On December 7th, 1941, the Eagles took on the Washington Redskins at Griffith Stadium in the nation’s capital. They fell 20-14. Throughout the game, the players noticed that the PA had made numerous announcements paging all military personnel, but weren’t sure why. One of those players was Eagles rookie Nick Basca, who sent two extra points through the uprights. Later that afternoon it became apparent why the military had been paged during the game: the United States was at war. Three days after the Day That Lived in Infamy, Nick Basca enlisted in the army. He would never play in another NFL game.
Micheal Basca was born on December 4th, 1916 (some sources say 1917) in Phoenixville. As a young boy, he ran around town doing odd jobs for a nickel and got the nickname “Nickels”. It was later shortened to Nick. He was short and bashful, but on the football field the son of a coach was a beast. His senior season, the quarterback led his team to a 9-0 record and a Chester County Title. After some time at a preparatory academy, he attended Villanova. Again he excelled, making the all-state team and starring in the North-South game his senior year.
NFL teams were concerned with his small stature (5’8″, 170), and he went undrafted. But the Eagles quickly grabbed the local hero, and he made the team as a running back and kicker. He showed flashes of potential on offense, scoring a touchdown against the Lions and rushing 15 times for 44 yards. He also made all 9 of his extra point attempts and a field goal to boot.
He became a tank commander in Patton’s third army. He landed in France a month after D-Day and his division began aggressively attacking the Germans, trying to make their way to the city of Nancy. On November 11, 1944, the Americans received fierce resistance in the town of Obreck, near Nancy. A German 88mm round hit Basca’s tank. He was killed instantly.
Two of his brothers also served in the war, with Steve Basca receiving three purple hearts. Villanova’s Homecoming weekend was called Nick Basca weekend until the program discontinued in 1980 (the football program was revived in 1985, but Nick Basca weekend wasn’t).
Quick note before you begin reading: Shibe Sports at 13th and Walnut will be having a blowout sale all weekend. 30% off everything between 9-12 on Friday, and 20% off everything for the remainder of the weekend! If you’re a fan of the history of Philadelphia sports, you’ll love the store. In addition to running this site, I’m also one of the owners.
This year will mark the 7th time the Eagles have done battle on Thanksgiving Day. Before them the Yellow Jackets actually had a Thanksgiving Day rivalry. Here’s a brief synopsis of every Thanksgiving Day NFL game played involving one of the two Philly teams.
1924-The Frankford Yellow Jackets defeated the Dayton Triangles, 32-7. In the pick below player/coach Guy Chamberlin and Johnny Budd chase down the Triangles Faye Abbot.
1926– The Yellow Jackets knocked off the Packers, 20-14, in front of a packed stadium of 12,000 people. The Jackets would go to on to finish the season 14-1-2 and win the NFL championship. They’re the last team to win an NFL title and later fold. The game also marked the start of a Thanksgiving Day rivalry with the Packers that would last until 1930. Here’s a great pic of that 1926 championship team.
1927-The Packers returned the favor, winning 17-9. You can read more about the Packers-Yellow Jackets Thanksgiving rivalry here. (The games were all played in Frankford. Once November hit, the Packers would play most of their games on the road.)
1928-The Yellow Jackets edged the Packers 2-0, the only score coming on a bad snap during a botched punt attempt by the Packers.
1929– Hard to believe that the 1929 game could be lower scoring than the 1928 affair, but it was. 0-0 was the final. The Yellow Jackets got the ball down to the 2-yard line at one point, but couldn’t punch it in. The tie would be the only blemish on the Packers 12-0-1 championship season.
1930– The Yellow Jackets franchise was starting to fall apart, and the Packers were on their way to a 2nd straight NFL title. The result of this game was never in doubt. The Packers, led by QB Red Dunn, won 25-7.
A fire to their stadium right before the 1931 season forced the Yellow Jackets to scramble to find places to play. Playing outside of Frankford meant that their fans couldn’t make it to the games, and fans in other parts of town didn’t come out to support a team from Frankford. The team folded midway through the 1931 season. Two years later the lesson was learned…don’t just represent a small section of the city, represent the whole city. The Philadelphia Eagles were born. They would play on Thanksgiving far less frequently than the Frankford Yellow Jackets did.
