Claude Willoughby, with a 7.59 ERA. It must have been like Mantle and Maris chasing the Babe’s home run title that year. And Hal Elliot just fell short of qualifying for an ERA title, throwing 117 innings. Otherwise he would be 2nd, with a 7.67 ERA.

Anyways, that brings us back to that game against the Pirates on July 23rd of that year. Somehow, the Phils only gave up two runs in the first game of that double header, but their bats fell silent, and they lost 2-1. They came back with a vengeance in the 2nd game, rapping a team record 27 hits (a record that was tied in a 1985 game against the Mets). But in a perfect encapsulation of their season, they still lost the game, 16-15, in 13 innings, with Les Sweetland taking the loss. A day later, they would play host to the Cubs, and lose to them, 19-15. Claude Willoughby was the losing pitcher, being replaced without recording a single out.

And so when people say they wish they could combine the 2008 Phils’ hitters with the 2011 Phils’ pitchers to make the perfect team, I argue that they’d be even better if you combined the 2011 Phils with the 1930 Phils. Hell, they’d win 130 games. And Chuck Klein probably wouldn’t want to punch every starter in the face for ruining his greatest season ever.

*How badass of a name is “Big Poison”? I want to steal it. Can you start calling me that? Please start calling me Johnny “Big Poison” Goodtimes. It would be greatly appreciated.


The Fast Rise and Tragic Fall of Tyrone “The Mean Machine” Everett

I first came across the name Tyrone Everett in a list of Philly’s Best Ever Fighters compiled by Bernard Hopkins in The Great Book of Philadelphia Sports Lists. Everett’s entry was a mere two sentences long, but the 2nd sentence more than piqued my interest.

He was robbed in his 1976 Spectrum title fight against Alfredo Escalara and was tragically shot to death just 6 months later.

An athlete dying young and a potentially fixed fight? It was worth looking into. I would soon discover that Tyrone’s story was more than a tragedy. It was pulp non-fiction, a story that included the Mob, transvestites, drugs, snakes, and a mysterious murder.

Tyrone Everett  was born in April of 1953 in South Philadelphia and started boxing at a young age. It was quickly recognized that the lefty had some serious talent, and his fame grew in South Philly, where young girls would jump rope while chanting “Ty, Ty, Butterfly.” The superfeatherweight was a regular attraction at the Spectrum’s Monday Night Fights in 1973 and ’74, and he won every bout. Along the way he earned the USBA superfeatherweight title. In June of 1975, “The Mean Machine” as he was known, finally travelled off his home turf to fight in Honolulu. The exotic locale didn’t affect his fury. He won by KO in the first round. By 1976, he was undefeated and a national contender for the WBC World Title. On November 30, 1976, he got his chance.

Now with a record of 34-0, Everett was given a shot at title holder Alfredo Escalara. Escalara was a flashy showman, known for his love of salsa music and for entering the ring with a snake around his neck when he fought in his native Puerto Rico. Though he was the challenger, Everett got to host the fight in his backyard, the Philadelphia Spectrum. There were three judges; a Puerto Rican judge, the referee, and a Philadelphia judge named Lou Tress.

If the fight was close, most people expected Tress to side with Everett, the Puerto Rican judge to stay loyal to Escalara, and that the fight would be determined by the referee. The fight was not close. From the opening bell Everett was the superior fighter, and he ran circles around the Puerto Rican, dominating the 15 round bout. The AP scored it 146-139, Everett. The UPI had it 146-141. Every ringside observer had Everett winning at least 10 rounds. The South Philly southpaw was going to be crowned World Champion. The future was his. And then it was stolen.

Daily News writer Tom Cushman wrote the next day,

“Tyrone Everett won the junior lightweight championship of the world last night. Won it with a whirling, artistic, courageous performance that brushed against the edges of brilliance. Tyrone was standing tall, proud, bleeding in his corner after the 15 rounds, waiting for the championship belt to be draped around his waist, when they snatched it from him. Picked him so clean it’s a wonder they didn’t take his shoes and trunks along with everything else.”

Years later Cushman wrote a book called Muhammad Ali and the Greatest Heavyweight Generation. And though Tyrone was far from a heavyweight, Cushman decided to include a chapter about Everett. In it, he wrote that Everett’s promoter, J Russell Peltz happened to run into renowned Philly fixer (and Frank Sinatra buddy) Blinky Palermo a few days after the fight. Peltz asked him if he thought that the fight might have been fixed. Palermo responded, “You can buy Lou Tress for a cup of coffee.”

Everett handled the screw job well, bouncing back to win his next two fights and setting up a rematch with Escalara that was to take place in Puerto Rico. The fight never happened. 10 days after his last fight, Tyrone Everett was killed, shot through the head in South Philly.

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