A 1920s A’s Fan Reminisces

Just did an interview with Dr. John Rooney, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at La Salle University and former Philadelphia A’s fan. Rooney’s family lived on the block behind Shibe Field’s right field wall, and they used to charge admission for people to sit on the roof of their house and take in A’s games. This at a time when the A’s were the best team in the Majors, winning back to back championships in 1929 and 1930. Rooney has written a book about his experiences of being an A’s fan as a child, and is looking for a publisher. Here he shares a few memories with us. We at Philly Sports History thank Mr. Rooney for taking the time to respond to our questions. If you have any old memories of Shibe Park, or of old A’s and Phils teams, we’d love to hear them. Just send an email to johnny@johnnygoodtimes.com or contact us on facebook.

PHILLY SPORTS HISTORY: There were several members of the team who lived in the neighborhood, including Al Simmons. What was it like being a kid living next to a ballpark, with several big leaguers down the street from you? Did you get to interact with any of the players on a personal basis?
ROONEY: There were several, but the only one I knew was Al Simmons. My kid brother would often be asked to wake him up for batting practice. He would sit and talk to him while he got dressed. We also had friends who moved to the shore in the summer and rented their home to ball players.

PSH: It is rumored that A’s and Phils relief pitchers sometimes snuck out of the ballpark to sneak in a few drinks at a nearby bar called Kilroy’s. Do you remember that bar?
ROONEY: Matt Kilroy was a former ball player and a friend of Connie Mack. Players, fans and neighbors patronized the tavern  and it had a reputation as a lively and entertaining place. There were many other bars and social clubs in the neighborhood; one of my friends counted 39 (after Prohibition ended).

PSH: What was the atmosphere inside Shibe Park during those years? Were Philadelphia fans rough on the team and on opponents, like the reputation they have today?
ROONEY: Booing? Absolutely! Al Simmons, despite winning the batting championship and hitting over 30 homers, was regularly booed. I remember my father’s disgust when fans were booing Eddie Rommel who had won 27 games for the A’s. Eddie and Bull Kessler (known as the Hucksters) were notorious throughout the league for their merciless needling of opponents and A’s alike. Connie Mack tried to bribe them to go easy on the A’s. (Ed. note. We’ll have some more info on the infamous Kessler Brothers in the days to come.)

PSH: Were you still in the neighborhood when the “spite fence” was built? Did that create a major chasm between the neighborhood and the team?
ROONEY: The A’s management had been trying for years to do something to restrict neighbors from drawing fans from the park, so the tension was already there. The spite fence antagonized the neighbors, but Philadelphains were already disgusted with the sell-off of A’s stars and the decline of the team. Some players spoke out against the spite fence.

PSH: The Phillies played just a few blocks away at the Baker Bowl. Did you ever go watch them play?
ROONEY: No, although My father, when he was in high school, worked the score board there.

PSH: Was there any sort of rivalry between Phillies fans and A’s fans?
ROONEY: Apparently this was big in some neighborhoods, but in ours we were all A’s fans. My grandfather was an avid Phillies fan who annoyed my father when he watched the A’s (free) from our house, all the while telling everyone of our customers that the last place Phillies were a more exciting team to watch than the first place A’s.
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5 Comments on “A 1920s A’s Fan Reminisces”

  1. J T. Ramsay says:

    This is awesome. I’m so curious about what made a person a Phillies fan or an A’s fan. It’s not like it could be determined solely by neighborhood, since both teams were in the same neck of the woods. Get to the bottom of this mystery PSH!

  2. Steve Sherretta says:

    I look forward to reading Mr. Rooney’s book one day. My family also was from the neighborhood, just a couple of blocks away on Hemberger St. and my uncle, Charlie Boyd, was a batboy for the A’s around that time. Whenever a player hit a home run, they would get a case of Wheaties cereal…I suppose Wheaties was a sponsor. The players never wanted the cereal, and so gave it to my uncle. This was more than welcome during the Depression, in a family with 7 kids. My mother also recalls players staying in the houses in her neighborhood, and how they did not earn enough money to afford a car in those days.

  3. Ed B. says:

    Great stuff, thanks for posting.

  4. John J. (Jack) Rooney says:

    Just to let you know that the book, Bleachers in the Bedroom:the Swampoodle Irish and Connie Mack, has been published, and I have heard from lots of people who say how much they enjoyed it.
    For more information contact me at rooney@lasalle.edu. Thanks,

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