Had a chance to sit down with local author and Penn prof Bruce Kuklick recently and ask him about his excellent book, To Every Thing a Season. To read Part One of that Interview, where Bruce talks about who was better the 1929 A’s or 2011 Phillies, click here. To read Part Two, where he talks about Connie Mack and the best and worst things about Shibe Park, click here. Today we present part 3, where Bruce talks about why Connie Mack couldn’t serve beer at the ballpark, when Philly fans first got their reputation as being rowdy, and how Penn’s former President prevented Citizen’s Bank Park from being built downtown.
JGT: One thing I found interesting about the book was Mack’s fight to serve alcohol at the ballpark. And that was something that went on for decades. And he never got it done. They wouldn’t let them serve beer in the ballpark until after the A’s left town. Why was their so much pushback to serving beer in ballparks?
KUKLICK: Well first of all, you’ve got to understand, it’s Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is not a dry state, but it’s one in which there are enough rural Protestant Republicans who really want to control drinking to the extent that they can. And this has been true long before the 20th century and it has nothing to do with sports per se.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. What do they represent? They represent bad things to a lot of these people. Because they’re urban, there’s a lot more liquor, women, and things like that. And another thing, there are a lot more Catholics in the big cities in comparison to the rest of the state. Mack is a Catholic. And so when he starts agitating for liquor at the ballpark, this represents to the powers-that-be something that is off-color, it’s vulgar, it’s nasty.
JGT: So is Mack fighting more the state or the city?
KUKLICK: He’s fighting the state. There’s a whole series of blue laws which not only control drinking but control your behavior on a Sunday. You know what they say today. They say today, “You’ve got Pittsburgh and you’ve got Philadelphia, and in between you’ve got Alabama.”
I don’t think that Mack saw this as a Catholic drinking issue, which a lot of people have accused him of. He saw it as a revenue stream. And (when it came to drinking laws) from the 1930s to 1970s (They allowed sales of beer in the ballpark starting in 1961, but no beer on Sundays until 1972) it was always politicians in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia against the rest of the state, and the politicians in the big cites get their biggest support from professional sports teams.
JGT: So other ballparks in the country were serving beer well before Shibe?
KUKLICK: Yeah. I don’t know what the exact history of the other ballparks is, but Philadelphia was particularly noted for its dryness. One of the things I didn’t put in the book is that you have so much smuggling of beer into the ballpark. Which is one reason why a place like Kilroy’s (The bar located behind right field where Phillies relief pitchers sometimes snuck into to grab a drink during games.) does so well, because people just grabbed beer there and put it in a bag. So there was a lot of technically illegal beer drinking. Which I think in football contributed to a lot of this rowdy behavior. There’s this history of people smuggling stuff into the parks.
JGT: Speaking of rowdy behavior, Philly fans have a reputation of rowdyism. Does that go back to the Shibe Park days?
KUKLICK: Yeah. Well it first starts in the first decade of the 20th century when the A’s are battling the Detroit Tigers and Ty Cobb (“Sliding” into home, right). And Philadelphia fans hate Cobb. And I find out that they send a death threat to him. And at one point he’s riding on a subway to get to the park and fans come and topple over this subway and he runs scared and runs out. Now, I don’t know that that’s the beginning, but that’s the earliest time I could trace it. They say that today this (CBP) is the only stadium where the crowd can really rattle an opposing pitcher because the fans get so boisterous and angry. There’s a tradition of it here, it goes back over 100 years. Why we got it? I don’t know.
JGT: A guy I interviewed a few weeks ago who was a fan of the A’s in the 20s said that Al Simmons, one of the stars of that team, couldn’t catch a break from the fans. Then you had Del Ennis in the 50s…
KUKLICK: And then you had it with Mike Schmidt.
JGT: So this strange phenomenon of Philadelphia fans beating up on their own is nothing new.
KUKLICK: There’s a story of one guy, Gus Zernial, who was a slugger kind of like Ennis but he didn’t have that long of a career in Philadelphia (note: he played here from 1951-1954). He fell and broke his leg trying to catch a fly ball, and they all cheered when he broke his leg. They’re out for blood.
