On March 20th, 1943, things finally started to look up for the Philadelphia Phillies. After being owned by the disastrous Gerry Nugent, who had sold all of the Phillies prospects to keep his own head above water for the past 10 years, the Phils were sold on that day to an energetic young entrepreneur named William Cox (the man he outbid? John Kelly, Sr. Grace Kelly’s dad). Only 33 years old, Cox was determined to turn around the fortunes of a team that had finished last or next to last in every single season that Nugent owned the team, and had finished over .500 once since 1918.
Cox started with a bang, hiring future Hall of Famer Bucky Harris as manager. Harris had managed the Senators to two pennants, and his hiring energized both the players and the fanbase. Right off the bat, the Phillies showed improvement. In fact, they were in 4th place in the National League as late as June 30th, unheard of for a team that usually hit rock bottom two weeks into the season and stayed there. The team struggled in July, however, and by July 28th, they were back in familiar position, 7th place in the NL (out of 8 teams).
William Cox was young, and he was impatient, and he wanted to win NOW. So despite the fact that Harris had led the team to almost as many wins (39) in little over half a season than they had had in an entire season the year before (42), he told reporters that Bucky Harris was fired. Didn’t tell Harris himself, but told reporters. He then hired a Brooklyn Dodger pitcher with no experience named Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons (seriously). Harris was stunned when told the news. “This is the most shocking thing that has happened to me in my entire life. I have not talked with Cox and this is all a surprise to me. I have nothing to say.”
The players were outraged, and threatened to go on strike if Cox did not apologize to Harris (right). So the next night in the clubhouse, Cox apologized to Harris in front of the team. But the two men sniped at each other through the press for the next few days, with Harris calling Cox “an All-American jerk” and Cox releasing a 2000 word statement essentially accusing Harris of insubordination. Finally, Harris dropped a bombshell. “He’s a fine guy to fire me, when he gambles on games his club plays.” The quote didn’t make the papers, but a Philadelphia editor sent a note to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
Baseball began an immediate investigation. On November 3rd, Cox met with Commissioner Landis and admitted that he had made some “sentimental bets” on the Phillies, and that he didn’t know it was illegal at the time. The story reached a farcical level when Cox then told a story about how the whole thing was a trap to ensnare a disloyal employee, and that he was betting on games to “smoke him out”. Landis had a hard time believing this remarkable tale, and gave him a lifetime ban on November 23rd. Cox appealed. The following comes from a 2004 Baseball Digest article.
In Landis’ final hearing, on December 4 in New York, (former manager) Harris testified he was in the office when he overheard Cox’s secretary, Dorothy Massey, making a phone call asking for the odds on that day’s game.
When she completed the call, Harris asked, “What were the odds?” and she replied, ’13-5 on Brooklyn.’
“I said to her, ‘Do you mean to tell me that Mr. Cox is betting on baseball?’ She looked startled and said, ‘I thought you knew that.’”
Cox was finished. He sold the team to the Carpenter family, who would run it until 1981. Cox went back to manufacturing lumber and would never be reinstated to baseball. Harris would return to the baseball as manager of the 1947 Yankees, and would lead them to a World Championship that year. He led them to 94 wins in 1948, but it wasn’t enough to win the pannant and he was let go in favor of Casey Stengel. And you have to wonder what would have happened to the Phils if the powers that be had sold them to Philly legend John B. Kelly instead of a New York lumber magnate with a penchant for gambling.
70 years ago tonight, the Red Sox were in Philadelphia, wrapping up their season at Shibe. The Sox were on their way to an impressive 84-70 finish, but that still left them 17 games behind the Yankees. Philadelphia, meanwhile, was resting at the bottom of the rankings. Mack’s boys would finish the year 64-90. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a meaningless late season matchup. But there was a personal goal on the line, so the games did mean something to Ted Williams. In the first game of the 3 game set, he had gone 1-4 in a 5-1 Red Sox win. That performance had dropped his average to .39955. Since baseball rounds up, he was guaranteed a .400 average if he rested for the doubleheader on Sunday, and he would be the first major leaguer to achieve that distinction since Bill Terry of the Giants did it in 1930. But Williams told a reporter, “If I’m going to be a .400 hitter, I want more than my toenails on the line.”
