In February of 1966, the NHL awarded the city of Philadelphia an expansion team, on the condition that they have a new place to play by the time the 1967 season began. Ground was broken on June 1, 1966, with Flyers part-owner Jerry Wolman and Philly Mayor James Tate doing the honors. Wolman, Ed Snider’s 41-year old brother-in-law who also owned Connie Mack Stadium and the Eagles, was the money behind the Spectrum.*
A complex financial agreement resulted in Wolman getting the arena and then selling it to the city for $1. Wolman, who also owned the Eagles and Shibe Park, would pay Philly $60,000 in annual rent in return for a 50-year lease. The sweetheart deal carried with it an ultimatum: Wolman had to get the arena done in 16 months, or Philly wouldn’t get an expansion hockey team.
As the arena came closer to completion, Wolman began to run out of money. To come in under budget, he got a building code variance on the roofing material. It was a decision that would come back to haunt him, the Sixers, the Flyers, and Philadelphia sports fans.
The first event at the Spectrum was a Jazz Festival in September 1967 featuring Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie, and Stan Brubeck. The first sporting event was a Joe Frazier fight against tomato can Tony Doyle in October. Frazier had little trouble knocking out the Utah native in the 2nd round. After the fight, Frazier told reporters that he had heard that Doyle’s wife had just had twins. “I figured, let’s get him home to see them.” The win moved the brash Philadelphian to 18-0 and cemented his status as the heavyweight district’s #1 contender.
On October 18th, Wilt Chamberlain and the Sixers, happy to no longer be playing in the Philadelphia Civic Center but rather in a state of the art arena, made their debut with a convincing 16 point win over the Lakers. The next night, the Flyers played their first ever home game, holding off the Penguins 1-0. Beers at those first games costed ten cents, with premium beers costing an outlandish forty cents.
The arena was off to a hot start, but in February of 1968, the roof caved in. Literally. High winds ripped a huge chunk of the roof off of the Spectrum shortly before an Ice Capades show, and the crowd found themselves staring up into the sky. (Showing a rather remarkable sense of humor, the Ice Capades band began playing “Into the Wild Blue Yonder”.) It was quickly patched up, but two weeks later it blew off again. This time Mayor Tate came down from City Hall to examine the damage, and closed the arena.
Philly politics took a fix that should have taken 10 days to repair into a month, as arguments erupted about who was going to pay for the repairs. Arlen Specter, who had narrowly lost to Tate in the recent mayoral election, sent his own investigators to the Spectrum, and announced that it had been built without the proper permits. The roof became a political football.
As Tate and Specter were trading barbs in the paper, the Flyers and Sixers were forced to play home games on the road, the Flyers playing home games in Quebec (where their farm team, the Quebec Aces, called home), the Sixers returning to their old haunt, Convention Hall.
“The Spectrum wasn’t a very valuable property back then,” co-owner Ed Snider would recall years later. “The roof had made it a national laughingstock.”
It could have have hardly been a more inauspicious start. But as we all know, the roof was finally fixed, and the Spectrum recovered from its early disasters to become one of the most historic venues in America. It would go on to host Stanley Cup Finals, Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley concerts, the greatest game in NCAA tourney history, and some of Dr. J’s most memorable dunks. It was a raucous yet warm venue that catered to the everyday fan, and not the well heeled like most modern arenas. Fans were very close to the action, almost every seat was a good one. As a result the home court and home ice advantages were undeniable. The Sixers won 65% of their games there, while the Flyers won 61% of their home tilts. Perhaps former Flyer Dave Poulin said it best, “The Spectrum is a unique, tiny building that somehow enabled the fans to be closer to you physically and as a result were much closer to you emotionally.”
You can wear a piece of the Spectrum’s remarkable history with this incredibly comfortable Spectrum shirt created by local artist Jon Billett. It’s an incredibly comfortable tri-blend shirt, and is part of our stadium series that also includes Shibe Park and Palestra shirts.
READ MORE: A very interesting story in the SI Vault about the political debate that erupted after the roof came off.
*Shortly after the SPectrum was completed Wolman ran into financial difficulties after the John Hancock Tower in Chicago, which he financed, turned into a white elephant. He could get financial help if he could sell the Flyers. To do that, he needed Snider to sell his shares. Snider refused, and Wolman was driven to bankruptcy. Snider then tried to buy the Eagles from Wolman for a song. Wolman needed the money, but refused to sell to Snider. He eventually sold to Leonard Tose. Wolman and Snider never spoke again. You can read more about it here.
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.
With the Eagles stinking up the joint this year, we are looking back at some of their worst teams ever. Next up, the 1968 squad. In the photo at left are, from L-R, head coach Joe Kuharich, team treasurer Ed Snider (yes, that Ed Snider) and owner Jerry Wolman.
