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.
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).
October 4, 1929 (CHICAGO)- Hello there sports fans, Hap Jackson here. So glad you’ve decided to join us here at the Philadelphia Bugle for exclusive coverage of the 1929 World Series between the National League champion CHicago Cubs and American League champion Philadelphia Athletics. Let’s take a look at the history of these squads, starting with Chicago.
CHICAGO CUBS– The Cubs were founded as the White Stockings in 1871, though they didn’t play the next season due to the Great Chicago Fire. In 1876, they became one of the charter members of the National League. Led by and later owned by Albert Spalding (founder of Spalding Sporting goods), the team was quite successful in the 1880s, and went through several name changes, first the Colts and then the Orphans.
In 1902, Spalding sold the team to Jim Hart, and they became known as the Cubs. Led by Tinkers, Evers and Chance, (Does any schoolboy in America not know the poem about them by heart?) the squad was the bee’s knees, winning 4 pennants and 2 World Series between 1906 and 1910. That includes the 1910 World Series, which they lost to Mack and the A’s, 4 games to 1. Therefore their last World Series win was way back in 1908. Can they end their 21-year drought this year? We’ll soon find out.
Strangely, the Cubs are both owned and managed by Philadelphia natives. The team is owned by William Wrigley, who took over majority ownership in 1921. They are led on the field by Joe McCarthy, who took over management duties in 1926.
PHILADELPHIA A’S– The A’s got their start in 1901 (There were other teams called the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1870s but none was a forerunner of this team). The new American League wanted a team in Philly to compete with the Phillies. Former Pittsburgh Pirate catcher and manager Connie Mack agreed to take over control of the team and purchase 25% of it. He convinced sporting good magnate Ben Shibe to become majority owner.
The team then went about poaching players from the National League, including the highly controversial signing of Nap Lajoie. The battle between the Phillies and the A’s for Lajoie was so acrimonious that he was finally sent packing to Cleveland. Less than 10 years after forming, the team was a dominant force in the majors, winning the World Series in 1910, 1911, and 1913, and getting upset in the 1914 Series. But after Mack sold all of his star players in 1915, the team tanked harder than any team ever has before, going 43-109 in 1915. They finished last 7 straight years before finally starting to right the ship in the past few years. In 1927, the A’s finished 2nd to the Yankees, and in 1928, they missed a pennant by 2 games. This year, they dominated, and cruised to the pennant, rocking Ruth and the Yankees by 18 games.
I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about former Phillies managers*. By far, the most interesting tale I’ve found has been that of Arthur Irwin, manager of the team from 1894-1895. He was quite a character. He is credited with adding fingers to the baseball glove (he did so to protect two broken fingers) when he was a player, he was UPenn’s head baseball coach for numerous years, he was an innovator of the electric scoreboard, and as a pro manager he led one of my favorite squads in Phillies history, the mid-1890s squad led by Big Ed Delahanty and lefty catcher Jack Clements. After leaving the Phils, he continued to manage and scout for a number of minor league teams.
But it is his death in July of 1921 that makes him worthy of further study. He had relinquished his position as scout for the Hartford club of the Eastern League a few weeks earlier due to abdominal trouble, caused by stomach cancer (Supposedly. The doctor who diagnosed him was never found). The former Phillie skipper was also suffering from “nervous attacks”. He decided to book a berth on a ship, the Calvin Austin, to ride from New York to Boston. Once at sea, he told a fellow passenger on the steamer, “I am going home to die.” Irwin didn’t make it home. When the steamer pulled up in Boston, Irwin was not on board. As a newspaper reported the next day, “Irwin was with a party of friends aboard the steamer. Members of the party said today that he was depressed when he left them before midnight.” They never saw him again.
It was a few days after his disappearance that the incredible truth was revealed. The July 20th New York Times screamed: “IRWIN’S DOUBLE LIFE BARED BY SUICIDE” in all caps. It turned out that Irwin had two families, one in Boston, with a wife named Elizabeth and three kids, and another in New York City, with a wife named May and three kids. The New York wife never had any idea she was married to a two-timer. According to the Gettysburg Times on July 22, 1921, “Mrs. Irwin and her son, F. Harold Irwin, first heard of the Boston family from a reporter. They were in the widow’s apartment at 565 West 192nd Street. ‘I cannot believe it,” Mrs. Irwin said. “Since we were married 27 years ago in Philadelphia, Arthur has been a model husband. He was seldom away from home for more than a day or two at a time.'”
