Scott Lauber has covered baseball for two decades and the Philadelphia Phillies on a daily basis as a beat writer with the Philadelphia Inquirer since February 2018. Lauber has now published his second book on the team with this year’s release “The Big 50: Philadelphia Phillies: The Men and Moments that Make the Philadelphia Phillies” from Triumph Books.
There are literary masterpieces and historic research texts available on baseball. And then there are simple, easy, well-written books which any fan of the game would find entertaining. This is one of those.
Lauber splits the 313 pages of his book into 50 chapters, each one a story standing by itself. So, what Phillies fans get is a book where they will enjoy an entire season, game, or individual important to team history in a quick handful of pages. Put the book down, and you can pick it back up whenever you like and read another separate story.
The book opens with a half-dozen chapters in which Lauber revists the four most beloved teams in Phillies history, the 1980 and 2008 World Series champions and the 1950 and 1993 NL pennant winners, as well as the the greatest player and pitcher in franchise history in Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton.
Throughout the book, Lauber splices in the story in concise and readable fashion of many important non-playing figures in Phillies history as well. These include original owner Al Reach, broadcaster Harry Kalas, club executives Bill Giles and David Montgomery, the ownership reign of the Carpenter family…even The Phanatic.
As a sample, in the Reach chapter, Lauber beautifully introduces the Phillies’ first owner and founding father by tying him in with its current principal owner and superstar player:
“If ever John Middleton felt a twinge of doubt about the wisdom of signing Bryce Harper to the longest and richest contract in franchise history he might have considered strolling through the hear of Center City Philadelphia. There, at Al Reach‘s old office, Middleton would have found all the inspiration he needed.
Reach would have loved Harper. Before becoming the Phillies first owner in 1883, he manufactured and sold sporting goods. That’s how he made his millions. His company was among the first to make baseball bats, balls, and gloves. It says so right there on the 36-word historical marker outside the door to 1820 Chestnut Street, once the site of Reach’s prominent downtown store.
Just imagine, then, what Reach would’ve done with Harper, whose on-field style exceeds even the substance of his playing ability. Harper signed the largest endorsement deal ever for a baseball player in 2016 when he agreed to a 10-year extension with Under Armour, undeniably a 21st century descendant of early sporting goods titans such as A.G. Spalding Co. and, yes, A.J. Reach & Co.”
This is a book of 50 individual stories, and together they give any Phillies fan, even the broader baseball fan and sports community, not only a taste but the full flavor of the Fightin’ Phils history.
I asked Lauber where that idea came from, with the chapters jumping around from one great Phillies event or influential individual to another, rather than a simple chronological history of the team since 1883. Turns out that the book is just one in a series of “Big 50” offerings written under that same format:
“I wish I could take credit for the format,” Lauber stated. “But it was the brainchild of Triumph Books, which has published “Big 50s” about several other teams across sports. Sam Carchidi, one of my Inquirer colleagues, recently co-wrote a Flyers version. I’m not sure how many baseball teams are part of the series, but I can tell you they have done “Big 50s” with the Red Sox, Cardinals, Reds, Blue Jays, and most recently, the Yankees.
Triumph approached me early in 2019 to write “Big 50: Phillies,” and what appealed to me about the project was the freedom within the 50-chapter format to write it the way that I wanted.”
Lauber went on to describe the process by which the subjects were determined. Why, for instance, were certain players and Phillies teams covered but not others.
“In coming up with my list of subjects, I solicited opinions from several people, such as longtime Phillies PR chief Larry Shenk. Some were no-brainers (1980, 2008, Mike Schmidt, etc.), but there were also difficult omissions (Scott Rolen and Del Ennis, to name two). And I cheated a bit by combining a few people within one chapter (the three catchers, for instance). It’s called Big 50, but it’s probably closer to the Big 55!
Within each chapter, I really wanted to tell a story or share a viewpoint that I hadn’t heard before. If I’m being honest, I knew there probably wasn’t a whole lot of fresh ground to be plowed with many of these subjects. But telling Mike Schmidt’s story, for example, through the eyes of Rick Schu, who not only replaced Schmidt at third base in 1985 but did so while Schmidt was still with the Phillies, was a perspective that I found interesting. I hope readers will, too.”
As with any project of this type, Lauber needed to conduct a number of interviews with various individuals associated with the seasons and events highlighted. He not only spoke to the players themselves, but also family members and friends to get more intimate details that you may not have read in other books or articles on the topic.
I asked Lauber whether, during the process of putting the book together, any particular interviews or moments stood out for him.
“Without question, my favorite chapters were those in which I was able to find that fresh point of view on a familiar subject. For example, I really enjoyed speaking with Chuck Klein‘s nephew, Bob, about the final years of his uncle’s life and the honor of making a Hall of Fame speech on his behalf. It was special to hear Todd Kalas talk about calling an inning of the 2008 World Series with his father. I caught up with Reds broadcaster Chris Welsh about being coached in college by Robin Roberts and found the scout who lobbied the Phillies to draft Ryan Howard in the fifth round.
Of all the interviews that I did for the book, Pete Rose and Fergie Jenkins were two of the more entertaining. I had a few interviews with Pat Gillick and really enjoyed hearing about what it was like to make a trade with Paul Owens. Writing the Phanatic’s origin story was a blast because it meant talking to David Raymond. I could listen all day to longtime Phillies director of travel Frank Coppenbarger’s tales about the ’93 Phillies and Cliff Lee‘s odyssey to get to Yankee Stadium for Game 1 of the ’09 World Series. And one of my favorite stories in the book was about how Richie Ashburn gave Chris Wheeler his first shot to call a game.”
Every summer, I look for a Phillies or baseball-related beach book. Something that I can take down to the Wildwood Crest beach with me, plop down in a chair under an umbrella, and spend a couple hours enjoying as a light read. This is absolutely perfect for that purpose. Same for your living room, front porch, backyard, the park, wherever. A little extra reading time available during this current pandemic? Here ya go.
“Overall, it was just a really enjoyable project,” said Lauber. “I hope Phillies fans have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.” I can say that I had a great deal of fun reading this one, and I know you will too.
In his three-page forward to the actual book material, former Phillies pitcher and current radio broadcaster Larry Andersen writes that “fans in the Delaware Valley deserve a winner, and that is precisely what you get with The Big 50: Philadelphia Phillies.”
I couldn’t have wrapped it up any better, and recommend all fans of the team pick this one up as soon as possible. The title of the book in the first paragraph of this review is a link to order your copy from Amazon.