Athletics You Should Know: Wally Schang

Perhaps the greatest catcher you’ve never heard of, Wally Schang was the backstop on 4 different World Series champions, which was probably a combination of luck and his remarkable skill behind the plate. He began his career in Philadelphia with the Athletics in 1913. He started about half the team’s games, then started 4 out of the 5 World Series games that year, as the A’s crushed the Giants, 4 games to 1. Schang had an excellent World Series, knocking in 7 runs, hitting a Home Run and a Triple. The New York Times wrote, “Wally Schang, the kid catcher of the Athletics, will go down into history as the sensation of the 1913 World Series.” 

Connie Mack blew up the squad after losing the 1914 World Series, and Schang would have to play for a 1915 team that was similar to the 1998 Marlins; they went from the World Series to the depths of the basement, going 43-109, 58 games out of first. Scahng had to suffer through two more terrible seasons before Mack did him a favor and sent him to the Red Sox.

But before he was shipped off, he made baseball history. On September 8th, 1916, the switch hitting Shang became the first player in MLB history to homer from both sides of the plate, hitting homers off Yankee pitchers Allan Russell and Slim Love. Yes, Slim Love. (If there are any rappers reading this, do yourself a favor and change your name to Slim Love. Immediately.) No player would do it again until Augie Galan of the Cubs did it in 1937.

In an effort to further reduce payroll, the penny pinching Mack sent Shang to the Red Sox in 1917. In his first year on the Sox, he caught for Red Sox legends Carl Mays and Dutch Leonard, as well as a young lefty named Babe Ruth, on a team that would win their 4th World Series in 7 years. No-one could have possibly imagined then that he would be the last catcher to guide the Red Sox to a World Series title until Jason Varitek.

Schang was traded to the Yankees in 1920, and won a Series with them in 1923. After a few years with the woeful Brown, he was signed by Mack in 1930. The 40 year old catcher would play only sparingly, and not hit very well. He would not make an appearance in the 1930 World Series, but he earned a World Series ring nonetheless, his 4th. He would play one more season, with Detroit, and then call it a career.

The speedy Shang is still 7th all-time among catchers for steals, with 121, holds the AL record by throwing out 6 base stealers in one game in 1915, and he is one of only 6 players to play on 3 different World Series winning teams. Incredibly, four of those six played for the 1913 A’s (Shang, Herb Pennock, Stuffy McInnis, and Bullet Joe Bush.)

He certainly wasn’t on the cutting edge of style. The moustache had gone out of fashion in the early 20th century, but Schang had one when he first came to the majors. Though he would soon shave it of, he would go down in history as the last MLB player to sport one until the Phils Dick Allen started growing one in 1970.


A Brief History of Booze and Baseball in Philadelphia

With beer week going down this week, here’s a short but sweet history of beer in Philly ballparks. Most of this info comes from this excellent piece on the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society. I also got some info from a book by David Nemec called the Beer and Whiskey League and from a book called the Baseball Hall of Shame 4.

William Hulbert, the man who helped form the National League in 1876 and served as 2nd president, enforced harsh anti-drinking rules right off the bat. He wanted “classy” people to come to baseball games, not drunks, so he made drinking illegal at the ballpark. This didn’t go over well in some cities, particularly Cincinnati. They had a large German population that enjoyed drinking beer at the ballpark, and in 1880 they broke league rules and started serving brews. They were subsequently kicked out of the NL.

In 1882, 6 cities started playing in a new league called the American Association, including Cincinnati and a team in Philadelphia called the Athletics (below, not affiliated with the current A’s). Several of the early owners were brewers who were happy to serve booze at the ballpark. The haughty-taughty National League saw baseball as more like polo, with rich d-bag fans wearing popped collars to the games, drinking sparkling water, and talking about their stock portfolios. They referred condescendingly to this new league as the “Beer and Whiskey League”. The fans of the AA didn’t seem to mind.

However, fans in Philadelphia weren’t allowed to have the fun their counterparts in Cincy, Baltimore, and St. Louis, among others, were having at their brewery-run ballparks. Blue laws made drinking illegal at Athletics games.

The AA broke up in the early 1890s, but a new league, the American League, started play in 1901. They let each city make its own decision when it came to booze, but  the Athletics had no decision to make. Again, thanks to the PA blue laws, the A’s (like the Phillies) simply could not serve booze at the ballpark. At least Philadelphia fans weren’t as upset as fans in other cities when Prohibition came around.

Connie Mack, despite the fact that he was a teetotaller, tried desperately to get beer in the ballpark in the 1930s after Prohibition got repealed, as baseball suffered along with everyone else in the throes of the Great Depression. His pleas went unheeded by the powers that be (See my interview with Bruce Kuklick for more info on Mack’s battle with local politicians and rural Protestants over beer sales.)