The 1968 Eagles are famous for one game, the game in which Santa Claus got booed. That was the final game of the season, on December 15th against the Vikings. But you’ll have to forgive Eagles fans if they weren’t really in a festive spirit. The season could not have possibly gone worse.
It started with the coach. “Joe Kuharich couldn’t sell iced tea to a Tasmanian at a dried up water hole,” wrote Sandy Grady in the Philadelphia Bulletin. He had been hired in 1964, and even at the time it was a poorly received choice. After all, Kuharich was at the time best known for being the only coach to have a losing career record at Notre Dame (a distinction he still holds). Incredibly, new Eagles owner Jerry Wolman gave Kuharich coaching and GM duties, and signed him to an unheard of 15-year contract. He instantly started making foolish moves. He traded fan favorite Tommy McDonald for two guys only their mothers could recognize. He traded Hall of Famer-in-the-making Sonny Jurgenson to the Redskins for a steady but unspectacular Norm Snead.
He did have one year of glory, a 1966 campaign that saw the Birds go 9-5 and finish 2nd to the Cowboys. But things went downhill fast after that. They went 6-7-1 the next year, and then the bottom fell out. The team opened the 1968 season with a 30-13 loss to the Packers. The Cowboys would humiliate them twice in 3 weeks, 45-13 and 34-14. In a battle between pitiful Pennsylvania teams, they lost to the Steelers 6-3. Philadelphia let out its frustration on Kuharich, wearing “Joe Must Go” buttons and even hiring a plane to fly a “Joe Must Go” banner over the Franklin Field.
By Thanksgiving day, the team stood at 0-11 and coming off a 47-13 loss to the Browns, looked like they were headed for an 0-14 season. There would be quite a silver lining in doing so: they would therefore have the number one pick in the draft, and acquire the electric OJ Simpson out of USC. Needless to say, they botched this opportunity too.
It poured rain nonstop for two days before their Thanksgiving day game against the Lions, and the teams played in a mess that came to be known as the Mud Bowl. In the end it was Eagle kicker Sam Hall booting 4 field goals to lead the Birds to a 12-0 win. Buoyed by their success, the team then came back to Philly and knocked off the Saints, 29-17, led by Tom Woodeshick’s 122 yards (he led the team in rushing that year with 947). It was a disaster. Needing only to lose their final three games, they had instead won 2. With the Bills already having finished their regular season at 1-12-1, the Eagles had cost themselves OJ Simpson before they even took the field for the infamous Santa game.
Say what you will about Eagles fans, they are nothing if not loyal. Almost 55,000 of them came out to Franklin Field on a snowy 28 degree day (Wind Chill 15) to cheer on a team so pathetic that it couldn’t even lose when it needed to. After a listless first half that ended in a 7-7 tie, the halftime Christmas pageant was set to begin. But the field had turned to muck, and the float Santa was supposed to be on got stuck in the mud. Furthermore, no-one could find Santa (Rumor had it that he got drunk). Whereas in Miracle on 34th Street, the real Santa took over for the drunk Santa, in this case the real Santa had decided not to attend this game (hard to blame him). The Eagles brass, desperate for a Santa, picked 20-year old Frank Olivo out of the crowd. Despite his 5’6″, 170 pound frame, he had decided to wear a Santa outfit that day. (You can read a great ESPN piece on what Olivo is up to today here.)
As this meager, skinny Santa ran around the field waving at fans, they began to boo. Olivo described it years later.
“At first I was scared because it was so loud. But then I figured, hey, it was just good-natured teasing. I’m a Philadelphia fan, I knew what was what. I thought it was funny.”
The booing soon turned into snowballs, as fans pelted him from the upper deck. Olivo took it all in stride, saying that he laughed it off. Nonetheless, when the Eagles asked him if he’d do it again the next year, he answer, “No way. If it doesn’t snow, they’ll probably throw beer bottles.”
The Eagles went on to lose the game 24-17 and finish the season 2-12. Their consolation was the third pick in the draft. The Bills got OJ Simpson, who would rush for 11,236 career yards. The Eagles took Leroy Keyes, who would rush for 369. With the 4th pick, the Steelers took Mean Joe Greene. Kuharich was fired in the offseason, when Wolman sold the team to Leonard Tose.
Nonetheless, he continued to get paid for the remainder of his incredible 15-year contract. Kuharich passed away from bone cancer on the same day the Eagles played in Super Bowl XV against the Raiders. Eagles GM Jim Murray visited him in the hospital a few days before, right before the Eagles left for New Orleans.
“The man is lying there devastated by that disease, and you know he’s in agony, and all he can do is wish us luck. The team that fired him, the city that crucified him, he’s wishing them nothing but success. There are more records in this life than winners and losers. And I’d love to have his report card.”