So he decided to play in that doubleheader on Sunday the 28th in Philly. But not without anxiety. This from a recent article in the New York Times:
Inside his room at Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Hotel (right) on Saturday, Sept. 27, 1941, Ted Williams was jumpy and impatient. That might have been an apt description of the mercurial Williams at most times, but on this evening he had good cause for his unease…waiting it out in the hotel was asking too much. Recruiting the clubhouse man Johnny Orlando for companionship, Williams marched into the streets of Philadelphia. They walked for more than three hours, with Orlando stopping at bars for occasional sustenance as Williams, who rarely drank alcohol, sipped a soft drink outside.
“I kept thinking about the thousands of swings I had taken to prepare myself,” Williams said years later. “I had practiced and practiced. I kept saying to myself, ‘You are ready.’ I went to the ballpark the next day more eager to hit than I had ever been.”
In the first game, Williams faced a young Dick Fowler, who had recently been called up from Toronto. Fowler would throw a no-hitter against the Browns in 1945, but on this day he was no match for Teddy Ballgame. Williams had 4 hits, and the .400 average was secure. In the 2nd game of the no-hitter, Number Nine faced Fred Caligiuri. This game would be the highlight of Caligiuiri’s career, as he would knock off Lefty Grove and the Red Sox 7-1, with Caligiuri going the distance for the first of 2 wins he would ever have in the Major Leagues. But Williams went 2-3, and at the end of the season Ted Williams sported a spiffy .406 average.
It was quite an accomplishment, but it didn’t make much of a splash. Only 10,000 Philly fans made it out to the ballpark that day, and it got limited national coverage. Williams didn’t even win MVP that year, as the honor went to Joe DiMaggio, whose 56-game streak that year had captivated the nation. But I’m sure that no-one in Shibe Park that day had any idea they were watching a drama unfold unlike any ohter that would happen in the 70 years since, a player battling to get above the .400 mark in the last week of the season.
If you’re curious, the closest anyone will come this year is Miguel Cabrera, who is batting .343. The only Philadelphia player since 1900 to hit .400 was Nap Lajoie of the Athletics in 1901. Incredibly, in 1894, the entire Phillies outfield of Ed Delahanty, Billy Hamilton, and Sam Thompson all hit .400.
The Rams and the Eagles have played 38 times, with the Rams holding a 19-18-1 lead. They’ve met 3 times in the postseason. We’ve already written about the last two games…an NFC championship game loss in 2001 and a wild card playoff loss in 1989. Today we’ll take you back a bit further, to 1949. The Eagles were looking to become the first Philly pro sports team to repeat since the 1929-30 A’s. The following comes from an excellent 2002 story by Frank Fitzpatrick in the Inky.
Sunday Dec. 18, 1949, was a gloomy day in Los Angeles. A relentless rain – 1.05 inches by 4 p.m. – drenched the city. Much of it appeared to have accumulated on the Coliseum’s playing field and in its vast grandstands.
Thirty minutes before the NFL’s 17th championship game, a cluster of Eagles, still groggy from the long train journey west, gathered in a tunnel to scan the conditions. One of them decided to count the fans. It didn’t take long. There were 176.
This was depressing. The Eagles had been working toward this payday throughout their 11-1 regular season. Even though they were the defending league champions, most of Philadelphia’s players earned less than $10,000. They had hoped a large crowd in this 101,000-seat stadium, where the Rams averaged 51,555 a game in 1949, would net them an extra
three or four grand.
Now, win or lose, that lengthy train trip back to Philadelphia was going to be miserable. They probably wouldn’t
earn enough to pay for four days’ worth of beer and steaks in the club car…Eventually, 22,245 fans emerged from the 17-year-old stadium’s tunnels to witness the first major professional championship contested in L.A. Coaches huddled beneath golf and beach umbrellas. The swamplike field made passing impossible. The run-oriented Eagles, with Steve Van Buren (above, left) gaining 196 yards, beat the pass-happy Rams, 14-0, in what one L.A. sportswriter termed “a rather sluggish exhibition of the pro brand of football.”
