Heroes, Heroes, I’ll tell you about heroes, Tony Taylor, Johnny Callison, Tony Gonzalez, Clay Dalrymple, Art Mahaffey, Cookie Rojas, Pancho Herrera, Jack Baldschun, Chris Short, Bobby Gene Smith, Choo Choo Coleman, Wes Covington, Robin Roberts, Cal McLish, John Boozer, Don Demeter, John Buzhardt, Tony Curry, Lee Walls, Jimmie Coker, and Turk Farrell just to name a few off the top of my head, I can give you the numbers they wore, their batting average and the way they either would wind up to pitch, or the way they stood in the batter’s box. If you don’t recognize any of the above names you might want to change the channel right about now because you’re not likely to get the rest of the column.
If you were a kid growing up in the Philadelphia area in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, these names meant something to you. Just like kids growing up in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, names like Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Bob Boone meant something to you, and of course the 2000 generation will live with names like Hammels, Utley, Ruiz, and Howard. Well for me, it was those guys listed above, most of them were forgettable players, but I saw all of them play, and as a baseball card collector I knew everything there was to know about them, at least everything that was written on the back of their baseball card.
Growing up in Philly as a kid I always had the Phillies game on the radio, they were only televised on Sunday’s back then, me and my friends would get together sitting out on the curb, or someone’s stoop, and set up fictitious situations and announce like Bryum Saam, “Tony Taylor on second, Gonzalez on first, and Callison at the plate with a one-one count, and two outs in the inning, here’s the pitch, ball-two just inside and Johnny steps out of the batter’s box,” and so-on. Bryum Saam was the man, when I listened to the games back in the late 1950’s it was Saam, and some guys named Gene Kelly and Frank Sims. Bill Campbell and Richie Ashburn came on board some years later, Saam broadcast for the Phillies from 1939 until 1972, a year or so after Harry Kalas had joined the team.
Growing up in the city was a little different, in my neighborhood we didn’t have any grass to speak of, we lived on one of those blocks where there was like a hundred row houses on each side of the street, a little walking alley between the yards, yards big enough to park a Volkswagen, and none of them had grass. The first time I ever went to Connie Mack Stadium was 1959 or 1960, I can’t quite remember. My stepfather drove us to 21st and Lehigh, and for a couple of years that’s how we traveled to the stadium, always paid the kid a quarter to watch our car. I can remember asking, “Why are you paying that kid a quarter to park?” (Hell I never got a quarter out of my stepfather, even when I got older). “We’re paying for protection,” he would say.
As a kid, I didn’t quite understand how we could walk into a building, (Connie Mack Stadium) go down a hallway where we would stand and watch the players come out. It was a little weird but apparently the locker rooms weren’t connected to the dugout and the players had to exit the locker room, walk out into the runway with all the fans, walk a short way where a guard was standing and let the players go down this other hallway to get to the field. I remember thinking if I could get me an official Phillies uniform, the guard would let me walk out onto the field thinking I was the batboy!
I think we had to go up a flight of steps, no escalators back then, walk out a hallway and then you would see it, and just stare at it, every time I went to the park for four or five years, I can remember using that line in one of the movies either “Field of Dreams,” or “Woodstock,” I can’t remember where some guy says, “We must be in heaven man,” yea, it was that exciting.
There was just something about walking into a building, with no roof, and seeing that much grass, it was a miracle every time. And for about five years or so, we would always sit on the third base side, we would sit pretty high up, they must have been like one dollar seats or something like that, I never remember going to a crowded game, (they just weren’t that good back then) but at every game about the second inning or so, this black usher would come up to my stepfather and in a deep voice say “Your seats are ready sir,” and we would promptly move down just a row or two above the visitors’ dugout, my stepfather would always hand the usher something after wiping off our seats, I think it was a dollar.
I was a baseball card collector as I stated earlier and I mean I collected baseball cards. Back then the cards would come out in series, as I remember there was usually seven series. Topps and the other card companies would release series one at the beginning of the season and then every so often would release the following series throughout the season. Sometimes if a player started the season with a team like the Phillies and was traded early in the season, well Topps cards didn’t have time to photograph the player in his new uniform so they would just put a big stamp on the card in his old uniform “Traded.” In the baseball world that I lived in a card stamped with “Traded” was a useless card. Another useless card was a card showing the player without his team hat on, and finally any card that wasn’t a current Phillie were useless cards.
As a kid, we would all get together and collect old newspapers, which could be traded in on Saturday’s at the junkyard, or collect returnable bottles to the Acme and other corner stores for a refund, two cents for a small bottle and a nickel for a quart bottle. At the junkyard we would often load the newspapers with rock and travel by wagon, but it never mattered how big or how small our pile was in the wagon, the junkman would make us pull the wagon onto the scale and say, “OK boys, good job!“ we always got a quarter to split between us, sometimes two guys and sometimes six guys, at the end of a hard day’s work we went right to the candy store and bought baseball cards.
We would collect so many cards that we would “Pitch ’em,” “Flip ’em,” and of course trade them. We played “topsy’s”, “Leanies,” and flip’ em. You called face up or face down. You would always start with the cards stamped “Traded”, and then you would use your no-hat cards, and then every other card as long as it wasn’t a Phillie. Losing a Mantle, Maris, Aaron, or Mays didn’t matter, as long as you didn’t use a Phillie, sometimes all of us would have a pre-game agreement that we would each use one Phillie in the round, I would only agree to this disrespectful move if I had doubles of somebody.