Courtesy of the Temple University Library, here are scale models of the Vet, presented to the Mayor in 1965 (above). There seemed to be a lot of excitement about the proposal above. In the following photo, you can see then-Mayor James Tate (in glasses, between the woman and guy pointing at home plate) looking at it excitedly. I think that while it’s not great, it would have undoubtedly been better than the Vet. The proposed stadium would have housed both the Eagles and Phillies, as you can see above.
I love the flags leading up the walkway to the main entrance. I’m guessing they had all of the MLB teams on them? Notice how low and dark the entrance to the stadium is, though. Really weird. Also, what’s that white box at the bottom? Is that the subway stop?
Now, what would this stadium look like if you just plopped a dome on top of it and changed almost nothing else? This. In the age of the Astrodome, people were nuts about domes, and Philly would have probably gotten one if voters had agreed to a tax hike.
That wasn’t the only dome proposal either. The other one was for the ultimate Vet Stadium winner, except with a big ugly dome on top. Interesting to think about how loud it would have gotten in a Philadelphia dome. When doing research I found that the Daily News did a poll in 1984 asking fans if they wanted a dome at the Vet. 93% said yes. The idea gained political steam, as then-Mayor Wilson Goode said, “We will, over the next several weeks, take a good hard look at the economics of whether or not there should be a dome placed on the stadium.” In fact, the stadium had been constructed in a way that if voters ever changed their minds, the city could add a dome. And 1984 wasn’t the first time the topic of a dome had come up. According to the Gettysburg Times, in 1982, Owens-Corning proposed a dome that would cost between $34 and $42 million. “The 10-acre roof would be woven from Teflon Coated Fiberglas yarn, according to a spokeman for Owens-Corning. Air pressure from constantly operating electric fans would support the fabric, the same technique Owens-Corning used to cover Detroit’s Silverdome.”
The football team was interested, and the city thought a dome might bring a Super Bowl here, but the Phillies weren’t as intrigued. Here’s an incredible quote from Bill Giles in 1984: “My personal preference would be to make JFK a domed football stadium.” That would have been…something else. Obviously, none of these plans made it past the initial proposal stage.
Here is more or less the winning proposal, followed by an actual photo of the Vet. A few differences from the final product. Less dirt on basepaths (not sure when they decided to go with artificial turf) and the “roof” didn’t extend as far as it did in the proposal.
And it’s pretty obvious where they got the inspiration for the Vet’s design.
If there were an award given for a player who is most respected by basketball insiders, while getting the minimum public appreciation, Greer could win hands down.
The reason that so many players are on this list is timing. And that couldn’t be more true for our 2nd Most Underrated Philadelphia Athlete, Hal Greer. He was a guard at a time when two of the best guards in the history of the NBA played. And he was teammates with the best Sixer in the history of the franchise. Being compared to Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, in addition to playing second-fiddle to Wilt Chamberlain in Philadelphia lands Hal Greer on our list. His unmatched production and consistency are what rank him so high.
There aren’t many guys in pro sports like Hal Greer anymore. He was born June 26, 1936 in Huntington, West Virginia and became the first black athlete to receive a scholarship at Marshall University. After graduating in 1958, he was drafted by the Syracuse Nationals, who later became the Philadelphia 76ers. He went to the university located in his hometown and then played out his 15-year professional career for the same franchise.
He was most known for his speed and his mid-range jumper. His style was much more hard work than it was flash. Greer’s teammate, and then coach, Dolph Schayes had this to say: “Hal Greer always came to play. He came to practice the same way, to every team function the same way. Every bus and plane and train, he was on time. Hal Greer punched the clock. Hal Greer brought the lunch pail.” He is also remembered for his quirky style at the free-throw line, from which he would shoot jumpers. His career free throw percentage is 80.1%.
Over the course of his NBA career, the 6’2″ guard averaged 19.2 points per game, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds. He scored more than 20 points per game in eight seasons. He played in ten consecutive All-Star games from 1961 through 1970. Although he was the smallest player on the 1968 East All-Star team and although he played just 17 minutes, he earned the MVP Award after going 8-8 from the field, 5-7 from the line, and scoring 21 points. From ’63-’69 he was named to the All-NBA Second Team. He was the type of player that always turned things up in the playoffs. In the 1967 playoffs, he averaged 27.7 ppg, 5.9 rebounds. and 5.3 assists while quarterbacking the best team in basketball history to an NBA Title.
The fact that he scored so well while playing alongside Wilt Chamberlain speaks volumes about Greer’s abilities.
Greer retired after the ’72-’73 season. At that time, he had appeared in more games (1,122) than any other player in NBA history. His 21,586 career points ranked among the all-time top 10, as did his totals for minutes played, field goals attempted and field goals made. His numbers still stand up almost 40 years after he retired. He currently sits 30th all-time in scoring, 22nd in field goals made, and 26th in total minutes.
