Hey Fightins Fans (and you, DMac), how’s it hangin’? After taking in Game 5 down at the ballpark on Wednesday, we had a few days to soak up the fall weather and wait for the Yankees to finish off the Angels. When it became apparent Saturday’s game in The Bronx was a washout, me and my buddy All Proper Mark, five year season ticket partners in the front row of Section 236, decided to make an alternate baseball day of it in the Delaware Valley.
After breakfast at Steve’s Prince of Steaks (I’ve been in Philly for nine years and they are indubitably, unequivocally, absolutely the best cheesesteak in town) and a quick stop at Starbucks in Trevose to swap World Series tickets with some Craigslist weirdo from the burbs, we stopped in beautiful downtown Hatboro for a visit at the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society & Museum, or the A’s Museum if you don’t feel like saying all those words.
This was the first time either of us had visited the A’s Museum, “the most successful historical society of its kind“. I was a little disappointed they didn’t have the white, striped, pill-box hats for sale from the 1910-13 A’s, the first dynasty in Major League Baseball, but they did have plenty of the blue “A” hats. Still, the museum was free, and there was enough Connie Mack paraphernalia and memorabilia to justify smacking anyone who’d ask “who’s this Mr Baseball” outside the leftfield gate at Citizens Bank Park.
Lots of famous Philadelphia A’s are represented — Mack, Eddie Collins, Al Simmons, Lefty Grove, Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, Rube Waddell, Mickey Cochrane, and some guy named Jimmie Foxx. Now this guy, Double X, he was the second player in MLB history, after George Herman Ruth, to hit 500 homeruns. He was the starting first baseman on one of the greatest teams of all time, the 1929 A’s, he won two World Series with the A’s (1929-30), and he won back-to-back MVPs with the A’s in 1932-33, including a Triple Crown .356/48/163 year in 1933. He finished his legendary career as a backup infielder with the Phillies in 1945, racking up a respective .268/7/38 in 89 games — which included 9 games on the mound, where he went 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA. So could someone tell me why he entered the Hall Of Fame as a Boston Red Sock??? That’s blasphemous — he won two titles and two MVPs in Philadelphia, yet he had his bust poured with a ‘B’ hat. Pffft.
Leaving the A’s Museum, Mark and I headed south down 611 toward the Hillside Cemetery in Roslyn. After checking with the cemetery’s caretaker who’d never heard of him, Charles Albert “Chief” Bender’s grave presented itself way out past the elaborate Korean section and beyond a muddy forest with no graves.
In the annals of baseball history, the Chief’s name is known to many historians, but his name doesn’t roll off the tongue like, say, Jackie Robinson. While Jackie indisputably broke the black color barrier in a time of Jim Crow strife, American Indians had been playing alongside whites — and enduring similar prejudices as their baseball descendants of color — for decades.
Chief Bender was the first American Indian Hall of Famer, elected in 1953. As a member of the Philadelphia A’s, he won three World Series (1910, 1911, 1913), going 6-4 with a 2.44 ERA and 9 complete games. Over all, he won 212 games and had a career ERA of 2.46, and by some accounts, he was the first pitcher to throw the slider . . . yet he’s far from a household name, even here in Philadelphia, where he made his mark as Connie Mack’s ace — and where he spent the rest of his life after baseball. Tom Swift’s book, Chief Bender’s Burden, is an excellent read on a fascinating, and frustrating, life of the largely unknown legend who was born on an indian reservation in Minnesota and who mastered baseball, and life, in Pennsylvania. He lived his last years at 5431 N 12th Street in the Logan neighborhood and died at the Graduate Hospital on South Street in 1954.
After paying our respects to the Chief (a derisive nickname he didn’t ask for), we headed down Broad Street to find his old stomping grounds. Along the way, appropriately enough, we happened upon the Tribute to Jackie Robinson, the Mural Arts Program’s 1997 installation to Jackie at Broad & Somerset.