Elizabeth, whom Irwin had married first but who he had spent much less time with in the past 30 years, wasn’t quite as unprepared for the news. “I never suspected my husband even when years ago members of my family tried to tell me there was…probably another woman.” According to the New York Times, “She uttered no blame for her husband, but said the missteps of her husband must have been entirely the fault of the woman in New York.” She further consoled herself with the fact he had been headed for Boston at the time of his death. “I feel confident and happy in the belief that, although he had this other woman in New York, he was on the way to see me when he died-that he knew he was dying and that he turned to me as the woman he really loved at the last. He wanted to die in my arms.”
His death was a compelling human interest story, but it was also a quite a mystery. Did he kill himself because he was so physically ill or because he was so devastated by what he had done? Was he murdered, as perhaps someone knew that he had just made $2000 and were hoping to get their hands on it? Did he die at all, or was it all an elaborate ruse to get out of the hole he had dug for himself? You know, like Elvis. Questions and conspiracy theories abound, spurred on by the mysterious acts of his final days.
Before he hopped on the ship, he sent a check to his “legal” wife Elizabeth in Boston for $500 and a note reading, “God Bless You All”. It was unusual in that he had almost never shipped money home or sent such cryptic notes.
He had made $2000 the day before he boarded the steamer, as he had sold the rights to an electric scoreboard he had helped to create. (You can read about Harvard “watching” the 1920 Rose Bowl on one such scoreboard here. I told you Irwin was an interesting dude.) But the check on the bill of sale was made out to “Seeler”, and no-one named Seeler was ever found. $500 of the sale went to Elizabeth, and the other $1500 went to May in New York. So much for Elizabeth’s claim that he loved her more.
Of course, with any good double life and mysterious death story must come a few conspiracy theories, and this one comes to us courtesy of a great piece on Irwin in the Torontoist:
There were rumours, recounted in David Nemec’s The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Major League Baseball (University of Alabama Press, 2006), that Irwin had withdrawn $5,000 from his account prior to sailing—perhaps enough motive to prompt theft and murder. Others, more compellingly, suggested that because the doctor who’d diagnosed Irwin’s fatal illness had never come forward, he had faked his death. According to a 1922 letter at Cooperstown from a former teammate of Irwin queried: “How can Arthur Irwin be dead? I just saw him in Oklahoma.”
Needless to say, if anyone reading this has any further information about this incredible story, we would love to hear it. I have had little success finding any sort of postcript to this story, and would love to hear how things turned out for both families. Please leave a message in the comments with your email address.
*Fun fact, the Phillies had 22 managers during the time that Connie Mack ran the A’s. In the pic below, that’s Irwin holding the ball and giving the “Heil Fuhrer” salute. Love that photo. Check out the babe on the fence ad.
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.
Your first reaction to this was probably a lot like mine: who in the hell is Fred Leach? An online search turns up a wiki page that is a full two sentences long. His facebook page has all of two likes. Well I guess that’s why Art though he should make the list. After all, the outfielder batted .312 during his 6 years with the squad, with 44 homers and 301 RBIs. That’s pretty damn impressive, especially when you consider he never picked up a baseball bat until he was 21 years old. And perhaps that’s what makes him a bit more special…he never played baseball until he reached an age when he needed a job, so he thought he’d give baseball a try. Four years later, he was in the Big Show. And his six years in Philly were good enough to make him #77 all time on the Phillies Nation’s 100 Greatest Phillies of all Time list. So what are you waiting for? Like old Freddy on facebook already!