The usual waiting period for induction into the NBA Hall of Fame is 5 years. Underrated as always, Greer was forced to wait nine.
#15- Byron Evans, #14- John LeClair, #13- Von Hayes, #12- Freddy Leach, #11- Brad McCrimmon, #10- Del Ennis, #9- Eddie Plank, #8- Dick Allen, #7- Kimmo Timonen, #6- Bobby Abreu, #5- Joe Frazier, #4- Ricky Watters, #3- Donovan McNabb
It’s been great to see this Sixers-Celtics series get off to such an exciting start. In the late 60s and again in the early 80s, this was one of the premiere rivalries in basketball, but both teams have been extremely inconsistent since and the rivalry fizzled. Here is a look at all of their playoff meetings (not including times they met when 76ers were the Syracuse Nationals).
1965, when Havlicek stole the damn ball. The Celtics would go on to crush LA in the Finals.
1966– Celtics win 4-1. Would beat LA in 7 games in the Finals.
1967-Sixers win 4-1, go on to win title over San Fran Warriors.
1968-Sixers took a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, but lost the last three games to Russell and the Celtics, who went on to win the title. Chamberlain took a ton of criticism for the loss from fans and the media, and demanded a trade to LA.
1969- Celtics win 4-1. Would beat Chamberlain and Lakers in Finals, 4 games to 3.
1977- The Sixers won 4-3. Went on to lose to Trail Blazers in Finals.
In the 80s, the rivalry reached its burning point. Philly and Boston were undoubtedly the best two teams in the East, and met each other in the Eastern Conference Finals four times between 1980 and 1985, with each team taking two.
1980- Sixers cruised to a 4-1 Series lead. After knocking off rookie sensation Larry Bird, they would lose to another incredible rookie, Magic Johnson, and the Lakers in Six.
1981- That year’s Conference Final was one of the most exciting playoff series in sports history (John Hollinger of ESPN ranked it the #1 greatest playoff series in NBA history). 5 of the 7 games were determined by 2 points or less, including the last 4 games. Furthermore, the two teams had finished the regular season 62-20. They may have been the two most evenly matched teams in NBA history. The Sixers blew a 3-1 lead in the Series, lost Game 7 by one point at the Garden, and the Celtics went on to cruise to an NBA title over the Rockets. This may have been the most devastating loss in Sixer history.
1982- The Sixers and Celtics met again in the Conference Finals. Once again the Sixers took a 3-1 Series lead. Once again, the Celtics won Game 5 in Boston and Game 6 at the Spectrum to force a game 7. Were the Sixers going to blow it again?
No. The Sixers stormed the Garden, blowing out the Celtics. With just a couple of minutes remaining, and a Sixers win assured, a most remarkable thing happened. The Celtic fans started chanting, “Beat LA! Beat LA!”. You have to think that it inspired the USA! USA! chants in Rocky IV. Right?
Anyway, an incredible moment, but it was not to be. The Lakers would beat the Sixers in 6 games. The Sixers would have to wait until they got a player named Moses to get tho the promised land.
1985- Celtics win 4-1. Lose to Lakers in Finals.
2002-Celtics win 3-2 in the first round. This series is best remembered for “Practice?”
Pretty brutal 15-13 loss to the Braves on Wednesday night, though it was a pretty entertaining game. It also was a little bit of history, as the Phillies have racked up a W every time they’ve scored 13 or more runs since August 3, 1969.
So what happened that August afternoon in the Summer of ’69? The Phils took on the Reds in decrepit Shibe Park, playing out the string in a frustrating year, a year in which they would go 63-99. Facing them were the Cincinnati Reds. A month before this game, a Cincinnati Enquirer writer had introduced the phrase “Big Red Machine”, one that the team would adopt over the next decade. The Reds were on their way to becoming one of the great teams in National League history. They would finish 3rd in the NL East in 1969, but the foundation of their great 1970s run was set. Starting for the Reds that Sunday afternoon were Peter Rose, Tony Perez, and Johnny Bench.
On the hill for the Reds that day was veteran Camilo Pascual (aka “Little Potato”. Seriously.) He wouldn’t last long. Pascual was run off the mound in the first inning, having given up 3 runs while getting 1 out. In came “Fat” Jack Fisher. He wouldn’t last much longer. He was pulled in the bottom of the 3rd. Through 6 innings, the Reds 4 pitchers had given up 17 runs, all earned.
But the Phillies pitchers weren’t faring any better. Bill Champion lasted 2+ innings, then got pulled for Al Raffo, who have up 2 runs in one inning. Then, in the top of the 5th, the dam burst. The Reds went wild, racking up 10 runs, taking a 16-9 lead. Pete Rose had both a single and home run in the inning. Turk Farrell would surrender 6 runs for the Phils.