A block south of Jackie’s mural is one of the most historic crossroads in North Philadelphia. On the northeast corner is now a Dunkin Donuts, but on the northwest corner is a hulking fortress you can see from Temple and Center City, the old Botany 500 clothing factory. On the southeast corner is the once grandiose North Broad Street Station, built by the Reading Railroad (its line ultimately ran down to Reading Terminal in Center City, and now only two of Septa’s seven regional rail lines even bother stopping at the platform). That station used to entertain thousands of passengers who crossed the street to the fourth corner, the Phillies’ home for 51 years, the Baker Bowl.
Officially called National League Ball Park, the Baker Bowl hosted Phillies baseball from 1887 to 1938. That silly, frivolous hill at the Astros’
Enron Field Minute Maid Park, that Michael Bourn is gonna twist his ankles on some day? It had a logical predecessor at the Baker Bowl called The Hump. The Hump was a hill in dead center, closest to Broad & Lehigh, because of the submerged tunnel carrying the trains below. We know the Whiz Kids were swept by the Yankees in the 1950 World Series, but that was at Shibe Park. In 51 seasons, the Phils managed one National League pennant, in 1915, when the Red Sox took em in 5. Babe Ruth took his final at bats as a 40-year-old backup outfielder for the Boston Braves here in 1935.
Five blocks west of the Baker Bowl, on the other side of the railroad tracks, stood Philly’s first major contribution to the Major Leagues, Shibe Park. With baseball’s popularity outgrowing the 10,000 seat grandstands most teams played in, Connie Mack and A’s owner Ben Shibe built baseball’s first concrete and steel stadium, a model that would soon be followed for the likes of Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium. And like Wrigley Field, there were homes across 20th Street on whose roofs residents and their friends (and their customers) could watch Major League Baseball across the street — before the A’s built a 33′ “spite fence” since they couldn’t get in on the profit.
The A’s won the World Series three of the first five years the ballpark was open, and two more in ’29 & ’30. Twenty Hall Of Famers laced up for Mack’s White Elephants before they were removed from their home city to Kansas City in 1955, and finally to Oakland in 1968. The Phillies moved into Shibe Park in 1938, and stayed for 16 years after the A’s moved out. Shibe Park was renamed for Connie Mack in 1953; Connie Mack Stadium was demolished in 1976 as Philadelphia was hosting the Bicentennial and the Phillies were hosting the All-Star Game at The Vet.
The Baker Bowl and Shibe Park each hosted three Negro League World Series, and on MLB’s travel days, Mondays, the Philadelphia Stars would sometimes play double headers at Shibe Park because it could hold far more people than their home ballpark, Penmar Park, at 44th & Parkside in West Philadelphia. The Stars played in West Philly from 1933 to 1952 (after which the segregated Negro Leagues were thankfully no longer necessary). A mural and memorial park were dedicated in 2005.
A fitting final stop to an all-day baseball whirlwind is a fitting final stop for the Phillies’ Hall Of Fame voice, Harry Kalas’ gravesite at Laurel Hill Cemetery.
Two sets of Vet Stadium seats flank either side of Harry the K’s final resting place, still marked with a temporary headstone and red P. A representative at Laurel Hill says that an elaborate headstone for Harry is being crafted and it will be dedicated with a ceremony in time for the 2010 baseball season. In the meantime, fans can sign a guestbook for the Kalas family in Laurel Hill’s office, and leave mementos on the marker.
To bring us back to October 2009, here’s a photo of Uncle Cholly with his hands on what makes the Phillies tick.
- 700 Level
- Crashburn Alley
- High Cheese
- House That Glanville Built
- Philadelphia Will Do
- Philled In
- Philly Gameday
- Philly Gossip
- Phoul Ballz
- The Good Phight
- The Insider
- The Zo Zone
- Where's Weems?
- Who Does He Play For?
- Zoo With Roy