On August 5th, 1921, the Phillies travelled to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates. The Phils were just starting that dreadful period from 1919-1947 when they would finish last or next to last 24 times. The Pirates, meanwhile, were leading the National League at the time (they would finish 2nd to the Giants after a late season swoon). The Pirates would win the game, 8-5. But what made the game special was that it was the first one every covered on radio. And though nobody knew it at the time (people thought baseball would be boring on the radio), they were starting a revolution. The man who called the game that afternoon was 26-year old Pittsburgh DeeJay Harold Arlin (left), who announced by talking into a telephone from a box seat in the crowd. Here’s the full story from explorepahistory.com:
On the afternoon of Friday, August 5, 1921, Harold Arlin sat down in a box seat behind home plate to watch the Pirates defeat the Phillies, 8-5. He wasn’t there just to watch, though; he was also there to tell fans beyond the ballpark what he was seeing. When he opened his mouth to speak into the telephone he was holding, Arlin changed the way Americans would enjoy baseball, and indeed, every other sport, forever…
“We were looking for programming,” Arlin recalled years later, “and baseball seemed a natural. I went to Forbes Field and set up shop.” The operation, a hand-held telephone connected to a transmitter in a box behind home plate, had a few glitches, though. “Nobody told me I had to talk between pitches,” he conceded, and when he did, his distinctive deep voice did not always come through. “Sometimes the transmitter didn’t work. Often the crowd noise would drown us out. We didn’t know whether we’d talk into a total vacuum or whether somebody would hear us.”
Plenty of “somebodies” did, and sports” broadcasting became a sensation. Radio sets flew off the shelves, and fans, intrigued by what they were hearing, arrived at Forbes Field in record numbers. The game took on a new dimension as Arlin learned to paint images with his words and infuse drama into the proceedings. For the first time, baseball fans could be in two places at once: in the stands and in their living rooms. It no longer became necessary to make a trip to the ballpark to take in a game; the game, instead, could come to you.
Arlin got out of the radio game in 1925, but he did make a rather remarkable reappearance in 1972. His grandson Steve played several seasons for the Padres. In 1972, the Pads came to Pittsburgh to take on the Bucs. Arlin, by now a 77-year old man, got to call a few innings of his grandson playing baseball, in the same city where he had called the first game. How cool is that?
Happy 115th birthday to Cliff Lee. Cliff came to the Phillies in 1921 after his first team, the Pirates, put him on waivers. Lee had three terrific seasons with the Phillies. His best was 1922, when he hit .322 with 17 homers and 77 RBIs. He is also a reminder that not everything is on the internet. I can find next to no info on him, which is too bad, because I’m dying to know why he hit so well but only played over 100 games twice in his career. I also wonder why he was dropped by the Indians a year after batting .322 for them, and never appeared in the majors again. If anyone has any info on the original Cliff Lee, holler at me. Here are his career stats.
A few days ago, I posted Part 1 of my interview with local history professor and author Bruce Kuklick, who wrote the incredible book To Every Thing a Season about Shibe Park and how it affected the surrounding neighborhood through the decades. If you are a fan of Philadelphia sports history, this book is simply a must read.
In Part 2 of our interview, he talks about the reputation of Connie Mack (left) in the city, whether or not there was an uproar in Philly when the Athletics moved away, and what were the best and worst things about Shibe Park. Next week, he’ll talk about how hard it was to sell booze at Shibe, how rowdy the fans were, and compare it to Citizen’s Bank Park.
JGT: The book deals a lot with Connie Mack. Obviously, since he ran the team for 50 years. Was he seen as a local hero or as a local goat, or a little bit of both depending?
KUKLICK: I’d say in the 1920s, when he’s in his 60s, he looks like he’s over the hill, and then he has this one last hurrah where he creates this 1929-1931 dynasty and he is a Philadelphia hero. In fact he gets, in ’29, the Bok Award, which is usually given to like the governor or some political or social big wig. And that it went to a baseball guy is really extraordinary at that time. In the ’20s, as he built that team up, he is more than a local hero. He is a national sports statesman. Then, when the team tanks in the ’30s and Mack is in his 70s, he goes downhill pretty fast.
In the ’50s, everybody thinks, “This guy is over the hill. Let’s get rid of him.” It’s sad, because no one will say it. Some people say that the last year he managed he was kind of like Reagan at the end of the Reagan years, just completely out of it. So I think he went through all these kinds of permutations, but at his height he was, you know…
JGT: King of the city?
JGT: When the Phillies won a couple of years ago, the city went nuts, with a party on Broad Street and a parade afterwards. Did they used to do that back then when the A’s won?