The Reds went up 18-9 in the top of the 6th, and you have to wonder how many of the 13,000 faithful in Shibe headed for the exits. But the Phils weren’t done. In the bottom of the 6th, the Phils scored 7, helped by a Tony Taylor grand slam. A Dick Allen solo shot in the bottom of the 7th closed the gap to 18-17, but then Wayne Granger came in for the Reds and shut the door. Bill Wilson, meanwhile, pitched the final 3 for the Phils and gave up only one run. The Phils got the winning run to the plate in the bottom of the 9th, but Ron Stone lined out to right, and the Reds escaped with a 19-17 shootout win. Turk Farrell took the loss for the Phillies. It was a well deserved loss, as he gave up 6 runs in 0.1 of an inning. Farrell would retire at the end of the season and move to England to work on an oil rig. Here’s the box score of that game.
RELATED: Phils beat Cubs, 23-22.
Our 8th Most Underrated Philadelphia Athlete of All-Time is Dick Allen. Allen’s relationship with the fans of this City was unlike any other. The picture above is definitely worth 1,000 words: you’ve got Dick Allen playing first base at Connie Mack Stadium for the hometown Phils, he’s traced “Boo” into the dirt in front of him in response to the crowd’s relentless booing, and he’s wearing his batting helmet in the field- not because he had suffered a head injury, but to protect himself from the batteries, pennies, fruit, and garbage thrown at him from the stands. Merely calling Allen “underrated” doesn’t do any justice to how Philadelphia fans treated the star.
The Phillies signed the 18-year-old Allen as an amateur free agent in 1960. He worked his way through the minor league system and by 1963 he was ready for AAA ball. The Phillies AAA affiliate at time was the Arkansas Travelers, based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Allen asked the organization to send him anywhere but Little Rock, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Obviously, with it’s history of violently fighting desegregation, Little Rock wasn’t the greatest place in the world for an African-American in the early 60’s. Throw in the fact that Allen was the first black player in Little Rock’s minor-league history and you can imagine that his welcome wasn’t unlike Bart’s introduction as the new Sheriff of Rock Ridge (NSFW). Outside the stadium before his first game, Allen was greeting with a fan protest that included a picketing line and signs like “Don’t Negro-ize Baseball” and the ultra-created “Nigger Go Home.” During his time in Little Rock, he was chastised by the fans and the community. His car was vandalized. He received death threats. Thankfully, his talent on the field made for a short-lived career in Little Rock and he was sent up to the majors as an everyday player in 1964.
Although Allen’s stint with the Travelers lasted only a year, it affected him for the rest of his career. First, he started drinking for the first time in his life. And second, it made him angry. Angry at the Phillies brass that sent a 21-yr-old black kid into the racial powder keg that was Little Rock against his wishes.
Allen broke in with the Phillies in style. The rookie batted .318 with 29 HR, 91 RBI, 13 triples, and 125 runs. He led the majors in triples and runs and was the runaway winner for Rookie of the Year. His offensive prowess continued and over the course of the next three seasons he was selected to the All-Star Team each year. He played six years with the Phillies before being traded after the ’69 season. Over the course of that time in Philadelphia, he batted .300 while averaging 30 HR, 90 RBI and 98 runs per year.
Those numbers put him in the upper echelon of sluggers in Phillies history, and should put him in the upper echelon of fan favorites. But that’s not where he sits. Instead, partly due to things outside of his control and partly due to his own behavior, Allen drew much more of this town’s ire than its awe.
One of the things out of his control included the size of his contract. In 1960, he signed with the organization for $70,000 and then in ’67 he was given $82,000 (making him the highest-paid 4th year player in baseball history). With big contracts come big expectations. Although Allen produced offensively, he also struck out…a lot. He was no Ryan Howard, but he averaged 141 Ks a year. He also wasn’t the best defensive player, committing 41 errors in his Rookie of the Year season. Strikeouts and errors aren’t what fans look for in a high-priced athlete and so the boos started early in Allen’s career.
During the next season, Allen’s relationship with the fans took a drastic turn for the worse. Veteran Phils slugger Frank Thomas taunted Allen and his black teammate Johnny Briggs by calling them “boy” and referring to Allen as “Muhammed Clay.” Things boiled over after Thomas called Allen a “Nigger SOB” at batting practice before a game. Allen went after Thomas and the two fought, Richie Allen with his fists and Frank Thomas with a bat. After the two were separated, then-manager Gene Mauch approached Allen and told him that he’d been looking for a reason to dump Thomas but that he’d fine Allen $1500 if he ever leaked that fact. Mauch told the press that he had to choose between a 36-year-old and a 23-year-old. Not surprisingly, the fans blamed Allen for the departure of the favored veteran. Allen described the fans’ reaction to Life:
The next day, I stuck my head out of the dugout and I’d never heard such booing…People yelled ‘Nigger’ and ‘Go back to South Street with the monkeys’ and it hasn’t stopped yet.