1939– The Eagles defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 17-14, on Thanksgiving Day. It would be the Eagles only win all season. Their young QB Davey O’Brien led the way with 208 yards passing.
1940– The Steelers (having changed their name from the Pirates) got their revenge, knocking off the Eagles 7-0. The Birds would finish the season 1-10. Of course, these two teams would join forces a few years later.
1968– The Eagles would finally play on Thanksgiving 28 years later. Once again they were one of the worst teams in the league, heading into their Thanksgiving Day tilt with an 0-11 record. A torrential downpour over the previous 36-hours turned the field into a swamp. The Eagles won the game 12-0 on four Sam Hall field goals, a rare bright spot in a disastrous season, one best remembered for the “Santa game”.
1989– This one is deserving of it’s own post, which I may do later in the week. The Bounty Bowl ended with the Eagles winning 27-0, the team trying to injure Luis Zendejas, and Jimmie Johnson screaming about Buddy Ryan’s big fat rear end. Here is Jimmie Johnson talking about that game a few years ago.
2008– The Eagles entered this game against the Cardinals with some quarterback controversy. The week before Andy Reid had benched a struggling Donovan McNabb against the Ravens and played Kevin Kolb. He didn’t announce McNabb as his starter until late in the week. McNabb seemed rejuvenated, and his 4 TD passes led the Eagles to a 48-20 win. Of course, these same two teams would meet in the NFC championship game later that season, and the Cardinals would knock off the Eagles 32-25.
2014- The Eagles both came into this game 8-3, with first place in the NFC East on the line. The Eagles, led by backup QB Mark Sanchez, dominated from the outset. Tony Romo, meanwhile, floundered against the Eagles defensive line which dominated the game. The 33-10 win established the Eagles as the class of the NFC East. It also marked the high water mark for the Chip Kellie regime. At that point, the Eagles had gone 19-9 under his tutelage, and the local press was singing his praises. Then the wheels came off. The Eagles would lose to the Seahawks a week later, then fall to the Cowboys in a rematch, before finally falling to the 3-11 Redskins and being eliminated from playoff contention. Since that Cowboys win, the Eagles have gone 5-9 and now the local media is calling for Kellie’s head.
And so the Eagles head to Detroit for only their 7th Thanksgiving Day game in 82 years. The same number that the Yellow Jackets played over a 7-year stretch. Let’s hope the Eagles improve upon their 5-1 Thanksgiving Day record.
Excited about Scott Alberts of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia coming to speak at the store on Saturday, I was doing a little research on the Athletic Club and came across this amazing lithograph. It was drawn by John L. Magee in 1867, and it shows a highly detailed picture of a baseball game between the Athletic Club of Philadelphia and the Atlantics of Brooklyn. The game in question took place on October 22nd, 1866, and was named the Second Great Match Game of the Championship.
Be sure to click on the photo to check out some of the detail. A few things to note. For one, it appears that men have all the Standing Room Only seats, but there a considerable amount of women at the game, all of them sitting in the bleachers. The game was played at the ballpark the team used in the 1860s. It didn’t have a name, but it was located right beside the Wagner Institute (more on that soon). There is a pickpocket who has just gotten busted, it appears, in the lower left, with the stolen pocketwatch in hand.
In the middle, bottom, we see a man holding a sheet of paper with the words Toodles on it.
That man appears to be Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, and he’s presenting Toodles to his business partner, John Sleeper Clark. Booth and Clark managed the Walnut Street Theater at the time, and Toodles was a popular play that Clark regularly starred in. Below is a photoraph of Clark, proving it to be him. And not only would it make sense for the other man to be Booth, but the aquiline nose and prominent jaw certainly make it look like him.
(Before we go any further, I want to be sure to give credit where credit is due. The picture comes courtesy of Baseball Researcher, and his friend Rob Pendell found out about Toodles. Just incredible detective work, and I thought a few more people might be interested in this.)
Booth and Clark weren’t only business partners, they were also brothers-in-law, as Clark had married Booth’s sister Asia. In fact, Clark spent time in prison after the Lincoln assassination because he handed over letters John Wilkes Booth had sent him before the assassination to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which then published them. Less than a year after attending this ballgame, he moved to London with Asia and his kids.