The year before, the Eagles had played a championship game in Shibe Park in a driving blizzard, knocking off the Chicago Cardinals, 7-0. They are still the last team to win back to back championships in shutouts.
Hall of Fame receiver Pete Pihos, known as “The Golden Greek”, passed away this morning at age 87. This from Comcast Sportsnet:
Eagles Hall of Fame receiver Pete Pihos died Tuesday morning at the age of 87. Pihos, who had Alzheimer’s disease, died in his sleep at 1:40 a.m.
Pihos spent his entire nine-year career with the Eagles and helped lead them to consecutive championships in 1948 and 1949. He caught the game-winning touchdown in the ’49 championship game against the Rams.
A six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, he led the NFL in receptions for three straight seasons (1953-55). He also led the league in receiving yards twice (1953 and 1955) and once in touchdown catches (1953).
Despite the fact that he played in a “run first era”, he still has the 3rd most catches in Eagles history.Furthermore, he was a 2 way player, and was an All-Pro on defense in 1952. In 1953, he became the first Eagle receiver to have a 1,000 yard season (while playing 12 games), and he still has the 3rd most career catches and the 4th most career yards receiving in Eagles history.
But he was more than just a Hall of Fame football player. We don’t really get to know our sports heroes personally, and if we’re honest with ourselves we know that we’re primarily cheering for the uniform, and rarely the human inside of it. But Pete Pihos’s daughter Melissa has made sure that her father is remembered as more than just a Hall of Fame athlete. She is a performance artist in North Carolina, and she made this short but moving documentary about her father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago. More than just a great athlete, her video makes it clear that her father was also a heck of a guy. RIP, Pete Pihos.
On June 14, 1949, the Phillies played the Chicago Cubs on the road and won by a convincing score of 9-2. Newly acquired Phillies first-baseman, Eddie Waitkus, continued his solid season by going 1-4 with 2 runs scored. After the game, he joined his roommate Monk Meyer for dinner and returned to the team hotel at about 11pm. When Meyer and Waitkus got to their room, they found a note addressed to Waitkus from Ruth Ann Burns. Waitkus had a “girlfriend” named Ruth Martin, who he sometimes saw on the road, so he followed the note’s instructions and headed up to her room. On his way up to that room, Waitkus could not have known that instead of making time with his road girlfriend, he would instead be put on death’s doorstep.
Born in Cambridge, MA, Eddie Waitkus broke into the majors in 1941 with the Chicago Cubs. After playing only 12 games in the ’41 season, Waitkus joined the army and fought in World War II where he earned four battle stars. He rejoined the Cubs in 1946 and his professional baseball career took off. Generally known as the best defensive first-baseman in the National League, his offensive production steadily increased each year. In 1948, he batted .295, stole 11 bases, scored 87 runs and doubled 27 times and was selected as a National League All-Star. After the ’48 season, with Waitkus’ value at it highest point, he was traded to the Phillies.
Waitkus’ trade may have upset some Cubs fans who saw his potential, but nobody was more upset than a young girl named Ruth Ann Steinhagen. Steinhagen, who was 11 when Waitkus’ professional career began, immediately fell for the player and developed an unhealthy obsession. According to her mother, she attended many games and listened to every one she couldn’t make. She cut out and kept newspaper clippings and photos of Waitkus. This behavior continued, and worsened, as she built a shrine to Waitkus in her bedroom and became obsessed with anything Waitkus, including his number (36). She even tried learning Lithuanian when she found that Waitkus was of Lithuanian descent. In November of 1948, she quit her job and began wandering the city looking for Waitkus. Her parents sent her to a psychiatrist, but her obsession wasn’t quelled. As you can imagine, when Waitkus was traded to Philadelphia, Steinhagen broke down and “cried day and night.”
