Interview with Shibe Park Historian Bruce Kuklick, Part 2.

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?

KUKLICK: Yeah.

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.

KUKLICK: Right.

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.”

To read part 3 of our interview with Bruce, click here.


The Babe Calls It a Career in Philly

On May 25th, 1935, the Babe, playing out his career as a member of the Boston Braves, put on a show in Pittsburgh. He went 4-4 with 3 Home Runs and 6 RBIs. In the two movies that depicted the Babe’s career (The Babe Ruth Story in 1948 and The Babe in 1992), it was portrayed as his final game. It was not. The Babe played in 5 more games, the last of which came at Baker Bowl against the Phillies on Memorial Day, May 30th. It did not provide much of a Hollywood ending.

The following comes from the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society:

Ruth was inserted in the line-up, batting third and playing leftfield. Coming up to bat in the first inning, Ruth faced Phillies’ pitcher Jim Bivin. 1935 was Bivin’s only year in the Major Leagues, and he played the entire season with the Phillies. He compiled an unenviable 2-9 record for a woeful team that would finish the season in seventh place with a 56-93 record. Bivin, nevertheless, would have the singular distinction of being the last pitcher ever to face Babe Ruth in a Major League game.

At the plate, Ruth grounded out softly to Phillies first baseman Dolph Camilli as the Braves went down without scoring any runs in the inning. Ruth took his customary place in the outfield for the bottom half of the inning. Phillies’ second baseman Lou Chiozza hit a soft fly to leftfield. Ruth came in trying to make the catch, but the ball dropped in front of him and rolled past him to the wall. A run scored, but Chiozza, trying for an inside-the-park home run, was thrown out at the plate when Braves shortstop Bill Urbanski retrieved the ball and got it back to Braves catcher Al Spohrer in time for the tag out. The Phillies wound up scoring three runs in the inning and would go on to win the game 11-6.

The Babe, frustrated, took himself out of the game after the first inning. The Babe had already stated that this would be the last road trip of his career, so the fans, aware that this was to be his final appearance in Philadelphia, gave him a loud ovation. The following comes from Rich Westcott’s book Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks:

As the inning ended, Ruth tucked his glove in his pocket, turned, and ran to the clubhouse in centerfield. The fans, sensing that the end of a glorious career might have arrived, rose and gave Ruth a standing ovation.

Catcher Joe Holden and trainer Leo (Red) Miller were in the Phillies clubhouse when Ruth clattered up the stairs past Boston’s first-floor clubhouse and burst through the door into the home team’s locker room. “Red turned and said, ‘Hello, Babe. Is there anything I can do?’ He thought he might have pulled a muscle,” Holden remembered. “Babe said, ‘No, no, there’s nothing you can do for old age. I’ve just had too many good days to have this happen to me.’ Then I saw Red shake hands with the Babe. It didn’t register at the time that Babe’s career was over.”

RELATED: The 1929 World Series Project.

Phils face Babe and the Red Sox in the 1915 World Series.

And follow Philly Sports History on Facebook! 


An Interview with Shibe Park Historian Bruce Kuklick, Part 1

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.


Phillies Play in First Ever Night Game

On May 24th, 1935, President Roosevelt turned a golden telegraph key. That lit up a signal light on a table at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Reds GM Larry MacPhail then flipped a switch, and 632 Mazda lamps, 1500 watts each, lit up the night sky. The major leagues kicked off the Age of Light, something some historians say saved the sport in smaller towns.

Night baseball was not a new concept. The minor leagues had started hosting night games in the 1920s. The Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues started barnstorming with lights, carrying lights from venue to venue on the team bus, in 1930. But there were plenty in the Majors who did not want night baseball. Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith famously said, “There is no chance of night baseball ever being popular in the bigger cities. High class baseball cannot be played at night under artificial light.”

But the Great Depression had rocked the Reds, who were floundering the standings and averaging under 2000 fans per game by the mid 1930s. Their owner, Sidney Weil, was on the verge of bankruptcy when the Central Trust Bank took control of the team. Powel Crosley (A humble man who quickly named the stadium after himself) bought the team from the bank in 1934, and signed on Larry MacPhail as his GM. MacPhail had been GM of a minor league team in Columbus, OH, that had installed lights a few years previous and seen their attendance skyrocket during the night games. Crosley, seeing a stadium full of empty seats, didn’t need much convincing to try night games. Conservative baseball Commish, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was not warm to the idea at first, but Crosley and MacPhail prevailed upon him that without drastic measures, baseball was going to leave the Queen City. Being staunchly against franchise relocation (Not a single team switched cities during Landis’s 22 year reign as commissioner), the Commish conceded to allow the Reds to play 7 experimental games under lights in the 1935 season.

And so, on May 24th, 1935, the 8-17 Phillies came to town to take on the 11-16 Reds. Both teams were on their way to forgettable seasons, finishing 6th and 7th in the National League. But on this night, the two squads were going make history. They were going to play under artificial light.

The field was made twice as bright as any minor league park. The Reds, who had played an afternoon home game the day before in front of 2,000  fans, were greeted by a cheering throng of 20,000 as they took the field that Wednesday evening. The lights were flipped on, Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem yelled “Play Ball!” and a new era in baseball history had begun. The Reds won the game, 2-1, but more importantly, night baseball had proved to be both legitimate and successful. There were no errors in the game, proving wrong the naysayers who said that players would lose the ball in the night sky. And the game had proved to a hit with fans and players. Said Reds first baseman Billy Sullivan after the game, “No pun intended, but there was electricity in the air-on the field, in the stands, and in the dugout. Ballplayers did not get blase. They got fired up too.”