The Philadelphia fans offered quite an impetus to make beer drinking in the ballpark legal. They smuggled in bottles and cans of beer by the boatload, and there were a number of instances where fans would then hurl full cans at umpires and players. Once, in 1949, Richie Ashburn made a spectacular shoestring catch, but the umpire botched the call and called it a hit. Phillies fans went nuts. They launched cans onto the field for 15 full minutes, and the umpires finally called the game a forfeit.

The A’s and Phils tried to make the case that they would serve beer in paper cups, taking projectiles out of the crowd. Their opponents were the unlikely allies of temperance leaders and local bar owners, who were happy selling beer before the games for people to smuggle in.

Finally, in 1961, 7 years after the A’s left town, a couple more ugly instances involving beer cans and umpires in Philadelphia caused a public outcry, and the two Pennsylvania teams (the Pirates and the Phillies) both announced that money raised by beer sales would go towards building new stadiums (with Shibe and Forbes Field both on their last legs.) The powers that be saw this as a safety issue and relented. Finally, almost 80 years since MLB baseball began in Philadelphia, fans could drink at the ballpark. But the blue laws would not go w/o a fight. The sale of beer on Sundays would not occur until 1972, after the Phillies moved to the Vet and the A’s were a dynasty in Oakland.

So next time you are at a ballgame enjoying a cold one, give a cheers to the obnoxious Phillies fans who came before you. By acting like belligerent jackasses, they helped ensure that beer could be served at ballgames in Philadelphia. I’ll drink to that.

Use the discount code “Beer” to get this Philadelphia A’s hat for $24 with free shipping.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy the following:

Searching for Simon Nicholls. The remarkably tragic tale of a turn of the century player on the Philadelphia A’s.

An interview with Author Steve Bucci about Steve Carlton’s amazing 1972 season, when he won 27 games for a Phillies team that won 59 games all year.

 


Lou Gehrig Goes Yard Four Times in Shibe

On June 3, 1932, Lou Gehrig and the Yankees travelled to take on the Athletics in Shibe park. These two teams were the dominant teams of the late 20s and early 30s, yet surprisingly only 7300 fans were in attendance for the game. Those 7300 never forgot what they saw that day.

Gehrig stepped into the batters box in the first inning to face the Athletics George Earnshaw. Gehrig blasted a pitch from Earnshaw over the wall in left center. In the 4th inning he took one over the right field wall.But the A’s formidable offense came roaring back, and they took an 8-4 lead into the top of the 5th. But Gehrig hit his 3rd home run to get NY back in the game, and Connie Mack pulled Earnshaw. He should have left him in. The A’s bullpen imploded, allowing 13 runs in 4 innings of work. In the 7th inning, Gehrig batted again. And he homered again, this time to right off Rube Walberg.

Gehrig came to bat again in the 8th. By now, the Philadelphia fans knew they were witnessing history and  stood on their feet, imploring him to hit his 5th home run. He grounded out weakly. It looked like he was done. However, the Yankees blew open a tight game in the 9th, scoring 6 runs, and Gehrig got to bat again, this time off of a shell shocked Eddie Rommel. Gehrig blasted one to deep center, the deepest part of the park. It was his hardest hit ball of the day. The crowd stood on its feet…then groaned as it was caught on the inches from the 468′ center field wall. He was the first 20th century player to hit 4 home runs in a game. (One of the 19th century players to do it was the Phillies Ed Delahanty.)

Incredibly, lost in the hubbub over Gehrig’s day, few people noticed that his teammate Tony Lazzeri hit for the cycle! The Yankees won the game, 20-13. The Yankees were in the midst of an amazing 108-47 record that year, which culminated in a sweep of the Cubs in the World Series.

RELATED:  A list of all players to hit 4 homers in a single game. Incredibly the Phillies are the only team to have 3 players do it. (Delahanty, Klein, and Schmidt.)


Interview with Shibe Park Historian Bruce Kuklick, Part 2.

A few days ago, I posted Part 1 of my interview with local history professor and author Bruce Kuklick, who wrote the incredible book To Every Thing a Season about Shibe Park and how it affected the surrounding neighborhood through the decades. If you are a fan of Philadelphia sports history, this book is simply a must read.

In Part 2 of our interview, he talks about the reputation of Connie Mack (left) in the city, whether or not there was an uproar in Philly when the Athletics moved away, and what were the best and worst things about Shibe Park. Next week, he’ll talk about how hard it was to sell booze at Shibe, how rowdy the fans were, and compare it to Citizen’s Bank Park.