While the fan’s mistreatment of Allen wasn’t justified, the slugger didn’t do anything to help the situation. Always at the forefront of controversy, Allen was both the victim and the culprit. He began showing up late for batting practice, not because he was stuck in traffic, but because he stopped at the bar first. He was fined and benched a number of times for his tardiness (read: showing up to the park after batting practice was already over, and being hungover or drunk). Not that it affected him. One of his teammates was quoted as saying, “He’d be all glassy-eyed and still hit one 450 feet.” He showed up to spring training in 1968 in a state described by reporters as “hopelessly drunk.” He missed team flights, was accused of faking injury to get out of playing, and became a divisive character in the locker room. The media blamed Allen for the firings of consecutive managers Gene Mauch and Bob Skinner. He dressed by himself in an equipment room separate from the rest of his teammates. In 1969, he missed a double-header in New York and was suspended indefinitely. In retaliation, he held out for 26 games and returned only when he was promised a trade out of Philadelphia. He said, “I can play anywhere; First, Third, Left field, anywhere but Philadelphia.”
The press took whatever ammunition Allen supplied and buried him with it, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. He was painted as a trouble-maker, as a player with entitlement issues. The stories wouldn’t have been as interesting if the reporters divulged that Phillies management granted the star certain privileges (driving to games, taking time off, etc.), so that never made it to print. And so with the blessing of the fan base, Allen was traded.
After his trade, he didn’t stop producing. He earned 4 more All-Star selections. He was awarded the MVP in 1972, a year in which he batted .308, with 37 HRs, 90 runs scored, 113 RBI, and 19 steals for the Chicago White Sox. He did return to Philadelphia in 1975 for two more seasons with the Phillies before finishing his career in Oakland in 1977.
Instead of going down in history with the likes of Schmidt, Roberts, and Carlton, Dick Allen is remembered more for being controversial than for being talented. Because Philadelphia couldn’t look past his off-the-field issues and see his on-the-field skills, he remains one of the most underrated athletes to play in Philadelphia.
I had so much fun with the 1911 A’s that I thought I’d do something similar for Wilt’s 100 point game. So I went to the library and looked at the Inquirer and Bulletin from the days immediately before and after Wilt’s 100 point game. The NBA was so bush league back then that there was no preview of the game in the paper on March 2nd, which was focused on the Phils spring training and a potential Floyd Patterson-Sonny Liston fight (They would fight in September, an easy win for Liston). The next day, once he had scored 100, there was more notice, but nothing like you’d see today. A couple of columns in the Inky and Bulletin. By the 4th, there was no mention of it in the paper. Everything you read below was taken from those two papers in the days surrounding the games (including that AMAZING political headline from the Bulletin below) and from an incredible piece in Sportsweek this week, an oral history by the people who were there. I added a bit of my own style, but all quotes and facts are real. Enjoy!
Technically, Wilt scored 104 points last night. That’s what his teasing roommates told him in the joyous locker room after last night’s superlative performance against the Knicks. After all he had gotten called for goaltending twice. But it will go down in the scorebooks as 100, crushing his previous record by 22. And when you consider that young Wilt is only 25 years old and just now entering his prime, you have to wonder what he will do to top this!
“I just hope nobody asks me when I’m going to score 120…because I never will,” said a jovial Chamberlain after the game.
Perhaps not, but when you consider the type of season he’s having this year, it seems like anything is possible. Chamberlain is obliterating the rest of the league, averaging over 50 points a game. In fact, there are some who are calling for the baskets to rise to offset the dominance of big men like Chamberlain.
Remarkably, a few hours before Wilt’s 100 point game, a young reporter named Bill Conlin reported in the Bulletin that Temple’s coach Harry Litwack (left) is predicting higher goals in the next few years.”It is my personal feeling that the baskets will be raised…in the next 2 or 3 years,” Litwack said. “The average college player of 6’3″ or 6’4″ can stuff the ball with little trouble.” In fact, Penn coach Jack McCloskey had his team practice on 11 1/2 foot rims on Tuesday, saying that the practice was “enlightening, but inconclusive…The biggest need in the game today,” said McCloskey, “is to take away the advantage the unskillfull big man has over the skilled smaller player.”
Needless to say, McCloskey was not referring to Wilt, who is as skilled as anyone in the sport. Of course, his height didn’t hurt him on this night, when Knicks were playing without starting center Phil Jordan, who was out with the flu*. Neither did his free throw shooting.
“I wasn’t thinking of hitting 100,” said Chamberlain, “But after putting in nine straight free throws I was thinking about a foul shooting record.”