KUKLICK: Yeah. In ’29 is the first World Series win, that’s the big one. Then they do it again in ’30. And after that Mack says, “The Philadelphia fans don’t appreciate a winner. They don’t care about it anymore.” And his argument that he sold off the team was that in ’31 there wasn’t much fan support. And what he wanted to do was not to ensure that they would win, but get them to play .600 ball instead of .680 ball.
JGT: So there would be a pennant chase in September and people would want to come out to the ballpark.
KUKLICK: Right. But he miscalculated how hard it is to do these things.
JGT: It’s hard enough to build a winner, much less a team that wins exactly 60% of their ballgames.
JGT: So getting back to the earlier question, do you know if they had a parade or people running wild in the streets? (after the A’s won the Series in the late 20s-early 30s)
KUKLICK: I know that there was a lot of cheering in the streets. Not necessarily down Broad Street. But all over North Philly, you would know that this had happened, that this was big news.
JGT: Now, I don’t know if you know this, but the Oakland A’s are probably going to move in the next couple of years.
KUKLICK: I did not know that.
JGT: They’ll probably stay on the West Coast, but there is a small but vocal local minority that wants them to come back to Philadelphia. Could this area support two baseball teams?
KUKLICK: That would be my dream come true. I don’t know. I don’t know.
JGT: Well, let’s rewind a little bit. When they did move to Kansas City initially, was there any local outrage?
KUKLICK: No. The leaving of the Dodgers and the Giants, is really…I mean, I know people who still won’t forgive the owners who left, Stoneham and O’Malley. Who hate them. Who still hate them. You won’t find that in Philly. The A’s from 1950-54 were really bad, and the Phillies looked so good all of a sudden, people got suckered into thinking they had something with the Phillies. There was a group, Save the A’s, that put together a feeble little attempt of guys with very little money to try to keep the franchise in the city. But they got forgotten (snaps fingers) like that once they left.
JGT: Getting back to Shibe. What were the best things about Shibe Park and what were the worst things?
KUKLICK: I used to go there as a kid. That’s how I learned my baseball. My dad used to take me. By the end, it was really a dump. When the A’s left the city, Bob Carpenter, who was the Phillies owner, had no alternative but to buy the park. He didn’t want it, he wasn’t interested in ballparks. And he really let it get run down. Because from the very start he was trying to figure out some way to have a new facility. He thought this was a white elephant. For the last 10 years, from about 1960 to 1970, the place doesn’t get maintained at all. That’s the worst part. Also the neighborhood was really decaying. There was no place to park. It really wasn’t a pleasant experience.
What was really spectacular about that place for me and this might be silly but really it is heartfelt. That ballpark is right in the middle of the city. And you are in the middle of an urban area. And you walk into this park, and it’s dark and there’s concrete around, and then you come up to one of the entrances to the field, and you see this green diamond. There’s just something there that’s just incredible. And I talked to a lot of people who said, “Here I was some little kid from South Philly or West Philly and had never really seen the countryside and all of a sudden inside a building there’s this green grass and it’s like the country.”
If you enjoy reading this site, I heartily recommend that you buy the book To Every Thing a Season by Bruce Kuklick (pronounced Cook-lick). This is the quite simply the best book I have read yet about Philadelphia sports. The book is about Shibe Park, and it covers not only the games that took place there, but the way it helped to shape the surrounding neighborhood over the nearly 70 years it stood at 20th and Lehigh. A truly terrific read that is not only filled with a ton of fascinating facts about the old Phillies and A’s ball clubs, but also a terrific look at the city itself between 1909 and 1976.
I sat down to an interview with Kuklick, and the affable and excitable UPenn History professor talked about Connie Mack’s legacy, why people back in the day decided whether to root for the Phillies or the Athletics (since they played 6 blocks away from each other), and which team is better, the 2011 Phils or the 1929 A’s. There’s so much good stuff in this interview that I’m going to split it into three parts. This is part one. Enjoy! -Johnny Goodtimes
JGT: What inspired you to write this book?
