Phillies

An Extraordinary Tradition

nolead begins Edited by Scott Gummer

and Larry Shenk

Insight Editions. 252 pp. $50

nolead ends nolead begins


Reviewed by Frank Fitzpatrick


What is baseball history but joyful sentiment?

Photos, artifacts, memorabilia have no intrinsic value beyond their ability to prod our memories and imaginations.

And that's what Phillies: An Extraordinary Tradition does so well.

Billed as "the official history of the Phillies," it is not remotely that. Leave the statistics and the year-by-year chronicle to the Phillies Encyclopedia. This is more accurately a sentimental journey, a beautifully rendered photographic collection that will move any longtime fan of a team whose tradition, let's be honest, was not always so extraordinary.

If your memories of the Phillies start at Citizens Bank Park or even Veterans Stadium, this book will provide a fresh, revealing, and surprisingly intimate look at how this franchise and this city have been intertwined for 127 years.

What sets it apart from other works on the team and its history are computer technology and the wealth of material that its creators - editors Scott Gummer, an author, and Larry Shenk, the longtime Phillies public-relations director, and photographic consultant Rusty Kennedy, a retired Associated Press photographer - were able to access.

They found and restored photographic treasures from the club's extensive files, the Baseball Hall of Fame, the old Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and the impressive private collections of fans and baseball historians.

They unearthed and reproduced forgotten artifacts from some of the most memorable seasons in team history. There are tickets, historical documents, old concession-stand menus, covers from team publications, even a scouting report.

Typical of the book's surprises is a 47-year-old photo on the title pages whose elegant composition and moody aura bring to mind an Edward Hopper painting.

It is a gray and unseasonably chilly April 9, hours before the start of the Phillies' 1963 season. The home team's fresh, new white uniforms glow in the thickening mist. Connie Mack Stadium's towering lights shine like a beacon for the 28,291 fans who would come that night to the aging North Philadelphia ballpark.

Manager Gene Mauch leans on a bat and gazes into an unseen distance. Ruben Amaro Sr. and Don Demeter wait to enter the batting cage. Ruly Carpenter, the owner's crew-cut son, warms his hands in the pockets of his long overcoat. Batboy Kenny Bush scoops up discarded lumber. And Cincinnati Reds players stretch lazily along the first-base line.

The photographer, whose identity is unknown, perfectly captured the relaxed simplicity of a game that was about to evolve into the highly commercialized spectacle we see in evidence in the book's later chapters.

There are words, too. The book contains a dedication to Harry Kalas by broadcaster Jon Miller, a funny foreword by actor and Phils fan Christopher Guest, an introduction by Mike Schmidt, and brief essays by Philadelphia sportswriters and others on some of the franchise's more memorable characters.

But those are all bench players. It's the visual element - much of which, it's safe to say, hasn't been seen by even the most devoted Phillies fan - that makes this so special.

"We tried not to make it look like a compilation of a lot of other books about the Phillies," Kennedy said. "We were looking for things people hadn't seen before."

Kennedy took the old photos, many of them in bad shape, and submitted them to the restorative magic of a computerized process called "flatbed scanning."

"A lot of the people who did books in the past probably rejected a lot of the photos we ended up using because they were so cracked and damaged," Kennedy said. "But because of the technology, we managed to restore them and give them an old-fashioned patina."

Like the many of Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium, there are photos of long-vanished Philadelphia landmarks - the magnificently spired Broad Street Station in the 1880s, a jam-packed Baker Bowl for the 1916 opener, the Fishtown sporting-goods factory of Phillies founder A.J. Reach (a structure that, though shuttered, still stands at 1701-1707 Tulip St.).

The best things about this book, though, are the sleeved inserts, reproductions of Phillies documents that undoubtedly will soon be gracing the walls of fans.

One is a copy of a Greg Luzinski minor-league contract, in which the young outfielder agreed to play for $500 a month. There are also reproductions of tickets from the '64 World Series, which the Phillies never played, and Game 6 of the '50 World Series, which the Yankees had already swept. And, maybe most interesting, there's area scout Bob Poole's 1996 report on an undersized California high schooler named Jimmy Rollins. ("He CAN play. And he can play SS in the ML.")

Where else can you see catcher Andy Seminick's 1950 National League championship belt buckle? Or a commemorative license-plate holder and tie from that Whiz Kids season? Or a 1964 World Series press pin that, as any real Philadelphian knows, was never used? Or Kalas' scorecard from Game 6 of the 1980 World Series, the night the Phillies, in their 98th season, won their first championship?

There's an excerpt from a World War II-era program that lists all the Phillies serving in the armed forces as well as the concession fare: a cheese sandwich was 15 cents, a pack of Chesterfields 20 cents.

In short, there's enough sepia-toned sentiment and historical interest in this book to soften the heart of even the most hard-bitten Phillies fan.

Frank Fitzpatrick is an Inquirer sportswriter. Contact him at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.