JGT: The book deals a lot with Connie Mack. Obviously, since he ran the team for 50 years. Was he seen as a local hero or as a local goat, or a little bit of both depending?

KUKLICK: I’d say in the 1920s, when he’s in his 60s, he looks like he’s over the hill, and then he has this one last hurrah where he creates this 1929-1931 dynasty and he is a Philadelphia hero. In fact he gets, in ’29, the Bok Award, which is usually given to like the governor or some political or social big wig. And that it went to a baseball guy is really extraordinary at that time. In the ’20s, as he built that team up, he is more than a local hero. He is a national sports statesman. Then, when the team tanks in the ’30s and Mack is in his 70s, he goes downhill pretty fast.

In the ’50s, everybody thinks, “This guy is over the hill. Let’s get rid of him.” It’s sad, because no one will say it. Some people say that the last year he managed he was kind of like Reagan at the end of the Reagan years, just completely out of it. So I think he went through all these kinds of permutations, but at his height he was, you know…

JGT: King of the city?

KUKLICK: Yeah.

JGT: When the Phillies won a couple of years ago, the city went nuts, with a party on Broad Street and a parade afterwards. Did they used to do that back then when the A’s won?

KUKLICK: Yeah. In ’29 is the first World Series win, that’s the big one. Then they do it again in ’30. And after that Mack says, “The Philadelphia fans don’t appreciate a winner. They don’t care about it anymore.” And his argument that he sold off the team was that in ’31 there wasn’t much fan support. And what he wanted to do was not to ensure that they would win, but get them to play .600 ball instead of .680 ball.

JGT: So there would be a pennant chase in September and people would want to come out to the ballpark.

KUKLICK: Right. But he miscalculated how hard it is to do these things.

JGT: It’s hard enough to build a winner, much less a team that wins exactly 60% of their ballgames.

KUKLICK: Right.

JGT: So getting back to the earlier question, do you know if they had a parade or people running wild in the streets? (after the A’s won the Series in the late 20s-early 30s)

KUKLICK: I know that there was a lot of cheering in the streets. Not necessarily down Broad Street. But all over North Philly, you would know that this had happened, that this was big news.

JGT: Now, I don’t know if you know this, but the Oakland A’s are probably going to move in the next couple of years.

KUKLICK: I did not know that.

JGT: They’ll probably stay on the West Coast, but there is a small but vocal local minority that wants them to come back to Philadelphia. Could this area support two baseball teams?

KUKLICK: That would be my dream come true. I don’t know. I don’t know.

JGT: Well, let’s rewind a little bit. When they did move to Kansas City initially, was there any local outrage?

KUKLICK: No. The leaving of the Dodgers and the Giants, is really…I mean, I know people who still won’t forgive the owners who left, Stoneham and O’Malley. Who hate them. Who still hate them. You won’t find that in Philly. The A’s from 1950-54 were really bad, and the Phillies looked so good all of a sudden, people got suckered into thinking they had something with the Phillies. There was a group, Save the A’s, that put together a feeble little attempt of guys with very little money to try to keep the franchise in the city. But they got forgotten (snaps fingers) like that once they left.

JGT: Getting back to Shibe. What were the best things about Shibe Park and what were the worst things?

KUKLICK: I used to go there as a kid. That’s how I learned my baseball. My dad used to take me. By the end, it was really a dump. When the A’s left the city, Bob Carpenter, who was the Phillies owner, had no alternative but to buy the park. He didn’t want it, he wasn’t interested in ballparks. And he really let it get run down. Because from the very start he was trying to figure out some way to have a new facility. He thought this was a white elephant. For the last 10 years, from about 1960 to 1970, the place doesn’t get maintained at all. That’s the worst part. Also the neighborhood was really decaying. There was no place to park. It really wasn’t a pleasant experience.

What was really spectacular about that place for me and this might be silly but really it is heartfelt. That ballpark is right in the middle of the city. And you are in the middle of an urban area. And you walk into this park, and it’s dark and there’s concrete around, and then you come up to one of the entrances to the field, and you see this green diamond. There’s just something there that’s just incredible. And I talked to a lot of people who said, “Here I was some little kid from South Philly or West Philly and had never really seen the countryside and all of a sudden inside a building there’s this green grass and it’s like the country.”

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


An Interview with Shibe Park Historian Bruce Kuklick, Part 1

If you enjoy reading this site, I heartily recommend that you buy the book To Every Thing a Season by Bruce Kuklick (pronounced Cook-lick). This is the quite simply the best book I have read yet about Philadelphia sports. The book is about Shibe Park, and it covers not only the games that took place there, but the way it helped to shape the surrounding neighborhood over the nearly 70 years it stood at 20th and Lehigh. A truly terrific read that is not only filled with a ton of fascinating facts about the old Phillies and A’s ball clubs, but also a terrific look at the city itself between 1909 and 1976.