JGT: Getting back to the ballpark. Looking at what’s happened in the neighborhoods surrounding Wrigley and Fenway since the teams decided to stay, and how those neighborhoods have come back up, had they decided to rehab Shibe instead of tear it down, do you think that neighborhood would be different today?
KUKLICK: I absolutely do. My wife and I went on vacation one time to Club Med, and we were talking to some people, and we said, “Where are you from?” and this guy said “Wrigleyville.” He didn’t say Chicago. And we knew exactly where he was talking about. That ballpark is known all over the Western World. And every once in a while, I think, “Gee if they had only had the foresight.” But basically that area went through a really terrible period. It’s now come up considerably on its own. It’s a lot less nasty and dangerous than it was.
But Carpenter (The Phillies owner at the time) was just not interested. He didn’t think in those terms at all.
JGT: Like the guys in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, he thought, “I can save a fortune by not having to grow grass.”
KUKLICK: When I teach Vietnam, I’ll say, “Those ballparks that they are now tearing down (Riverfront, The Vet, Three Rivers, etc.), they were all built during that period, and it’s kind of our Roman period. The United States thinks it’s going to conquer the world. And we have these ballparks that look like Roman Colosseums.” So Carpenter isn’t alone.
JGT: So now they’re at Citizen’s bank. Not in a neighborhood. Are you a fan of Citizen’s Bank?
KUKLICK: Oh yeah. I’m not overwhelmed by it, but I do like going there. I’d like it a lot better if it were in the city. I was one of the people who, well, I’ll tell you this story. The previous President at Penn was a woman named Judy Ronin, who had no sense of baseball or sports at all. And then there were plans to put a stadium on stilts next to the Walnut Street Bridge, so that a home run would go into the river. They had all of these terrific downtown urban plans, and she said, “I don’t want those baseball drunks pissing in my University.” And she vetoed it. I wanted it right there.
You know, Philadelphians have never wanted to build their ballparks right in the middle of the city. When they built Shibe, it was the countryside. I think you have to have more of an urban mindset more so than these planners have had in Philly.
A few days ago, I posted Part 1 of my interview with local history professor and author Bruce Kuklick, who wrote the incredible book To Every Thing a Season about Shibe Park and how it affected the surrounding neighborhood through the decades. If you are a fan of Philadelphia sports history, this book is simply a must read.
In Part 2 of our interview, he talks about the reputation of Connie Mack (left) in the city, whether or not there was an uproar in Philly when the Athletics moved away, and what were the best and worst things about Shibe Park. Next week, he’ll talk about how hard it was to sell booze at Shibe, how rowdy the fans were, and compare it to Citizen’s Bank Park.
JGT: The book deals a lot with Connie Mack. Obviously, since he ran the team for 50 years. Was he seen as a local hero or as a local goat, or a little bit of both depending?
KUKLICK: I’d say in the 1920s, when he’s in his 60s, he looks like he’s over the hill, and then he has this one last hurrah where he creates this 1929-1931 dynasty and he is a Philadelphia hero. In fact he gets, in ’29, the Bok Award, which is usually given to like the governor or some political or social big wig. And that it went to a baseball guy is really extraordinary at that time. In the ’20s, as he built that team up, he is more than a local hero. He is a national sports statesman. Then, when the team tanks in the ’30s and Mack is in his 70s, he goes downhill pretty fast.
In the ’50s, everybody thinks, “This guy is over the hill. Let’s get rid of him.” It’s sad, because no one will say it. Some people say that the last year he managed he was kind of like Reagan at the end of the Reagan years, just completely out of it. So I think he went through all these kinds of permutations, but at his height he was, you know…
JGT: King of the city?
JGT: When the Phillies won a couple of years ago, the city went nuts, with a party on Broad Street and a parade afterwards. Did they used to do that back then when the A’s won?
KUKLICK: Yeah. In ’29 is the first World Series win, that’s the big one. Then they do it again in ’30. And after that Mack says, “The Philadelphia fans don’t appreciate a winner. They don’t care about it anymore.” And his argument that he sold off the team was that in ’31 there wasn’t much fan support. And what he wanted to do was not to ensure that they would win, but get them to play .600 ball instead of .680 ball.
