Philadelphia Daily News - January 11, 1980
Book has Nostalgic Appeal
By Bill Conlin
At first glance it looks like one of those reference sports books you warm up for by reading the New York Times legal notices. Dull, tabular matter, a jumble of names and numbers which figures to be as entertaining as the Cleveland telephone directory.
It is called "This Date in Philadelphia Phillies- History"" (Stein and Day, $8.95) and its co-authors are retired Inquirer baseball writer Allen Lewis and Phillies public relations director Larry Shenk.
It's been in my library for months, daring me to bulldoze through it. "It looks like a good reference work," I kept telling myself. "I’ll wait until I need it." But, caught with nothing fresh in the house to read, I got around to it this week and discovered in its lists, tables, rundowns, firsts and lasts, and the day-by-day highlights advertised by the 273 page soft-cover volume's title a gold mine of trivia and sub-trivia.
FOR EXAMPLE, on this date in Phillies history, Jan. 11, five players were born: Bill Magee (1868), Elmer Flick (1876). Lefty Taber (1900), Schoolboy Rowe (1910) and Roy Hughes (1911). And on January 11, 1960 – "Outfielder Richie Ashburn traded to Chicago Cubs for infielders Alvin Dark and Jim Woods and pitcher John Buzhardt"
Hmmmmm. Ashburn was a "former Whiz Kid" by then. The deal was an artistic flop but financial success for the veteran outfielder. He hit .291 and a career-low .257 for the Cubs. And Phil Wrigley gave him the two best contracts of his career.
Gene Mauch called Dark, far over the hill when he finished his playing career here, "The kind of man we'd all like to be if we had the tune." Turns out even the Bible-quoting future manager didn't have time to get his race relations in order. San Francisco blacks and Latins charged him with bigotry, his marriage broke up and he's drifted in and out of managing jobs, including a successful but demeaning term under Charley Finley in Oakland. ("Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.")
Jim Woods was a journeyman infielder, but John Buzhardt achieved lasting immortality as the pitcher who halted the Phillies classic, record 23-game losing streak in 1961. Buzhardt beat the Braves, 7-4, in the second game of a doubleheader on Aug. 20. More than 10,000 fans turned out to greet the Phillies at the airport, prompting free-spirited pitcher Frank Sullivan to remark, "When we get off the plane, spread out so they, cant get us all with one burst."
THE TERSE notations are a springboard to nostalgia. One mid-winter trade brought back a flood of remembrance. That is the charm of a book which gives the bottom line and most of the agate lines in between on a franchise with a rich history of failure. Samples I chose by opening to a random page:
On Aug. 23, Lew Richie (1883), Roy Leslie (1894), Ed Murphy (1919) and John Morris (1941) were born. In 1883, Phillies charged with 27 errors in game with Providence (walks, wild pitches and passed balls were charged as errors prior to 1888). And in 1967, third baseman Dick Allen suffers serious cuts on right hand when headlights of old automobile he was pushing breaks. He is sidelined for remainder of season."
One listing knocked me out. Guys who played with the Phillies and had their careers interrupted by World War L They were Gerald Claycomb, Pickles Dillhoefer, Dixie Davis, Patsy McGaffigan, Eppa Rixey, Ben Tlncup, Possum Whined and Frank Woodward. How'd a guy with a weird name like Frank Woodward ever get into the Army?
No less than five pages are devoted to nicknames. Who was Brewery Jack? Beans? Candy? Coonskin? Donkey? The Earl of Snohomish? Gink? Palm Trees? Squack? Three Star? Wagon Tongue? Wild Elk? Who were the 15 Phillies nicknamed Lefty and the 11 nicknamed Red?
ON PAGE 200, it is the bottom of the ninth in Ebbets Field, Oct. 1. 1950, and the voice from the past belongs to the late Gene Kelly. Let s listen. " ... Here cornea Sawyer to the mound. The batter due is Duke Snider ... Runner at first, Reese; runner at second, Abrams . . . Snider, who is hit-less in the game, is the next batter due. It was he of course who hit the homer off Konstanty yesterday . . . However, Sawyer is leaving him in, Roberts stays... Two men on, nobody out ... Last half of the ninth, score tied, 1-1, what represents the winning run is at second in Abrams . . . Infield moves in to look for the bunt . . . Roberts stretches, throws, Snider takes a full cut, line drive to center field . . . Ashburn races in with the ball and here comes the throw from center field... He is... OUT!”
Roberts pitches out of the inning, Dick Sisler homers in the 10th and the Phillies win their second pennant of the century. But the italic excerpts from the tape of Kelly's broadcast throughout a detailed account of the 1950 final-day clinching make it nostalgically appealing. Snider made the Hall of Fame Wednesday, Ashburn is still trying and running out of years. Kelly battled physical infirmity for more than a decade before dying of a stroke last summer.
Poring through the Phillies year-by-year leaders, Chuck Klein's 1930 season stands out like a beacon. The man hit .386 with 40 homers and 170 RBI. He is not in the Hall of Fame because the electors of that time held his lifestyle and the friendly geography of Baker Bowl against him. Chuck must have also played a few games on the road.
HERE'S ONE FOR the book. On Sept. 28, 1919 – getaway day, I trust – the Phillies and Giants played nine innings in 51 minutes, a record which still stands. Was it 1-0, a low-hit, low-walk game? Nope. The Giants won, 6-1, and had 16 base runners. The teams stranded 13 runners.
And here's a table to settle some bar-room arguments. Lewis and Shenk list the starting player at ve position in every Phillies season from 1876 through 1978.
The volume also contains large-type box scores of historic games involving the Phillies: The Cubs' 26-23 victory in 1922; the record 10-homer game with the Cardinals in 1923; the first major league night game in Cincinnati, May 24, 1935 (Reds 2, Phils 1); the four-homer games by Klein and Mike Schmidt; Jim Bunning's perfect game, and other games of landmark or unique significance, including the box scores from the club's lonely total of nine World Series games.
The book is a testament to the pain Phillies fans have suffered over the years. Fans too young to remember 1950 are not alone in their spiritual desolation. A short list is Phillies teams to win 90 or more games, eight. A long one is Phillies teams to lose 90 or more games, 31.
I thought I'd catch Lewis and Shenk with a blank in the calendar, a day on which no Phillies were born, traded or involved in a baseball act of heroism or frailty. I thought I'd find them with nothing to report on Feb. 29, which comes around only once every four years.
But nooooooooo. On Feb. 29, 1896, an infielder named Ralph Miller who played for the Phillies in 1920-'21 was born.