I sat down to an interview with Kuklick, and the affable and excitable UPenn History professor talked about Connie Mack’s legacy, why people back in the day decided whether to root for the Phillies or the Athletics (since they played 6 blocks away from each other), and which team is better, the 2011 Phils or the 1929 A’s. There’s so much good stuff in this interview that I’m going to split it into three parts. This is part one. Enjoy! -Johnny Goodtimes

JGT: What inspired you to write this book?

KUKLICK: I’m a long time baseball fan, but up until the point of writing this book, I had kind of fallen away from the game. It was partly the Phillies. They were so lousy in the 60s that I didn’t pay any attention to them. And then my daughter started going to public school in Philly and started getting involved with the Phillies, and she and I started going to games regularly again. I looked around, it was then the Vet, and I said, “How did we get to this wretched, horrible ballpark?” Which I really hated. “What happened to take us away from that old ballpark, Connie Mack Stadium, Shibe Park?” And I’m a historian, and I think, “I can figure this out.” So I started doing the research in old newspapers at the Temple Urban Archives…and then I was hooked. I spent more time up there at Temple than I care to tell you about. For 5 years I was up there every Thursday and Friday.

JGT: One thing a lot of people have asked me about and I haven’t been able to find a good answer for yet is this: the Athletics and the Phillies played extremely close to each other. The two ballparks (Shibe and Baker Bowl) were 6 blocks away. How did fans decide which team they were going to be a fan of?

KUKLICK: It wasn’t much of a choice. The A’s were the team of choice. I mean, you’re a loser if you’re a Phillies fan. If you look at statistics on attendance, the Phillies get nobody. I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that it was a very, very local crowd. If you lived 2 blocks from the Phillies and 4 blocks from the A’s, maybe you’d go there. But they had nobody. They had lousy players. Whenever they had a good player they would sell them to make ends meet (ed. note: sound familiar, Pittsburgh Pirate fans?) There were a couple of scandals around them in the early 1940s, about gambling and stuff. So it’s not really much of a choice. The A’s are the premiere team. People go and see the A’s play. The Phillies are kind of a minor 2nd thought, kind of an embarrassment to the National League. Of course, a lot of the National League teams are happy to have the Phillies around.

JGT: They’ve got someone to beat up on every couple of weeks.

KUKLICK: That’s right. That’s right. That’s why I like your site. Finally somebody says, “Sure the Phillies are great. Sure Chase Utley is great. But is he the greatest 2nd baseman that’s ever played here? Absolutely not. He doesn’t even come close.” People don’t realize that the 1929, 1930, and 1931 A’s are better than even this team today, which I think is the best team this franchise has had.

JGT: Sports Illustrated called that the team time forgot. People forget that those A’s smoked Ruth, Gehrig, and the Yankees in the standings.

KUKLICK: I know that.

JGT: Well, it’s a great trivia question. What Philadelphia pro team has won the most championships?That team is the one that moved away from here 57 years ago.

KUKLICK: And it’s not only that. They were only here for 54 years too. The Phillies have had a lot more years to put it together.

JGT: You had two stadiums, Shibe Park and the Baker Bowl. Was Shibe Park superior to the Baker Bowl?

KUKLICK: Oh yeah. In fact the Phillies moved to Shibe in 1938. They had a couple of fires in the Baker Bowl, part of the stands collapsed, a repeated number of disasters.

JGT: Now Shibe was built in 1908 and 1909. When it was built, was it considered revolutionary?

KUKLICK: It was the first concrete and steel stadium. What that means is that it’s concrete that they stick steels rods in to make it almost indestructible. In fact, I bet you if you dig up under that church (there’s now a church on the old Shibe Park grounds) you’ll find bits of Shibe Park under the ground. I was told that it was so difficult to knock this place down that they finally just dug a huge hole at 21st and Lehigh and just put all the stuff in there and covered it over.

It’s the first stadium in the United States that uses this new technology, and it’s rapidly followed by a lot of similar stadiums. The two most important ones now are Fenway and Wrigley.

JGT: So did that sort of kick off a boom the way that Camden Yards in the 90s did?

KUKLICK: Oh yeah. Yeah. It’s the first one.

To read part 2 of this interview, click here. Then, as part of our Beer Week coverage, we’ll post Part 3, where he talks about how Connie Mack fought for decades to get booze into the ballpark, and how Pennsylvania’s blue laws and bars near the ballpark prevented him from doing so.