(It wasn’t Magee’s first time drawing a Booth. Around the same time, he had drawn this picture of John Wilkes being tempted by the devil to kill Lincoln.)
The ballpark was located right next to the Wagner Institute, as you can see in the picture below. I have posted it next to picture I took at the Wagner a couple of weeks ago. I believe the place I took the picture would have been right around where the Athletics clubhouse was. Which makes it appear that John L. Magee was probably drawing from a window in the back of the Institute while he was watching the game. It would make sense, as the picture does seem to drawn from an elevated vantage point.
As for the game itself, the two teams had built quite a rivalry, and three weeks previous a record crowd of 30,000 had come out in Philly to see the two teams play (that’s more people than the Phillies average per game this season). The crowd had been so large that the game had to be cancelled. One week previous to the October 22nd game, they had gone to head to head again, in the first game of the championship, and 18,000 had shown up in Brooklyn to see the Atlantics win 27-17. The Athletics had been hurt by the 44 errors they made. It was a rare loss for the Athletics; they would finish 23-2 that season in league play, averaging almost 50 runs a game. Atlantic wasn’t too shabby themselves. They finished 17-3.
As for the players, after consulting with Scott Alberts, who is speaking at Shibe Sports on Saturday at 5:30 p.m., here they are:
- At bat is Dick McBride. He was a star pitcher for the team.
- On deck is Al Reach. Once his playing career was done, he ran a sporting goods store that made him millions. He also helped found the Phillies and was their first team President. His partner at his store was Benjamin Shibe, the man who the store is named after (he co-founded the A’s with Connie Mack). You will now find a historical marker at Reach’s stores former location, 1820 Chestnut.
- Dan Kleinfelder is running to second. He batted leadoff and played outfield.
- Checking in at the table is Charles Gaskill. An outfielder, he would die at the age of 32 in 1870.
- Sitting next to him is Count Sensenderfer. Born on Spring Garden with the name John Phillips Jenkins Sensenderfer in 1848, he was called the Count because of his aristocratic air. He was a star, but his career was beset with injuries. He later served two terms as Philadelphia County Commissioner.
- Standing with bat in hand is Wes Fisler.The son of Camden’s Mayor, he was a short first baseman who today is best known for scoring the first run in MLB hisory.
- Sitting next to him is Patsy Dockney. This Ireland-born star was renowned for his toughness. The night before a game in St. Louis, he got in a knife fight and needed 50 stitches. The next morning, he asked a nurse to fetch him some water, slipped out the door while she was gone, and ran down to the ballpark to catch that days game.
- Standing next to him is Ike Wilkins. Don’t know much about the Athletic shortstop except that a trophy bat presented to him was found in a Philly attic a few years ago.
- And sitting to the far right is Lip Pike. The first Jewish baseball star, he was a 21-year old rookie at the time of this game. He had hit 6 home runs in a single game earlier that year. Nonetheless, he was kicked off the team the next year. He was born in New York, however, and according to his SABR bio, non-native players were frowned upon by the A’s. By the time baseball officially went pro in 1871, he was a star for the Troy Haymakers. There’s a pic of him below.
In Game 2, it was all Athletics, as they were leading 31-12 when the game was called of rain after 7 innings*. The bad weather didn’t stop people from coming out to see the game, however (including at least one well-prepared man, standing near the batter, with an umbrella). 20,000 were on hand to cheer on the home squad, including a pickpocket, an assassin’s brother, and a bleacher full of ladies. Thank you, John L. Magee for creating something so remarkable almost 150 years ago.
*Game 3 was never played; there was an argument about gate receipts.
We have Athletic club t-shirts you can purchase here. Scott Alberts, of the vintage baseball club Athletics, will be speaking at Shibe Sports at 5:30. Admission is free, and beer and snacks will be provided.
Both the Eagles and the Steelers (initially called the Pirates) were born on July 8th 1933, a few months after Pennsylvania voters repealed the law banning sports on Sundays. The Pirates were brought into existence by Art Rooney, while the Eagles were created by a syndicate headed by Bert Bell. Both teams were a disaster on the field and off: they lost almost every game they played and hemorrhaged money. The other Eagles investors dropped out, and Bell was left as the teams coach, owner, GM, scout, and ticket salesman. (By the late 30s, he would actually hawk tickets to Eagles games on Philly street corners. Can you imagine Jeff Lurie or Chip Kelly doing that today?).