Four years later, lights were erected at Shibe, and the Athletics became the first AL team to host a night game. Two weeks later the Phillies, also playing at Shibe, played their first night game. The last non- expansion team to get lights, the Chicago Cubs, finally did so in 1988. Their opponents that day? The Philadelphia Phillies.

Want to learn more about this game? Two great resources for this article were this crosley-field.com site and the book Let their Be Light. Like the story and our site. Please click “Like” below to help us spread the word. Thanks!


In Case You Were Curious…and You Were

On Monday night Vin Mazzaro of the Royals gave up an incredible 14 runs in 2 1/3 innings. It was statistically the worst pitching performance in modern baseball history. So let’s face it, you’re curious: what have been the worst performances All-Time by Phillies pitchers? Well in terms of runs allowed, 3 Phillies pitchers have allowed 14 or more runs in a game in the last 100 years. Strangely, all 3 times their opponents were the NY Giants.

In 1933, good ol’ Flint Rhem (left) gave up 21 hits and 16 runs in 8 innings. All of those runs were earned. Two years earlier, Dutch Schlesler had given up 16 runs, but only 14 of them earned, against those same Giants. And in 1947, Al Jurisch of the Phils gave up 14 runs in 8 splendid innings of work. In fact, only two teams have had as many as 3 pitchers give up 14 or more runs in a game…the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia A’s.


The Tragedy of Slim Jones

The Philadelphia Stars took on the Chicago American Giants in the 1934 Negro National League Championship. It was a highly emotional and controversial Series. The Chicago American Giants got to host the first 4 games, winning three. The teams came back to Philly, where the Stars won Games 5 and 6 (interestingly, all of the Philly games were played on what is now West Philly High’s baseball field.) Game 7 was called of darkness with the two teams tied at 4, a finish only Bud Selig could appreciate. So the teams played a Game 8 the next day.

On the hill for the Stars was their 21-year old phenom, Slim Jones. Jones was 6’6″ and all of 180 pounds, and his season had been nothing short of spectacular. He had finished the year with over 20 wins (his exact record is disputed) with a 2.23 RA (data on earned runs in many Negro League contests is unavailable, so the easier to determine Runs Allowed is used). Earlier in the season, he had gone toe to toe with legendary pitcher Satchel Paige twice in Yankee Stadium in front of crowds of 30,000 plus. In the first game, Jones battled the immortal Paige to a 1-1 tie that both Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and NY Giants great Monte Irvin called “the greatest game ever played.” (In the 2nd game, Paige bested the lefty, 3-1.)

And now, in Game 8 with the entire season on the line, the slender flamethrower went to work. He allowed a mere 5 hits, and even knocked an RBI double as the Philadelphia Nine shut out the Giants, 2-0, to bring home the only Negro National League pennant the Stars would ever win. Of course, they may have won more if not for Slim’s fatal flaw: the bottle. Jones was a heavy drinker and a hard partier, and by 1935, he was throwing away his immeasurable talent. He reported to the team cocky and out of shape, and finished the year 4-10. He never regained the form that had caused people to predict that he would be the left handed version of Satchel Paige. Jones had one last flash of brilliance, pitching 3 scoreless innings and hitting a home run in the 1935 All-Star game, but his drinking spiraled out of control. The end of Jones’s sad tale comes from an excellent article where I got a lot of this info on a site called Simply Baseball.

Over the next two seasons Jones pitched sporadically, compiling a meager 6-4 record. In the winter of 1938, penniless and with a burnt-out arm, Jones petitioned the Stars for a salary advance. His request was denied, bringing his life to nothing more than a constant search for his next drink.

In an act of desperation Jones sold his coat to buy a bottle of whiskey. On one particularly cold night the former phenom collapsed, falling to the street in a drunken stupor and froze to death. He was just twenty-five years old.

Just as quickly as Slim Jones had rocketed to stardom, he was sent tumbling back to earth, landing with a tragic thud.


This is the Coolest Photo You Will See All Day

Just happened to stumble across this one while looking at Baker Bowl photos. It was just such an incredible photo I figured I had to share. Number 2 is Dick Bartell of the Phillies, trying to complete an inside the ballpark home run against the Cubs at the baker Bowl in 1932. The Cubs catcher in the shot is Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett. Hartnett tagged out Bartell on the play.

After doing a little research I am fairly certain it is from the September 17th, 1932 game between the two teams. The Phils won that game 9-2. The starting pitcher that day for the Cubs was Charlie Root. 15 days later, he supposedly gave up the Babe’s famous called shot in Game 3 of the World Series. Bartell was a two time All-Star whose badass behavior (he was known as “Rowdy Richard”) got him traded regularly throughout the years.


The Philadelphia Quakers

quakpostIn the past, we’ve mostly dealt with local baseball history. But since the hockey team is in season right now, let’s talk hockey history. Specifically, let’s discuss the short lived Philadelphia Quakers. The team was originally known as the Pittsburgh Pirates, but when financial hardship set in, they decided to move the squad to Philly, and they dropped the puck for the first time on November 11, 1930. The team played at the Philadelphia Arena at 45th and Market. They lost their first game 3-0 to the New York Rangers, and according to a reporter, by the end of the game, Philly fans were making “caustic remarks”. (What? Philly fans?) Things only got worse. The team averaged only 2,500 fans a game, and no wonder. The team was brutal to watch, finishing the season with a 4-36-1 record, and their .136 winning % was the worst in NHL history until the Washington Capitals had a .131% in 1974-75. After one season, the NHL suspended the team, and they never took the ice again. Surprisingly, one member of the team went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Syd Howe later became a star player for the Detroit Red Wings and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1965, two years before Philadelphia got a new NHL hockey team. For a more detailed history of the Quakers one and only season, click here on Flyershistory.net.