Well, he set a couple of those too, making 28 out of 32, both records that I suspect will still be held many years from now.**
His shooting from the field was good but not great (he finished 36 for 63). Needless to say, once his teammates and the crowd realized that 100 was a possibility, he touched the ball almost every time down the court. The Knicks, desperate to not give up 100, tried to freeze the clock by dribbling in circles. Warriors coach Frank McGuire countered that by having his players foul the Knicks. As the great Paul Arizin of the Warriors said after the game, “If anyone walked into the arena (then), they would think they were winning and we were losing.”
Indeed, the Warriors kept frantically feeding Wilt, and he kept hitting short layins over poor 6’8″ Cleveland Buckner, who was left to guard him after Darrell Imhoff, who was filling in for Jordan, fouled out. Wilt hit a couple of impressive fadeaways while in the 90s, then with 98 points and less than a minute remaining, he gathered in a short pass from Joe Ruklick (below, with Wilt), spun and dropped a short shot softly into the basket. He had 100! The crowd, which had been chanting “Pass to Wilt, Pass to Wilt!” throughout the 4th quarter, rushed the court. Eventually it was cleared, and the game resumed, with Wilt standing off to the side. He attempted no more shots, but it was no surprise that he stayed in the game. After all, he’s only missed 8 minutes all season, and is averaging more than 48 minutes per game!
After the game, Wilt was visibly excited about the new record. “It’s really something. I sure do feel different. Triple figures. Wow!” His teammates were ecstatic as well. Arizin said, “I never thought I would see it happen when I broke into this league, but when Wilt came along I knew he’d do it someday. It’s a fantastic thing. I’m very happy for him.”
In the Inquirer today, there was a story about Ted Williams being asked if anyone would ever hit .400 again, considered the benchmark in all of baseball. “Sure, there are going to be more .400 hitters,” said Williams. That remains to be seen, but it is worth noting that the 100 point game will almost certainly become a similar benchmark in basketball, and one has to wonder which record will be broken first, the .400 season or the 100 point game. Asked if anyone would break his record after last night’s game, Wilt slyly answered, “I’d hate to try to break it myself.”
IN OTHER SPORTS NEWS: -The All Catholic League Team and All Public League teams released their All-Stars today. Among the All Catholics was Matt Goukas of St. Joe’s, and the All Public League included All Stars Earl “The Pearl” Monroe of Bartram and Fred Carter of Franklin.
-Robin Roberts has begun training camp for the first time in his career with a new team…the New York Yankees. Roberts, the greatest pitcher in Phils history, struggled to a 1-10 season last year with a 5.85 ERA, and was in need of a fresh start. “It’s great to be…a Yankee,” said Roberts. “This is a new world.”***
-The 1964 election is still two years away, but there is a name quickly gaining traction in Republican circles. That is George Romney, who after a successful stint as head of the American Motors Corporation has decided to run for governor of Michigan. Remarkable that a man with no political experience is already considered a frontrunner for the 1964 nomination.****
-Four Philadelphia police sergeants are being trained to use a new device called the “Breathalyzer”, which can be used to determine the amount of alcohol a driver has had.
And before we go, a word from our sponsors, the Trocadero Burlesk Theatre. Without their support, none of this would be possible.The tantalizing tassel twirler Stormy is performing tonight. Don’t think I want to miss that one! I’ll see ya at the 9:55 show!
*Imhoff revealed in that Sportsweek piece that Jordan actually missed the game with a hangover, not the flu. How incredible is that? If Phil Jordan doesn’t get wasted the night before the game, the Knick have their starting center, and it’s almost certain that Wilt doesn’t score 100.
**Adrian Dantley would tie Wilt’s record with 28 made in a game in 1984. Dwight Howard currently has the record for most free throws attempted with 39, which he set in January (He made 21).
***Roberts would never pitch a game for the Yankees before being traded to the Orioles in May. He would indeed find new life in Baltimore, going 10-9 with a 2.78 ERA that season and winning 42 games total with the O’s before ending his career in Houston.
****His son Willard Mitt turned 15 ten days after Wilt’s 100 point game.
Born on December 7th, 1936, Bo Belinsky once said, “It’s no fun knowing that in every home in America your home is celebrated as a day of infamy.” He was known for his self demeaning wit, his playboy persona, and his electric fastball. But by the time his career was over, he was also known as one of those tragic figures whose vices prevented him to ever reach his full potential.
Bo Belinsky began his career as a rock star in LA. As a handsome 25-year old rookie, he won his first five starts, threw a no-hitter in his 4th start, and dated Playboy models, soon becaming the toast of the town in a city that rarely elevates baseball players to the level of movie stars. But it wasn’t long before his hard living took a toll, and his fall from grace was swift and spectacular.