When Steinhagen realized the Phillies would be visiting her hometown Cubs on June 14, she jumped into action. She booked a room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, where she knew the Phillies, and Waitkus, would be staying. She brought a suitcase full of baseball statistics, pictures of Waitkus, newspaper clippings about the first-baseman and 50 ticket stubs from the ’48 season. After attending the June 14th game, she went back to the hotel and ordered a few drinks to be brought up to her room. When the drinks arrived, she paid the bellhop $5 to bring this note to Waitkus’ room. And then she waited.
When Waitkus arrived, she told him that she was a friend of Ruth’s and that Ruth had just stepped out for a moment. Waitkus believed her and walked past her into the room. He didn’t notice she was holding a knife. As Waitkus sat down, Steinhagen told him that she wanted to give him a surprise. By this time, Steinhagen was an attractive, 6 ft, 19-year-old brunette, and Waitkus was probably expecting a good surprise. However, instead of Steinhagen returning from the bedroom closet having “slipped into something more comfortable,” she came back with the .22 calibre rifle she had purchased a week prior. She told Waitkus “For two years you’ve been bothering me, and now you’re going to die” and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit Waitkus in the chest just below his heart, lodged near his spine, and collapsed his right lung.
After seeing Waitkus slump to the ground, Steinhagen called the hotel front desk and confessed to the shooting. Her quick phone call ended up saving Waitkus’ life, as medical personnel arrived on the scene immediately and rushed Waitkus to the Illinois Masonic Hospital. He underwent a number of surgeries and recovered from the gun shot wound.
Steinhagen was arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder. She told police she shot Waitkus because she was “infatuated with him” and “wanted to feel the thrill of murdering him.” A jury found her legally insane and she was committed to a mental hospital. After receiving 3 years of shock treatment, she was declared “sane” and released. In the end, her criminal charges were dropped.
After Waitkus was discharged from the hospital, he began an intense rehabilitation program in Clearwater, FL. His hard work paid off, and he returned to play every game with the 1950 Pennant-winning Whiz Kids. The Associated Press named him Baseball’s “Comeback Player of the Year.” Waitkus played five more seasons, though he never lived up to his pre-injury potential. He ultimately retired in 1955.
If you think this story would make a great movie, you’re right. Although Eddie Waitkus may not be a household name, you’ve already heard his story. Waitkus was the source for Bernard Malamud’s famous character Roy Hobbs in The Natural, which was adapted into the 1984 Robert Redford movie of the same name.
Wilson Valdez was not the first position player on the Phillies to pitch in a game. The most recent was Tomas Perez, who did it in 2002. But it’s been a while since a position player got a W. 66 years, in fact, and the circumstances were quite different though the opponent was the same.
Jimmie Foxx was one of the greatest power hitters in baseball history, hitting his 500th by the time he was 32 years old. The first baseman was called up by the Philadelphia Athletics in 1925 and spent 11 years in Philly before being shipped to Boston. By the early 1940s, he was well past his prime, and probably would have been out of baseball if not for the fact that most of the remaining ballplayers not at war were scrubs (He didn’t go to war because of a sinus problem). And so he kicked around a few years longer, and in 1945 the Phillies decided to honor their longstanding tradition of hiring Hall of Famers once they were well past their primes. The Phils were mired in yet another last place finish (Between 1919 and 1947 they were last or next to last 24 times), and would finish 52 games out of first. On August 19th, the Phils faced off against the Reds in a double header. Manger Ben Chapman realized he didn’t have any fresh arms to pitch the 2nd game. The following is from a Boston Globe article in 1980 via Seamheads:
In 1945, when he was 37, Foxx had slipped badly and was hanging on by his fingertips with the Phillies. One day, Ben Chapman, Phils’ manager, came to Jimmie.
Chapman told Foxx, “We’re desperate. Would you mind getting yourself into shape to pitch? We don’t have anyone who can get the ball over the plate.”
Foxx’s answer, according to Arthur Daley’s book, Kings of the Home Run: “I couldn’t go nine innings under any conditions, I’m not even sure I could get anyone out.”
And Chapman’s response: “Just hang in there as long as you can. If by some miracle, you could last five innings, that’s all I’ll ask. I’ll take you right out.”
Foxx did better than that against the Cincinnati Reds: at the end of five innings, he had a no-hitter. So of course Chapman left him in the game.