JGT: So there would be a pennant chase in September and people would want to come out to the ballpark.
KUKLICK: Right. But he miscalculated how hard it is to do these things.
JGT: It’s hard enough to build a winner, much less a team that wins exactly 60% of their ballgames.
JGT: So getting back to the earlier question, do you know if they had a parade or people running wild in the streets? (after the A’s won the Series in the late 20s-early 30s)
KUKLICK: I know that there was a lot of cheering in the streets. Not necessarily down Broad Street. But all over North Philly, you would know that this had happened, that this was big news.
JGT: Now, I don’t know if you know this, but the Oakland A’s are probably going to move in the next couple of years.
KUKLICK: I did not know that.
JGT: They’ll probably stay on the West Coast, but there is a small but vocal local minority that wants them to come back to Philadelphia. Could this area support two baseball teams?
KUKLICK: That would be my dream come true. I don’t know. I don’t know.
JGT: Well, let’s rewind a little bit. When they did move to Kansas City initially, was there any local outrage?
KUKLICK: No. The leaving of the Dodgers and the Giants, is really…I mean, I know people who still won’t forgive the owners who left, Stoneham and O’Malley. Who hate them. Who still hate them. You won’t find that in Philly. The A’s from 1950-54 were really bad, and the Phillies looked so good all of a sudden, people got suckered into thinking they had something with the Phillies. There was a group, Save the A’s, that put together a feeble little attempt of guys with very little money to try to keep the franchise in the city. But they got forgotten (snaps fingers) like that once they left.
JGT: Getting back to Shibe. What were the best things about Shibe Park and what were the worst things?
KUKLICK: I used to go there as a kid. That’s how I learned my baseball. My dad used to take me. By the end, it was really a dump. When the A’s left the city, Bob Carpenter, who was the Phillies owner, had no alternative but to buy the park. He didn’t want it, he wasn’t interested in ballparks. And he really let it get run down. Because from the very start he was trying to figure out some way to have a new facility. He thought this was a white elephant. For the last 10 years, from about 1960 to 1970, the place doesn’t get maintained at all. That’s the worst part. Also the neighborhood was really decaying. There was no place to park. It really wasn’t a pleasant experience.
What was really spectacular about that place for me and this might be silly but really it is heartfelt. That ballpark is right in the middle of the city. And you are in the middle of an urban area. And you walk into this park, and it’s dark and there’s concrete around, and then you come up to one of the entrances to the field, and you see this green diamond. There’s just something there that’s just incredible. And I talked to a lot of people who said, “Here I was some little kid from South Philly or West Philly and had never really seen the countryside and all of a sudden inside a building there’s this green grass and it’s like the country.”
If you enjoy reading this site, I heartily recommend that you buy the book To Every Thing a Season by Bruce Kuklick (pronounced Cook-lick). This is the quite simply the best book I have read yet about Philadelphia sports. The book is about Shibe Park, and it covers not only the games that took place there, but the way it helped to shape the surrounding neighborhood over the nearly 70 years it stood at 20th and Lehigh. A truly terrific read that is not only filled with a ton of fascinating facts about the old Phillies and A’s ball clubs, but also a terrific look at the city itself between 1909 and 1976.
I sat down to an interview with Kuklick, and the affable and excitable UPenn History professor talked about Connie Mack’s legacy, why people back in the day decided whether to root for the Phillies or the Athletics (since they played 6 blocks away from each other), and which team is better, the 2011 Phils or the 1929 A’s. There’s so much good stuff in this interview that I’m going to split it into three parts. This is part one. Enjoy! -Johnny Goodtimes
JGT: What inspired you to write this book?