In some ways, Belinsky was a perfect example of a typical “What if?” question: if you could be a superstar for 2-3 years, dating Playboy models and partying with the Rat Pack, but have a rough life for the next 40 years, would you do it? It’s a question worth pondering, especially when you consider that his stay at the top included girlfriends such as Connie Stevens, Tina Louise, and Mamie van Doren, the latter of whom he was engaged to. (He later married Playboy Playmate Jo Collins, though the marriage was brief).
His wanderlust and naivete were paradoxically charming and destructive. This from an incredibly fascinating piece by Pat Jordan on Belinsky in SI in 1972 (seriously, a must read).
“My problem was simple, Babe,” he says, staring straight ahead. “I heard music nobody else heard. I remember once in the Texas League when the team bus stopped in Veracruz so we could eat. All the players went into the restaurant except me. I thought I heard music down the street, so I went looking for it. I found a two-piece jazz band playing on the sidewalk in front of a bar. I listened for a while, and when they went inside, I followed them. I had a few drinks and then left. I had every intention of returning to that bus until I ran into another jazz band. I followed them into a bar, too. What I didn’t know was that all these bars hired jazz bands to lure customers inside. Man, after that bar, it seemed like every step I took there were these buglers waiting for me. I woke up six days later in a hotel room in Acapulco. I had a sponsor. This blonde Mexican—she had to be blonde, right!—was sitting by the bed saying, ‘Belinsky! Belinsky! I make you great yanqui bullfighter! But first we must change your name.’ I said, ‘Sure, Babe, we’ll change it to Lance. Lance Belinsky, how’s that?'”
After such a promising start with the Angels, he quickly came crashing down to earth, never to rise again. A month after his no-hitter, he was accused of pulling a woman out of his Cadillac and assaulting her. Two years later, he punched a 64-year old reporter. His days as an Angel were done. His next stop? Philadelphia. The Phillies were, like Belinsky, coming off a disastrous year, and manager Gene Mauch was hoping two negatives would equal a positive. Belinsky arrived with much fanfare, making the cover of SI before throwing his first pitch in Philly. The team was excited that Belinsky was bringing some LA glamour (and his on again off again girlfriend Mamie van Doren) to Philly.
Glamorous Mamie Van Doren was coming to Clearwater to root for ex-fiance Bo. During batting practice several players waited near the gate Mamie was supposed to enter. No luck. Once the game began, shiny heads kept popping up out of the dugout; shiny eyes scanned the stands for Mamie. No Mamie. The Phillies, left at the altar in last year’s pennant race, had been stood up again. Mamie sent word that the weather was too cold. The following day was overcast but mild. Again, no Mamie. “I wasn’t feeling groovy,” she explained. “This would never have happened,” Catcher Gus Triandos told Belinsky, “if we had won the pennant.”
Mauch wasn’t worried about Mamie van Doren, but he was hoping he could bring the former phenom back to the top of his game. He explained what happened in Philly in an excellent 2005 piece in LA Magazine (only the PDF is available, but it’s worth a read, and made the “Best Sports Writing of 2005” book, where I first came across it.)
“I went to a great deal of trouble to get Bo. People said, ‘You’re crazy.’ But I was pretty cocky and thought I could take on anybody.” Convinced that Belinsky’s fastball was his most effective pitch, the manager did his best to persuade him to abandon the showier but less consistent screwball…At first Mauch appeared to make headway. “Bo went to Houston and threw a 3-hitter relying on his fastball. Four days later, we get to Los Angeles, Bo gets two strikes on a hitter in the first inning, and here comes the goddamn screwball. I go to the mound and say, ‘One more of those and you go to the bench.’ The fastball wasn’t flashy enough for Bo. Flash meant a lot to him, ore than baseball did, which he saw as sort of an hors d’oeuvre to get things started-girls, parties.”
Belinsky refused to abandon the screwball, and was relegated to a role in the bullpen. It was in the Philly bullpen that he got hooked on amphetamines. Things went steadily downhill. He left Philly and went to Houston, then to Pittsburgh, then to Cincy. He never recaptured the magic, and ended his career with a 28-51 record and a 4.10 ERA (the ERA sounds respectable, but remember the 60s were a pitcher’s decade).
The above SI article portrays him as a alcoholic, and after that article, things got a lot worse before they got better. He graduated from booze to coke, and began hanging out with gangsters and pimps. He got remarried, but while wacked out of his mind, he shot his wife in the hip. He went in and out of rehab. After he and his wife divorced, he neglected his children. He found Jesus, tried to get clean, and often would go years without a drink. He spent the last decade of his life gainfully employed at a car dealership in Las Vegas. But he never fully escaped his demons. He tried to commit suicide in 1997, and four years later he died at age 64. Interestingly, he was buried 5 plots away from another 1960s star who never could escape his demons, Sonny Liston.
Another Philadelphia tragedy, if you missed it the first time, the Fast Rise and Tragic Fall of Tyrone “The Mean Machine” Everett.