But, Daley wrote that “in the sixth, Jimmie’s arm was as dead as a dinosaur, and he felt just as heavy. The Reds nicked him for a hit and that was it. He [Chapman] yanked Foxx while he was still a winning pitcher and brought in a reliever to preserve the victory.
In fact, that’s not quite true. Foxx stayed into the 7th, and gave up 4 hits before being yanked with two outs in the 7th (Interestingly, the losing pitcher for the Reds that day was named Howie Fox). Andy Karl came in to get the save.
You folks who watched that game last night, don’t ever forget it. If precedent holds, we won’t see another one until 2067. Here’s the box score to the Jimmie Foxx game.
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.
Former Philadelphia Stars catcher Stanley Doc Glenn passed away a couple of weeks ago. I had the pleasure of interviewing Doc several years ago when I hosted a radio show, and it was one of the coolest interviews I have ever done. I asked him if he played against Satchel Paige. Not only had he played against him, he had caught for him. I asked him if he had played against Josh Gibson. He responded that Gibson had once run over him at home plate. I have the interview saved on cassette somewhere in this house and will not rest until I find it. It wasn’t just the stories, but the enthusiasm and the warmth that went with them that made me extremely sorry to hear that Mr. Glenn recently passed away.
Glenn was born in Wachapreague, Va. and moved to Philadelphia as a youngster. He was a star at Bartram and the Yankees sent out feelers after seeing his stats. When they realized he was black, they backed off (the league was not yet integrated.) He was quickly signed by the local Stars. When the Majors were integrated in 1947, Glenn was signed by the Braves and played in their minor league system before retiring and going into the electrical supply business. In the 1990s, he became President of the Negro League Baseball Players Association, taking the opportunity to speak about the Negro Leagues every chance he got. In an interview he did with sportswriter Chris Murray in 2005, he said of the Negro Leagues,
“Let me tell you something, fella, Negro League baseball was a happening in the Black world. Women came to the ballpark dressed in their Sunday best, high heel shoes, silk stockings and they had hats on their heads on their hats and long-sleeved gloves … Let me tell you something, we married some of the girls. They would be there dressed to kill. You would think you were at a cotillion.”
His enthusiasm for baseball and for life were such that even now, 9 years after I did a 20 minute interview with him, I can hear his voice as clearly in my head as if I just got off the phone with him. In 2006, he wrote a book about the Negro Leagues called “Don’t Let Anyone Take Your Joy Away”. It was the motto Doc Glenn lived by. He dealt with injustice and racism with dignity and self-respect, and when the dust settled, he refused to judge other people the way he had often been judged. Again from the Murray interview,
“Ignorance doesn’t claim any one in particular. If you’re ignorant and your dumb, then you’re just plain ignorant and dumb,” Glenn said.
Stanley Glenn never got a chance to play in the Majors. He was denied the opportunity to sign with the Yankees because of his skin color. He was at times treated harshly by restaurant owners, police, and fans simply because of the color of his skin. But he never stopped loving baseball, never stopped loving people of all backgrounds, never stopped educating people about America’s past, and never let anyone take his joy away. Philadelphia just lost one of a kind. RIP Stanley “Doc” Glenn. This city is a better place for you having lived here.
RELATED: His obituary in the Philadelphia Tribune.
Raul Ibanez has now gone 0 for his last 34 at bats. That is not only bad, that is historically bad. With 3 more fruitless at bats, Ibanez would set a new Phillies record for most at bats without a hit. Considering that the franchise has had some incredibly lean decades with some incredibly lousy players since their founding in 1883, it would be fairly remarkable for Ibanez to set the record. Today we’ll look at the three guys who are tied for the record, with 36 ABs with out a hit. (Nod of the the cap to Matt Gelb for doing all the heavy lifting in a piece he did yesterday.)
Danny Murtaugh, a Chester native, played on the Phillies from 1941-1943 and again in 1946, then finished his career in Pittsburgh in 1951. He was a decent but not great player who batted .254 for his career. In 1942, he ended the season on a low, finishing the year 0-25. In 1943, he picked up right where he left off, going 0 for his first 11. Finally, in the 4th game of the 1943 season, he broke through with a hit. Murtaugh would go on to manage the Pirates, leading them to World Series wins in 1960 and again in 1971.
