A Remarkable Eagle You Should Know: Nick Basca

bascaOn 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.

nick_shadowHe 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).


A History of Thanksgiving Pro Football in Philadelphia

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.

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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.

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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.


The Strange and Fascinating History of the Phil-Pitt Steagles

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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).

packsteaglesNot 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.”

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Art Rooney (left) and Bert Bell.

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.

 


Phillies Owner William Cox…Suspended for Life

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Manager Bucky Harris, coach Earl Whitehill, owner William Cox, and coach Chuck Klein. Photo courtesy of Temple University Libraries.

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 pennant 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.

RELATED: Phillies owner Horace Fogel banned for life. 


Ted Williams Walks the Philly Streets

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 Eagles Defeat the Rams to Win the 1949 Championship

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.


Eagles Legend Pete Pihos Dies at 87

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.


A Demented Fan and the Natural

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.


The Last Position Player to Earn a Win for the Phils? Jimmie Foxx

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.

 


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.