KUKLICK: I’m a long time baseball fan, but up until the point of writing this book, I had kind of fallen away from the game. It was partly the Phillies. They were so lousy in the 60s that I didn’t pay any attention to them. And then my daughter started going to public school in Philly and started getting involved with the Phillies, and she and I started going to games regularly again. I looked around, it was then the Vet, and I said, “How did we get to this wretched, horrible ballpark?” Which I really hated. “What happened to take us away from that old ballpark, Connie Mack Stadium, Shibe Park?” And I’m a historian, and I think, “I can figure this out.” So I started doing the research in old newspapers at the Temple Urban Archives…and then I was hooked. I spent more time up there at Temple than I care to tell you about. For 5 years I was up there every Thursday and Friday.
JGT: One thing a lot of people have asked me about and I haven’t been able to find a good answer for yet is this: the Athletics and the Phillies played extremely close to each other. The two ballparks (Shibe and Baker Bowl) were 6 blocks away. How did fans decide which team they were going to be a fan of?
KUKLICK: It wasn’t much of a choice. The A’s were the team of choice. I mean, you’re a loser if you’re a Phillies fan. If you look at statistics on attendance, the Phillies get nobody. I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that it was a very, very local crowd. If you lived 2 blocks from the Phillies and 4 blocks from the A’s, maybe you’d go there. But they had nobody. They had lousy players. Whenever they had a good player they would sell them to make ends meet (ed. note: sound familiar, Pittsburgh Pirate fans?) There were a couple of scandals around them in the early 1940s, about gambling and stuff. So it’s not really much of a choice. The A’s are the premiere team. People go and see the A’s play. The Phillies are kind of a minor 2nd thought, kind of an embarrassment to the National League. Of course, a lot of the National League teams are happy to have the Phillies around.
JGT: They’ve got someone to beat up on every couple of weeks.
KUKLICK: That’s right. That’s right. That’s why I like your site. Finally somebody says, “Sure the Phillies are great. Sure Chase Utley is great. But is he the greatest 2nd baseman that’s ever played here? Absolutely not. He doesn’t even come close.” People don’t realize that the 1929, 1930, and 1931 A’s are better than even this team today, which I think is the best team this franchise has had.
JGT: Sports Illustrated called that the team time forgot. People forget that those A’s smoked Ruth, Gehrig, and the Yankees in the standings.
KUKLICK: I know that.
JGT: Well, it’s a great trivia question. What Philadelphia pro team has won the most championships?That team is the one that moved away from here 57 years ago.
KUKLICK: And it’s not only that. They were only here for 54 years too. The Phillies have had a lot more years to put it together.
JGT: You had two stadiums, Shibe Park and the Baker Bowl. Was Shibe Park superior to the Baker Bowl?
KUKLICK: Oh yeah. In fact the Phillies moved to Shibe in 1938. They had a couple of fires in the Baker Bowl, part of the stands collapsed, a repeated number of disasters.
JGT: Now Shibe was built in 1908 and 1909. When it was built, was it considered revolutionary?
KUKLICK: It was the first concrete and steel stadium. What that means is that it’s concrete that they stick steels rods in to make it almost indestructible. In fact, I bet you if you dig up under that church (there’s now a church on the old Shibe Park grounds) you’ll find bits of Shibe Park under the ground. I was told that it was so difficult to knock this place down that they finally just dug a huge hole at 21st and Lehigh and just put all the stuff in there and covered it over.
It’s the first stadium in the United States that uses this new technology, and it’s rapidly followed by a lot of similar stadiums. The two most important ones now are Fenway and Wrigley.
JGT: So did that sort of kick off a boom the way that Camden Yards in the 90s did?
KUKLICK: Oh yeah. Yeah. It’s the first one.
To read part 2 of this interview, click here. Then, as part of our Beer Week coverage, we’ll post Part 3, where he talks about how Connie Mack fought for decades to get booze into the ballpark, and how Pennsylvania’s blue laws and bars near the ballpark prevented him from doing so.
- If you haven’t done so already, and want to learn more about the early A’s, be sure to check out the interview I did with Chief Bender biographer Tom Swift.
- You’ll also enjoy this interview I did with former Philadelphia A’s fan John Rooney, who cheered the team on in 1929.
- And I’m pretty sure you’ll like this piece I did on former A’s player Simon Nicholls, who died tragically at age 28.