The Birds played at the 102,000 seat Municipal Stadium (later known as JFK) with over 100,000 people disguised as empty seats. They won one game in 1939 and again in 1940: both of those wins were against the equally pitiful Pirates (In 1939, the Eagles lone win was against the Pirates and the Pirates lone win was against the Eagles). In 1940, the Eagles averaged less than a yard per carry.
Things weren’t much better for the Pirates, and in 1940, things got so bad for the Pittsburgh team that Art Rooney sold them to a 26-year old steel heir living in New York named Alexis Thompson, who planned to move them to Boston and call them the Ironmen. Rooney then bought a half interest in the Eagles, and Rooney and Bell decided to field a combined PA team known as the Keystoners that would play half of their home games in Pittsburgh, and half of their home games in Philly. But Thompson changed his mind about moving and decided to keep his team in Pittsburgh, foiling Bell and Rooney’s dream of the Keystoners (There would later be a PA soccer team called the Keystoners, or “Stoners” for short).
Not wanting to set up headquarters in Philly and having some regrets about leaving his hometown, Rooney asked Thompson if he would simply swap teams: Thompson would move his new Steelers to Philly to become the Eagles, and Bell and Rooney would take their players to Pittsburgh and come up with a new team name. Thompson agreed. So the players on the 1940 Eagles became members of the 1941 Pittsburgh team, and members of the 1940 Pittsburgh team moved to Philly and became the Eagles. Make sense?
To further confuse matters, Rooney decided he wanted a break from the past and held a contest to come up with a new name for his team. The winner was Steelers. The two teams actually went head to head in week 2 of the 1941 season, with the Eagles prevailing, 10-7. It would be one of two wins the Birds had all season. The Steelers had one. A change of scenery didn’t seem to do the players on either team much good.
Two seasons later, both teams still stunk, but the Steelers were in a further bind: most of their players had been drafted into the armed forces due to WWII, and with only a few weeks to go before summer practice, they had six players under contract*. That’s when Rooney and Bell decided to revisit their idea of a few years previous and combine the two teams. Thompson wasn’t crazy about the idea but agreed, and the “Phil-Pitt Combined” were born (they were never officially called the Steagles. The Philly press still called them the Eagles, but a writer for The Pittsburgh Press named Chet Smith coined the term and the name stuck). They were scheduled to play four home games at Shibe Park and two home games at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. They wore the Eagles kelly green.
The team was co-coached by Steelers coach Walt Kiesling and Eagles coach Greasy Neale. The primary problem with this arrangement was that the two men hated each other. They decided to split the team, with Neale coaching offense and Kiesling coaching defense. According to former Steagle Jack Hinkle,”There was a big blow-up about halfway through the season when Neale called one of the Steelers a ‘statue of s**t.’ Kiesling pulled all of the Steelers off the practice field.”
Despite the awkward arrangement, the team was fairly successful on the field, going 5-4-1. It was the first winning season for the Eagles franchise ever, and they actually defeated and tied eventual division winner Washington. The team played well and Rooney and Bell probably would have been up for reuniting when the leagues asked them to in 1944. Thompson was not. The rift between Kiesling and Neale was too wide to repair, and Thompson had supplied most of the manpower for the 1943 season and didn’t want any more credit going to Bell and Rooney.
The Steelers instead teamed up with the Chicago Cardinals in 1944 to become “Card-Pitt.” The team was awful, and sportswriters called them the “Carpets”, since everyone walked all over them. They finished the season 0-10. The Eagles, meanwhile, drafted Steve Van Buren in the draft that year, and went 7-1-2, missing the playoffs by a mere half game. The year as the Steagles would set into motion their greatest run in team history, as they would finish 1st or 2nd in the division in the following six years, appear in three championship games, and win two of them.
Thompson would sell the team a few years later and die of a heart attack at the age of 40. Rooney would continue to own the Steelers until 1974 when he handed it off to his son Dan. Dan’s son Art II now runs the team. Bell relinquished his role as c0-owner when he became NFL commissioner in 1945. He was still commish in 1959 when he died of a heart attack…while attending a game at Franklin Field between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.