KUKLICK: I’m a long time baseball fan, but up until the point of writing this book, I had kind of fallen away from the game. It was partly the Phillies. They were so lousy in the 60s that I didn’t pay any attention to them. And then my daughter started going to public school in Philly and started getting involved with the Phillies, and she and I started going to games regularly again. I looked around, it was then the Vet, and I said, “How did we get to this wretched, horrible ballpark?” Which I really hated. “What happened to take us away from that old ballpark, Connie Mack Stadium, Shibe Park?” And I’m a historian, and I think, “I can figure this out.” So I started doing the research in old newspapers at the Temple Urban Archives…and then I was hooked. I spent more time up there at Temple than I care to tell you about. For 5 years I was up there every Thursday and Friday.
JGT: One thing a lot of people have asked me about and I haven’t been able to find a good answer for yet is this: the Athletics and the Phillies played extremely close to each other. The two ballparks (Shibe and Baker Bowl) were 6 blocks away. How did fans decide which team they were going to be a fan of?
KUKLICK: It wasn’t much of a choice. The A’s were the team of choice. I mean, you’re a loser if you’re a Phillies fan. If you look at statistics on attendance, the Phillies get nobody. I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that it was a very, very local crowd. If you lived 2 blocks from the Phillies and 4 blocks from the A’s, maybe you’d go there. But they had nobody. They had lousy players. Whenever they had a good player they would sell them to make ends meet (ed. note: sound familiar, Pittsburgh Pirate fans?) There were a couple of scandals around them in the early 1940s, about gambling and stuff. So it’s not really much of a choice. The A’s are the premiere team. People go and see the A’s play. The Phillies are kind of a minor 2nd thought, kind of an embarrassment to the National League. Of course, a lot of the National League teams are happy to have the Phillies around.
JGT: They’ve got someone to beat up on every couple of weeks.
KUKLICK: That’s right. That’s right. That’s why I like your site. Finally somebody says, “Sure the Phillies are great. Sure Chase Utley is great. But is he the greatest 2nd baseman that’s ever played here? Absolutely not. He doesn’t even come close.” People don’t realize that the 1929, 1930, and 1931 A’s are better than even this team today, which I think is the best team this franchise has had.
JGT: Sports Illustrated called that the team time forgot. People forget that those A’s smoked Ruth, Gehrig, and the Yankees in the standings.
KUKLICK: I know that.
JGT: Well, it’s a great trivia question. What Philadelphia pro team has won the most championships?That team is the one that moved away from here 57 years ago.
KUKLICK: And it’s not only that. They were only here for 54 years too. The Phillies have had a lot more years to put it together.
JGT: You had two stadiums, Shibe Park and the Baker Bowl. Was Shibe Park superior to the Baker Bowl?
KUKLICK: Oh yeah. In fact the Phillies moved to Shibe in 1938. They had a couple of fires in the Baker Bowl, part of the stands collapsed, a repeated number of disasters.
JGT: Now Shibe was built in 1908 and 1909. When it was built, was it considered revolutionary?
KUKLICK: It was the first concrete and steel stadium. What that means is that it’s concrete that they stick steels rods in to make it almost indestructible. In fact, I bet you if you dig up under that church (there’s now a church on the old Shibe Park grounds) you’ll find bits of Shibe Park under the ground. I was told that it was so difficult to knock this place down that they finally just dug a huge hole at 21st and Lehigh and just put all the stuff in there and covered it over.
It’s the first stadium in the United States that uses this new technology, and it’s rapidly followed by a lot of similar stadiums. The two most important ones now are Fenway and Wrigley.
JGT: So did that sort of kick off a boom the way that Camden Yards in the 90s did?
KUKLICK: Oh yeah. Yeah. It’s the first one.
To read part 2 of this interview, click here. Then, as part of our Beer Week coverage, we’ll post Part 3, where he talks about how Connie Mack fought for decades to get booze into the ballpark, and how Pennsylvania’s blue laws and bars near the ballpark prevented him from doing so.
- If you haven’t done so already, and want to learn more about the early A’s, be sure to check out the interview I did with Chief Bender biographer Tom Swift.
- You’ll also enjoy this interview I did with former Philadelphia A’s fan John Rooney, who cheered the team on in 1929.
- And I’m pretty sure you’ll like this piece I did on former A’s player Simon Nicholls, who died tragically at age 28.