Len Matuszek put up some of the worst numbers in Phillies history in the 1982 season. He ended the season with an .077 batting average, 0 HRs, and 3 RBIs. Used mostly as a pinch hitter, he collected his last hit on April 18th, going 0-24 over the rest of the season (but, incredibly, he was still used as a pinch hitter through September.) The Phils finished 89-73 that year, but 6-19 in games in which Matuszek appeared. He kept right on sucking in 1983, going 0-5 in APril before being sent down to the minors. He came back up in September, went 0-7, then finally got a hit on September 11, 1983. It had been almost a year and a half since his last hit. He would replace Pete Rose at first base the next year, then be traded to the Blue Jays in 1985.
Desi Relaford was a all-glove, no-hit player known for his versatility.Over the course of his career, he played every position other than catcher and 1B. As a member of the Mets in 2001, he actually pitched an inning, throwing over 90 mph. While his versatility couldn’t be questioned, his bat could be. That’s why he played for 7 teams in a 12 year career. 1998 started off as a great year, and he was flirting with .300 by early July. Then he began the first of two remarkable slumps that year. In July, he hit a stretch where he hit 1-42 (.024). Then in late August-early September he hit his 0-36 skid. A couple of years ago, he wrote a really interesting piece for Bleacher Report about his exit from baseball, and the feelings of despair he felt when his career was over.
UPDATE: Just saw that Relaford wrote a piece on NBCPhiladelphia today about Raul’s slump. Very cool.
On this date in 1947, the Philadelphia Warriors defeated the Chicago Stags 83-80 in Game 5 of the best of seven series to win the first championship in NBA history. Paced by the league’s leading scorer, “Jumpin” Joe Fulks, the Warriors cruised through the series (their only loss coming by one point on the road when Fulks was in foul trouble) against the #1 seed of the Western Division.
The league, then known as the Basketball Association of America, had been founded in the summer of 1946 by the owners of the large sports arenas in the Northeast and Midwest. The BAA was an 11-team league made up of the Chicago Stags, Cleveland Rebels, Detroit Falcons, Philadelphia Warriors, Pittsburgh Ironmen, Providence Steamrollers, St. Louis Bombers, as well as the Boston Celtics and the New York Knickerbockers (the only two teams to continue in the same city with the same name since the inception of the league).
The Warriors were coached by Eddie Gottlieb, a long-time figurehead in Philadelphia sports. ”The Mogul” played for Southern and won the public league championship in 1914. Then in 1918, he organized a team that included several of his high school teammates as well as some of his high school opponents. The SPHAs, sponsored by the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, barnstormed across the country playing in and winning various professional leagues.
The most notable player on the ’46-’47 Warriors was Joe Fulks, a 6’5″ forward who perfected the jump shot. Fulks won the BAA scoring title that year averaging over 23 points per game…without a shot clock and his margin over the second best scorer in the league was nearly 7 points. During the series against the Stags, Fulks averaged 26.2 points per game, including outbursts of 37 in Game 1 and 34 in Game 5. Below is video of Fulk’s performance in Game 1:
Although not as spectacular a performer, center Art Hillhouse deserves mention here. Hillhouse averaged less than 9 points per game throughout the ’47 playoffs, but did something in the finals that no player has since accomplished. He fouled out of every single game.
In the team picture at the top, you’ll also see Matt Guokas. Sadly, after the championship season, Guokas was involved in a car accident that resulted in an amputated right leg and the end of his playing career. He turned to broadcasting and in 1953 became the public address announcer for the Philadelphia Eagles. For more than three decades, Guokas was the voice of the Eagles, calling games at Shibe Park, Franklin Field and the Vet. His son, Matt Guokas, Jr., also played professional basketball in Philadelphia and was on the 1967 NBA Champion 76ers. The Guokases were the first father-son combination to have won NBA titles as players; they’ve since been joined by the Barrys and Waltons.