*The vast majority of NFL players who weren’t at war didn’t serve because they were either too old or classified 4-F. The Steagles leading receiver in 1943 was Tony Bova, who was blind in one eye and partially blind in another.
You can read a more in-depth report about the Steagles here, and there is also an excellent book on the topic. You can watch a short video history of the team, featuring Ray Didinger, here. The Steagles shirt is a Shibe Vintage Sports original. You will not find it anywhere else.
On July 15th, 1984, the Philadelphia Stars met the Arizona Wranglers in Tampa, with the USFL Championship on the line. The Stars had lost the championship game the year before, 24-22, in a thriller against the Michigan Panthers, and they did not want to get denied again. They stormed through the regular season, finishing a league best 16-2, then easily dispatched of Brian Sipe, Herschel Walker, and the New Jersey Generals in the first round of the playoffs, 28-7. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they cruised past the Birmingham Stallions, 20-10.
The Wranglers had a tougher road into the finals, finishing the season 10-8, then knocking off two future Hall of Fame QBs in the playoffs, Jim Kelly of the Houston Gamblers and Steve Young of the LA Express.
The Stars were led by their superstar running back, Kelvin Bryant, who had outgained Herschel Walker that season, running for 1406 yards and 13 TDs. At QB, they had the solid if unspectacular Chuck Fusina, who looked for receivers Scott Fitzkee and Willie Collier. The Stars had a terrific O-line, anchored by Irv Eatman and Brat Oates. Their defense, known as the Doghouse Defense, had allowed a stingy 12.5 ppg in the regular season.
Tampa Stadium was packed, and the 52,662 fans on hand were about to be treated to a clinic. On their first possession, the Stars methodically moved downfield, grinding up 66 yards on 10 plays before little used Bryan Thomas scored on a draw from 4 yards out to make it 7-0. After their defense shut down Greg Landry and the Wranglers offense, the offense went back to work, moving 54 yards in 9 plays before a Fusina QB sneak made in 13-0. The 2nd quarter was more of the same, but two Stars fumbles and a missed FG meant that Arizona was only down 13-3 at the half, despite being outgained, 249 yards to 49.
The second half saw more of the same, with the Stars dominating in every phase of the game, and when the final gun sounded, the Stars were USFL champions, having won by a score of 23-3. The Doghouse Defense had allowed Arizona a mere 119 yards of total offense and less than 17 minutes Time of Possession. Kelvin Bryant had rushed for 115 yards despite a bad toe, and Chuck Fusina was named MVP after a methodical game at QB.
The team would have a parade at LOVE Park the following week. It would be their last game as the Philadelphia Stars. The owners, spurred on by Donald Trump, made the fatal error of voting to move to the fall in 1986. KNowing he couldn’t compete with the Eagles, owner Myles Tanebaum moved the team to Baltimore that offseason. They would win a title as the Baltimore Stars in 1985 (despite practicing and maintaining their headquarters in Philly), but the league would fold before the 1986 season.
The Stars would finish as the best team in USFL history with a 48-13-1 record, and there were some who thought they could have competed in the NFL. In fact, legend has it that Tanenbaum and Tose once ran into each other at Old Original Bookbinders. Tanenbaum challenged Tose to a game between the Eagles and Stars. Tose wanted to bet $1 million on his Eagles. Tanenbaum replied, “Leonard, if I thought you were good for the money I’d do it in a heartbeat.” The two men had to be seperated, and sadly, the two teams never played. Sadder still, the most succesful pro sports team in Philadelphia history only called Philly home for two years.
If you want to learn more about the Stars, I highly recommend this piece in Jerseyman Magazine.
On Sunday afternoon, the Phillies got no-hit by Josh Beckett at Citizen’s Bank Park. It was only the 2nd no-hitter ever thrown at CBP (the first was thrown by Roy Halladay). But it was hardly the first time the Phils had been no-hit. Here’s a list of all previous no-hitters thrown against the Phillies with fun facts about each one.
September 13, 1883-Hugh Daily/ Cleveland Blues. The first man to no-hit the Phillies had only one hand…his left hand had been blown off in a gun accident when he was a kid. The next year he would throw 4 one-hitters in a single season, a record he still shares today with Grover Cleveland Alexander.
