“The Fightin’ Phillies: 100 Years of Philadelphia Baseball from the Whiz Kids to the Misfits” is the second book from the former head of the Philadelphia Phillies public relations department, Larry ‘the Baron’ Shenk.
Following on the heels of 2014’s “If These Walls Could Talk” which took fans inside the Phillies locker room and behind the scenes for many pivotal moments in team history, this new effort makes the perfect companion piece.
This past week, I did a full review of “The Fightin’ Phillies“, and now will be presenting an interview with the author. I was privileged to have the opportunity to ask Mr. Shenk questions on a number of topics related to the book and his long history with the team. This latest in my series of Phillies related interviews, and the first of 2016, covers a number of topics that should be of interest to any fan of those Fightin’ Phils.
MV: Let me start by saying that it’s an honor to interview someone who I consider a Phillies legend. Can you provide a little personal background information for fans and readers?
LS: I was born in Myerstown, PA and graduated from that high school and then Millersville University, where I majored in Education. I have a wife, Julie; daughter, Debi Mosel; son, Andy Shenk, and two grandchildren, Audrey and Tyler Shenk. Looking for a summer job while interviewing for a teaching position, was offered a full-time job with the Lebanon Daily News as a general reporter and sports writer on Friday nights. Decided to take the position over teaching. Became a Phillies fan in the early 1950’s.
MV: When and under what circumstances did you first come to the attention of the Phillies organization, and to actually become employed with the club?
LS: While at the Lebanon Daily News, the job as publicity director at the Phillies opened. I applied but didn’t get it. That was 1961. After the 1962 season, it opened again and I was again rejected. Wanting to write more sports and less general reporting, finally landed a job at the Wilmington News-Journal in January 1963 covering high school sports in the state of Delaware. That fall, the Phillies job opened once again. I applied and was offered the job on my first interview. A little concerned that the position opened three straight years but felt if I turned it down, I may never have another chance.
MV: Any specific individuals within the organization who were especially influential on your early career with the club?
LS: Broadcaster By Saam, Philadelphia Inquirer baseball writer Allen Lewis and Al Cartwright, sports editor in Wilmington.
MV: What was the impetus to write this specific book? What can fans expect to find different from 2014’s “If These Walls Could Talk“?
LS: Wanted to write a book that included Phillies history, topics that hadn’t been written before. For example, we’ve lived through many pennant winners, but who were the 1915 Phillies? They were the first pennant winners in franchise history. The final chapter, ‘Behind the Scenes’, was the most enjoyable. Wanted to give fans a perspective of what goes on behind the scenes. Fans have heard about extended spring training and the rehab program, but wanted to paint a picture of what goes on in those two phases of the organization.
MV: What is your view of social media?
LS: Had a Twitter account a few years ago but discontinued it after a couple of years when porno images began to appear. Have been writing the ‘Phillies Insider’ blog since 2006. All of a sudden in March, the blog appeared on a Twitter account. I had no idea how it happened. I write everything myself and again try to come up with something different. Social media is overwhelming. I don’t have Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and the rest.
MV: The book is a tremendous collection of stories relating to Phillies history. So with that in mind, and my own beginnings in following the team in 1971 when they moved into Veteran’s Stadium, will start with a couple of questions relating to those days.
MV: Any interesting stories that maybe have not come out previously, but that you could share about the very early days as the team was first moving from Connie Mack Stadium into The Vet? The move itself, player reactions to the new place, your first reactions at being inside the completed Veterans Stadium in those first days?
LS: Between the two books, the interesting stories have been used. Everything at Connie Mack was antiquated: clubhouse, offices, fan amenities (if there were any), parking. So, Veteran’s Stadium was very much welcomed. It took the players a little while to get used to playing on Astro Turf as opposed to grass.
MV: Your book includes some items regarding the ‘Dead Ball Era’ days, such as the early no-hitters, as well as the members of the Wall of Fame. I have always found early Phils history interesting, and for a couple of years now have been championing the cause of 1910’s first baseman Fred Luderus for the Phillies Wall of Fame. Any thoughts on his candidacy and future possibilities of it happening? If solely relying on fan votes, will be tough.
LS: Fred is among a small handful of players who could be in the Wall of Fame. We’ve had him on the ballot as recently as 2009 but never received many votes so we removed him. We had discussed, about five years ago, adding a deceased player every five years. But we opted not to change. I’m out of the mix now with the Wall of Fame, so I don’t know if there will be any changes going forward.
MV: At this point, I am going to toss out 4-5 “big-ticket” issues of interest to our TBOH readers, issues that have developed in the game during your tenure with the Phillies. Would love some general commentary, your opinion on each of these topics.
MV: The Phillie Phanatic
LS: Being a purist, I wasn’t sure a mascot in baseball would succeed. Boy was I wrong. The Phanatic is the best in all sports.
MV: The NL vs AL ‘DH’ Debate
LS: Don’t like the DH but don’t like MLB playing under two different rules. One note on the DH: Phillies minor league pitchers don’t get to bat if they are playing an American League affiliate. That hurts their development, as they will have to bat when they reach the Majors.
MV: The Strike of 1994
LS: All strikes were terrible. Fortunately, the Phillies never laid off any front office employees, as compared to other clubs. Trying to play a Major League Baseball game with replacement players was one of the least intelligent decisions ever made in the game.
MV: The Steroid Era
LS: Steroids were a problem in all sports and society.
MV: Citizens Bank Park (the move, earliest impressions)
LS: During the planning stages of CBP we toured other new parks, including those being built. Couldn’t quite imagine what CBP would look like as a finished product. Had to wear construction boots and hard hats while CBP was being built. We claimed that the Center City skyline could be seen from CBP. Sitting in the press box for the first game, I just couldn’t believe a ballpark as beautiful as CBP existed in Philadelphia. I was so happy for the fans and front office staff. And there it was, the Center City skyline.
MV: The current Phillies rebuilding process
LS: We are on the right track, although lately the results have been poor. It is a process that will take time. Players get to the Majors, feel they belong, then question that they belong. Eventually succeed, know they belong, and then need to learn how to win at the Major League level. We experienced that process in 1950, 1980, and 2008.
MV: What does the future hold for Larry Shenk? Any thoughts of riding off into the sunset, or just going to plug away as long as the team will have you?
LS: I believe I am in the sunset (laughs). Bonnie Clark succeeded me in 2007. Then took over as VP of Alumni, and last fall officially and technically retired. Fortunate that I’m still active with the blog, Twitter, and alumni web page. Don’t play golf, climb mountains, can’t swim, and don’t collect Legos. My hobby is writing about my Phillies. Do believe I’ve written my last book, however.
Larry may indeed have written his last book. But even if that is so, the two that he has already produced are must-owns for any true Phillies fan. An informative and engaging piece of Phillies history, “The Fightin’ Phillies” by Larry Shenk is worth your money, your time, and a place on your bookshelf or in your personal device library. Pick up a copy at the link at the top of this story.