Back to Connie Mack Stadium, the Phillies teams I went to watch were pretty bad teams back in the day and my stepfather would always be telling me, “Don Drysdale is pitching tonight for the Dodgers so keep your eye on him.” If you weren’t a Phillie I hated them, I didn’t care who you were, you were the enemy. Drysdale, Warren Span, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Juan Marichal, Stan Musial, Eddie Matthews, Ernie Banks, I hated them all, and I hated all the Pirates who we played a lot back then, they had the black uniforms. Without looking them up I remember, (save your letter if I spell their names wrong, I’m not stopping to look up the correct spelling) their pitchers Roy Face, (although he did have a very cool glove, stop by the store I’ll show you how he would wind up for a pitch). The hated Pirates also had these pitchers Bob Friend and Harvey Haddix, they killed us, as did Vern Law, and one other guy I think Bob Veale was a pitcher. You might remember Smoky Burgess, their catcher, Don Hoak, Bill Mazeroski, Dick Staurt, Donn Clendenon, Roberto Clemente and Bob Skinner. None of them were any good to any true Phillies fan! I don’t remember seeing Willie Stargell as a kid, nor do I remember seeing Jackie Robinson play. Throughout the game when the other team was up I would chant in my head “strike out, strike out,” and when the Phillies batted I would chant in my head, “home run, and home run.”
I don’t remember walking around the park a lot, and I really don’t remember eating hot dogs or anything, we would just watch the game, and on our way back to the car my stepfather would explain to me inning by inning why we lost the game. Once outside the stadium we would walk back to the car and he would point out the cars with flat tires, they didn’t pay security, and would have to spend the night jacking up their cars to change the tire. For the last two years we would ride the train to the ballpark, the old man said it was easier, but of course as I got older I realized it was a whole lot safer to take the train.
I can remember watching Don Demeter hit a home run to dead center field, seeing Art Mahaffey striking out the sides one night, and the most exciting play in baseball at that time was the Taylor made double play, “Groundball to short, Amaro has it, flips to Taylor at second for one, over to Pancho Herrera at first, and the Phillies turn two, that ground ball was Taylor made!”
The funny thing is, none of these guys were really that good, and an each and every one of them were my heroes. Then came 1964, I remember Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton were traded to the Detroit Tigers, this was like death, how can they trade the great Don Demeter, this was crazy. The Phillies got another pitcher named Jim Bunning, we didn’t need another pitcher, and we had Chris Short, Dennis Bennett and Art Mahaffey. We also got a catcher Gus Triandos, we had Clay Dalrymple who was the greatest catcher ever.
In the beginning of the season we moved out of the city to Upper Merion Township, I don’t remember going to a game in 1964 at all, we might have but I don’t remember it. Oh God, the year 1964, and the word Phillies, don’t go down easy for any Phillies fan. It started great, I remember sitting in the living room of our new temporary house on White Avenue in Hughes Park, (our new house wasn’t finished yet) watching Jim Bunning pitch a perfect game on Father’s Day, I watched with delight down to the last out. I was so excited I headed outside after the game to find out that one of my good friends at the time father had died that day. I’ll never forget that, every Father’s Day I’ve never think of myself, but always say a prayer for Ronnie Fonock’s father.
Man what a season, all the Phillies heroes that year truly were heroes, we were headed to the World Series, I’d never seen a World Series on television or anything, but I knew it was big, I was hope ‘in we were gonna play them stinkin Yankees, we would show them who was boss, Yogi who, ha.
Well we don’t have to re-hash-it, we know how it ends, six and a half up with twelve to play. We were playing the Reds, yea Kluszewski, his muscles didn’t scare me, that kid Rose really couldn’t hit the ball, he would be gone in a year or so, and just for the record, at that time his rookie card wasn’t worth crap in Philly, and all their pitchers sucked, so there, I said it. So we’re playing the Reds with twelve games to go, a tight game, 0-0 if I remember it right, (I’m not stopping to look it up, it hurts like hell just thinking about it) it might have been the ninth inning with Frank Robinson at the plate, and out of no-where here comes Chico, Chico Ruiz, “What the hell is he doing, he’s stealing home.” Who steals home plate with Frank Robinson at the plate, he was safe, and the Phillies lose 1-0, “Why did you do that Chico?” It was the start of the 10 game losing streak, the greatest collapse in sports history, and it happened in Philly, at Connie Mack Stadium, in 19-freakin-64, they were called bums for a lotta years, but in the end they were still my heroes. The funny thing is, to this day, in the basement of our store, “Coll’s Custom Framing,” I have most of those baseball cards proudly displayed in in our basement workshop. Even all these years later, I still love those guys. I’ve met a number of those players over the years, and even as an adult, when you meet them and shake their hand, you’re still a little boy from Philadelphia.
That’s the way it was 50 years ago this season folks, I hope the Phillies don’t go celebrating that season throughout this current season. We got off to an ugly start in the 2014 season, but hey, let’s not jump ship just yet, the season is early and we have a lot of time to hate the Mets, and the Braves, and anybody else we play. It’s been a hard winter so let’s just sit back and enjoy the season, go to a game, kick up your feet with a hot dog and a cold one, and when anybody from the other team comes up to the plate it’s okay to scream “you bum” while in your mind continually say “strike him out, strike him out.”
Jack Coll is a life-long Philadelphia Phillies fan and a freelance Photographer who has had the pleasure of photographing the Phillies games for about ten years.
Please enjoy photos of Connie Mack Stadium from 1964, courtesy George Rodenbaugh.