July 12, 1900-Noodles Hahn/ Cincinnati Reds. The first MLB no-hitter of the new century. Remarkably, the next day after getting no-hit, the Phillies scored 23 runs. (You can get yourself a 1900 Reds cap here.)
July 4, 1908-Hooks Wiltse/ New York Giants. This is a famous one, where a blown umpire’s call cost Wiltse a perfect game with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the 9th.
September 6th, 1912- Jeff Tesreau/ New York Giants. Tesreau was a rookie sensation, leading the NL with a 1.96 ERA that year.
September 9th, 1914- Iron Davis/ Boston Braves. The no-hitter was the highlight of Davis’s otherwise uneventful major league career. Interestingly, he also went 3-4 at the plate that afternoon. They were the only three hits he had all year. (You can purchase a Braves hat from that era here.)
May 7th, 1922- Jesse Barnes/ New York Giants. Three years earlier, Barnes and the Giants had beaten the Phillies at the Polo Grounds in 51 minutes, still the shortest 9-inning game in MLB history.
September 13, 1925-Dazzy Vance/ Brooklyn Robins.Known for his blazing fastball, Vance would lead the NL in strikeouts for 7 straight years, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.
June 12th, 1954-Jim Wilson/ Milwaukee Braves. Wilson was a journeyman who played for seven different teams in his 12 year career. He later became GM of the Milwaukee Brewers. (You can purchase a 1954 Milwaukee Braves hat here.)
September 25, 1956- Sal Maglie/ Brooklyn Dodgers. Two weeks after throwing this no-hitter against the Phils, Sal the Barber was on the losing end of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series. (Get the iconic 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers hat here.)
August 18th, 1960- Lew Burdette/ Milwaukee Braves. The Braves beat the Phillies 1-0. Burdette scored the only run of the game.
September 16, 1960- Warren Spahn/ Milwaukee Braves. The 39 year-old lefty became the second Brave pitcher to no-hit the Phillies in less than a month. Both games took place at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
May 17, 1963- Don Nottebart/ Houston Colt .45s. The 20-year old Nottebart (above, celebrating the no-no with teammates) threw the first no-hitter in .45s/Astros history. The Phillies did manage to push a run across, however, thanks to an error and a sac fly.
June 4, 1964- Sandy Koufax/ LA Dodgers. Koufax’s third no-hitter in three years, only rookie Dick Allen reached base, on a walk in the 4th.
July 29th, 1968- George Culver/ Cincinnati Reds. A few years later, Culver would become a member of the Phillies. (Get a 1960s Cincinnati Reds hat here.)
April 17th, 1969- Bill Stoneman/ Montreal Expos. Only the 9th game in the history of the Expos franchise, and only Stoneman’s fifth start in the majors. He would throw another no-no three years later. This would be the last no-hitter pitched against the Phillies on their home field until 2014. (The Phillies were never no-hit at Vet Stadium.) (Purchase a 1969 Expos hat here.)
July 20th, 1970- Bill Singer/ LA Dodgers. Pretty cool: you can listen to Vin Scully call the 9th inning of this no-hitter here.
April 16th, 1972- Burt Hooton/ Chicago Cubs. Hooton is of course best remembered for melting down in the famous Black Friday game in 1977. But five years previous, as a Cubs rookie, he threw a no-hitter against the Phillies in only the 4th start of his career.
April 16th, 1978- Bob Forsch/ St. Louis Cardinals. The last no-hitter thrown against the Phils until Beckett’s on Sunday, it was helped by a controversial call by the official scorer in the 8th inning, giving an error on a play the Phillies thought was a hit by Garry Maddox.
May 25th, 2014- Josh Beckett/ LA Dodgers. The 5th Dodger pitcher to no-hit the Phillies, the most of any team.
Part of the fun of being a baseball fan is the knowledge that otherwise ordinary players sometimes become legends overnight. Howard Ehmke was one of those players. Though he had been a very effective pitcher for the Red Sox in the early 1920s, by 1929 he had run out of steam, and Connie Mack was ready to let him go that August. But the 35-year old sidewinder convinced the Tall Tactician that he had one more great game left in his arm, and he remained on the roster.
