Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Review: "The Fightin' Phillies: 100 Years of Philadelphia Baseball"

The next in my book reviews feature specifically deals with the Philadelphia Phillies and the 133-year history of the ball club.
No one alive today is more qualified to dig through that history and present it to the fans than the man who has been around to see more of it first-hand than anyone else, the former head of the Phillies' public relations team, Larry 'the Baron' Shenk.
In his second book on the team, "The Fightin' Phillies: 100 Years of Philadelphia Baseball from the Whiz Kids to the Misfits", Shenk delivers by presenting story after story that will hold the interest of any true Phils fan.
Shenk has been a Phillies fan since his youth in the early 1950's, when Baseball Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts were leading the club in the post-Whiz Kids years.
He first applied for a public relations job with the team in the same year that I was born, 1961, and eventually landed that position a couple of years later. We'll explore more of Shenk's background in a separate interview piece here at TBOH coming soon.
"The Fightin' Phillies" is broken down into eight sections, with a foreword written by Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen in which the former player briefly covers his own career in the game
, including the Phillies 1993 NL Champions.
The first section, "Historic Performances", covers everything from the very first Phillies game in history on May 1st, 1883, a 4-3 loss to the Providence Grays at Recreation Park, on through Cole Hamels' final Phillies start, the lefty's no-hitter last season against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
In between there are stops along the way at 'Grover Cleveland' Pete Alexander's 16 shutouts in the 1916 season, Jim Konstanty's 1950 NL MVP campaign, Jim Bunning's 1964 Father's Day perfect game, Pete Rose breaking Stan Musial's NL career hits record in 1981, Jim Thome's 400th career homer in Citizens Bank Park's first season of 2004.


He blends in historic performances from all of the Phillies greats that you would expect in this chapter. The big games of Mike SchmidtRyan Howard, and Chase Utley. The fantastic pitching performances of Steve CarltonCurt SchillingTommy GreeneTerry Mulholland, and Roy Halladay.
Think you know everything about the Phillies? Okay, do you know who Roger McKee was, or what he did in a Phillies uniform on the final day of the 1943 season that is so historic? I had never heard of McKee before reading this book. After reading it, you'll know as well.
In "1915 Phillies", the book's second section, Shenk leads you on a tour of that historic season in which the Phillies won their first-ever National League pennant and advanced to the World Series while introducing us to the entire roster.
"A roster of only 23 players and a rookie manager etched their place in Phillies history by winning the franchise's first National League pennant in 1915. The league's most dominant pitcher and leading power hitter anchored the champions who started the season with an eight-game undefeated streak, a club record that still exists." ~ Shenk
The book's third section covers "Wall of Fame Legends" in which he briefly bios each of the 37 individuals enshrined out on Ashburn Alley, including Dick Allen.
"Dick was a gifted athlete and quick and strong with great base-running instincts. While swinging a 42-ounce bat, he hit some of the longest homers in Connie Mack Stadium history."


The fourth section, "Phillies Potpourri", contains brief write-ups on each of the players who have won the Cy Young Award, NL MVP, and NL Rookie of the Year while with the team. He introduces here the nine pairs of brothers who have played for the club, including Baseball Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty and his brother Tom Delahanty.
In that fourth section, Shenk, the Phillies' official historian, treats us to his own "50th Anniversary Team", selecting his favorites from the 1883-1933 years, not including any Hall of Famers or Wall of Famers. Included among them is right-handed pitcher Charlie Ferguson, who was kept from becoming one of baseball's all-time greats only by the fickle finger of fate.
"Unbreakable Records" is the book's fifth section where he lists such feats as Lefty O'Doul's 254 hits in 1929, Chuck Klein's NL record 158 runs scored and 170 RBI with the 1930 Phillies, Roberts' 28 straight complete games over the 1952-53 seasons, Carlton's 15-game win streak in 1972, and Howard's 58 home runs in 2006, and many more feats, both good and bad.
The sixth section is "Spring Training Homes", where Shenk takes fans back in time through the nine different states that have hosted the Phillies while the club was preparing for an upcoming season, beginning with Washington, North Carolina in 1902 on through Clearwater, Florida, which has hosted spring training since 1947.
In 1943, due to World War II travel restrictions, the club trained at Hershey, Pennsylvania under a rookie manager, Baseball Hall of Famer Bucky Harris.
"Before the first workout, Harris laid out his rules: midnight curfew under penalty of $25, no horseplay, every hitter must sprint to first during batting practice, pitchers must shag fly balls, and no card playing for large stakes."
In the book's seventh section "Philadelphia Homes", the author takes us through the five ballparks that have hosted the Phillies in the city, beginning with Recreation Park at Columbia Avenue between 24th and 25th Streets. It had dimensions of 300 feet to LF, 331 feet to CF, and 247 feet to RF. The final game there was held on October 9th, 1886, and the ballpark was demolished in 1890.
Last summer in my full-time profession, I had the opportunity to work for two weeks out in the area around this historic Phillies location, and searched at various times for the historic marker that I believed had to be in place to mark the location. There is none. Amazing.
The final section of this book just might be the best. "Behind the Scenes" takes fans, well, behind the scenes of the Phillies operation and ballpark. It gives us a description of the specific jobs that keep the show running, as well as some introductions to individuals who fill those positions.
Ever wonder how the club decides who will throw out a ceremonial first pitch or sing the National Anthem? Curious as to how Greg Luzinski operates his "Bull's BBQ" joint? Who does all of the gorgeous Citizens Bank Park landscaping, sets up the team's travel arrangements, feeds the team on game days, cleans the uniforms? It's all here.
"The Fightin' Phillies" is the perfect book for any Phillies fan. At 294 pages, you can read it all in one sitting, or perhaps enjoy it even more and find it easy to follow if you just want to take a few pages at a time at your leisure. It is certainly a must for your home bookshelf or the reading files on your favorite device.

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