Mack shocked the baseball world when he went with Ehmke as his starter before Game 1 of the 1929 World Series against the Cubs. Even Al Simmons was reported to have said to Mack when he saw Ehmke warm up, “Are you going to pitch him?” It was one of the greatest hunches in baseball history. Ehmke mowed down the Cubs right-handed heavy lineup, striking out 13 and leading the A’s to a 3-1 win (You can read the full story here). They would go on to win the Series in 5 games. Only three pitchers have ever struck out more than 13 in the 84 Fall Classics since then.
That winter, he decided to approach Mack with an idea. Baseball fields turned into such a mess when it started to rain, Ehmke thought it would be a good idea to maintain the integrity of the infield by spreading a large canvas tarpaulin over the diamond when it started to rain. Mack decided to invest in the company. It paid off. Both the tarp and Ehmke Manufacturing were born, and the company still operates out of Northeast Philadelphia (though they now make military gear instead of baseball gear).
The team was born at the Super Bowl. Philly construction tycoon Tom McCloskey was in LA for the 1973 Super Bowl with 8 friends, but couldn’t find a ticket. Kansas City Chief owner Lamar Hunt heard about McCloskey’s dilemma and scrounged him up 9 tickets. Hunt, an NASL owner as well as NFL owner, then persuaded McCloskey to buy an North American Soccer League team and put it in Philly.
Other than the Flyers,Philadelphia’s pro franchises at that point were a joke. The 1972-73 Sixers were wrapping up a 9-73 season, the worst in NBA history. The Phillies were coming off that famous 1972 season, where Steve Carlton recorded 27 of their 59 wins. Over the previous 5 seasons, the Eagles had gone a combined 17-49-5. So Philadelphians were excited by the prospect of a potential winner, and a league record 21,700 attended the team’s home opener. The team would finish the season averaging over 11,000 fans per contest, by far the best in the league. The fans delighted in the scrappy play of the squad, particularly the 5’5″ sparkplug Andy “The Flea” Provan and stingy rookie goalkeeper Bob Rigby. Coach Al Miller led a fast moving offense that was fun to watch, and the Atoms went 9-2-8 on the season, good enough for 2nd in the league after the Dallas Tornadoes.
The Atoms knocked off the Toronto Metros 3-0 in the playoff semifinals, then took on Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Tornadoes in the championship game. Bill Straub, a Philly native who was pressed into action after not playing for the team all season, scored a goal, Dallas kicked another one into their own net, and Bill Rigby shut down the powerful Dallas offense. Philadelphia was NASL champion in their first season of existence, and Rigby became the first soccer player to ever be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You can watch highlights of that game here.
It was a rapid rise to the top, and an equally quick fall. They would never make the playoffs again, and after a promising start, the team folded in 1976. A new NASL team, the Philadelphia Fury, would begin play in 1978.
The Philadelphia Firebirds were a minor league ice hockey team that began play in Philly in 1974. One of their first owners was former Phillie great Robin Roberts, though he left after they lost a ton of money in their first season.
They began play in the North American Hockey League, where they played from 1974-1977. Among the players on that inaugural team was goalie Reggie Lemelin, who would play for the team for five years before later enjoying some success with the Calgary Flames and would be the Flyers goaltending coach for 13 years.
The team had some great nicknames. The best was Gordie “Road Hog” Brooks, but they also had Dave “Crash” Kelly, Fred “Fats” Williams, Bob “Waldo” Neely, and enforcer Mike “Barretta” Haworth.
The Firebirds won the league’s Lockhart Cup in 1976, defeating the Beauce Jaros, a team based in Quebec, 4 games to 2. (Here’s a great photo of a packed house in Philly for one of those games. A friend of mine who was at one of those games said that Paul Newman attended, as he was scouting for his upcoming film Slap Shot, which was based on the NAHL.)
The league folded in 1977, and the team moved to the American Hockey League. They played there for two years (in one of those seasons, they featured a right wing named Steve Coates; they also had a young left wing named Mike Eruzione who played with them for 6 games before becoming a national hero), then moved to Syracuse in 1979, where they played for one year as the Syracuse Firebirds. They folded a year later. For their 5-year run in Philly, they played at Convention Hall on the edge of Penn’s campus near Franklin Field.