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Interview: Larry Shenk

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 Phils’ public relations department, Larry ‘the Baron’ Shenk.

Following on the heels of 2014’s “If These Walls Could Talk“, which took Phillies and all baseball fans inside the club’s 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.

As usual, will present it in a simple “Q&A” format.

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.
By Saam
Byrum ‘By’ Saam, Phillies radio/TV broadcaster in the mid-20th century
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 Veteran’s 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 Rebuild
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” 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.

J.P. Crawford Interview

The Philadelphia Phillies top prospect based on the evaluations of every reputable baseball source, shortstop J.P. Crawford (the ‘J.P.’ stands for John Paul) represents the organization’s lead piece in their planned “next generation”, the centerpiece of their rebuilding plans.
Crawford is currently injured, having suffered an oblique strain, basically a ribcage injury, as minor league camp was first opening back at the end of March.
When Crawford returns, anticipated around early-mid May, he is expected to be assigned to begin his 2015 season with the Phillies High-A affiliates, the Clearwater Threshers.
Should Crawford progress as anticipated this season, he is very likely to see Reading, where it would not be surprising to see him spend the majority of his summer. That would make watching him this year very accessible to Phillies fans.
Crawford turned 20 years old back in January. He was the club’s 1st round choice as the 16th overall selection in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft out of Lakewood High School in California.
After signing, he split that first 2013 summer between the Phillies rookie level team in the Gulf Coast League, and the Low-A affiliate Lakewood BlueClaws. 
Starting the 2014 season back in Lakewood, Crawford would split last summer between there and Clearwater with the High-A Threshers.
Thus far in his brief professional career, Crawford has a .292/.384/.404 slash line across 766 plate appearances, with 12 homers and 38 steals. 
Defensively, he has committed 38 errors in 780 chances, all at shortstop.
While the 20-year old is resting and getting set to begin his season, I was able to catch up with him for a quick interview. He proved to be very accessible and personable. 
Here is my exclusive Q&A with the Phillies shortstop of the future:

“My dad and Carl said to have fun in doing it. To remember that it’s still a game.” ~ Crawford

“Rollins and Jeter were my favorites to watch. Being African-American and playing shortstop, I wanted to be just like them.” ~ Crawford

MV: You’re still very young, who introduced you to the game as a kid?
JPC: My older sister. I’d go out to her practices when I was young. Then when I was old enough, I started to play.
MV: Can you talk about your experiences with the Urban Youth Academy and the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) programs?
JPC: Good memories going to the RBI World Series, and winning that in Miami, and getting the MVP at Marlins Park. They helped me a lot with my game, and can’t thank them enough. Gave me special opportunities.
MV: In that youth experience, any specific people who helped develop your game?
JPC: Lisa Beato. She was the best coach growing up, and she taught me how to compete, and how to win.
MV: Your dad, Larry Crawford, played in the CFL (Canadian Football League), and cousin Carl Crawford is in MLB. Did you receive any advice from them in transitioning to pro sports?
JPC: My dad and Carl said to have fun in doing it. To remember that it’s still a game.
MV: Any favorite or admired players growing up, or today?
JPC: Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter were my favorites to watch. Being African-American and playing shortstop, I wanted to be just like them.
MV: Your offensive game – hitting, power, steals – how do you see yourself? Do you feel that you can become a 20-20 or more type of player at the MLB level?
JPC: I’ve been working on getting stronger. So I think there’s a good possibility that a 20-20 can happen.
MV: How are you healing up? Do they give you a timetable, any game plan on a return yet?
JPC: The healing process is going great, getting better and better every day. I don’t know when I’ll be ready, but I’m going to come back stronger than before.
MV: Good luck on everything, and thanks for taking the time. Ever want to share anything or get anything out to the Phils fans, you can always come this way.

Angel Ibo Castillo Interview

Angel Ibo Castillo is probably not be a name familiar to all fans of the Philadelphia Phillies.
But to the approximately 200,000-strong Hispanic population in and around the city, his is a very familiar name and voice.
In the 2006-07 seasons and again since the 2012 season, Castillo has been a member of the Phillies Spanish language broadcasting team.
The Phillies broadcast their regular season and any postseason games in Spanish on radio at AM stations 1020 (Atlantic City), 1400 (Easton), 1600 (Allentown), 1680 (Lindenwold NJ/Philadelphia market) as well as 101.3 FM out of Atlantic City.
Angel is also a frequent user of social media, commenting on the team and the players (mostly in Spanish) via his Twitter feed @Angelibo0507. Give him a follow there to get his commentary all throughout spring training and the upcoming 2015 season.
I was fortunate to be able to get him to discuss his background, his work with the Phillies in particular, and some of his favorite memories with the team, as well as his opinion on the upcoming season.
Angel was concerned about his use of English, but he was excellent. The man is very gracious, and obviously a big fan of the team, which will come out in this interview. Hope you enjoy.

THE ANGEL IBO CASTILLO INTERVIEW

MV: Can you tell us a little about yourself, Angel?
AIC: I am 37 years old, born in the Dominican Republic. Married, and we have two kids, both boys, 7 and 3 years old.
MV: What is your history, background, and education in broadcasting? What attracted you to this field of work?
AIC: I went to university in the Dominican Republic, Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo. I studied Social Communication and Journalism.
MV: When and how did the Phillies job come to you?
AIC: I moved to the USA back in 2002, to Philadelphia, and started writing for the “Impacto Latino” newspaper. In 2005, I started covering the Phillies games for the newspaper. That led to me joining the Phillies broadcasting in 2006.

I feel God showed me that if I can’t be a baseball player, I can still be around this beautiful game.” ~ Angel Ibo Castillo

AIC: I had my own sports radio show for two years in 2006 and 2007 called “Deportes de Aqui y de Alla” that aired from Monday-Friday from 12:00-1:30pm on WTTM 1680AM, the same station that now does the Phillies Spanish broadcasts. Then in 2008, I moved to DC to work for the Nationals with their Spanish broadcasting. I did that from 2008-11, but then came back to the Phillies in 2012.
MV: I have not listened often to the Phillies broadcast in Spanish. I know that the team used to be yourself, Rickie Ricardo, and Bill Kulik. Who makes up the team now? Can you talk a bit about those guys, and your current fellow broadcasters?
AIC: From last season, it’s just Bill Kulik and I. Ricky is now working for the New York Yankees. Bill is more than my boss and fellow broadcaster. He is like a father for me. Ricky was a very good partner, and still is a close friend.
MV: Do you call all of the home and away games? How about spring training and any playoff games?
AIC: We call the 162 regular season games plus any playoffs.
MV: Did you play the game at all?
AIC: I played baseball, but obviously wasn’t good! But I tried to be close to the game, and God put me in a good situation. I mean, I feel God showed me that if I can’t be a baseball player, I can still be around this beautiful game.
MV: What are a couple of your favorite calls and memories of the team?
AIC: The last out of the final game of the 2007 regular season was a favorite of mine. I remember that Sunday back in 2007. Phillies-Mets tied at top of the division. When the Phillies game started, the Mets were losing 7-0 in New York. I mean, that was one of the most exciting days in Phillies baseball. Remember, we were 7 games behind with 17 left to play.
MV: Did you get to work the 2008 World Series, or follow that team?

Utley..plays the game hard. I mean, I like the way he runs out all the ground balls. Utley never gives up.” ~ Angel Ibo Castillo

AIC: I didn’t work the 2008 World Series because I was working for the Nationals. But I was in the ballpark in every postseason game.
MV: Did you ever get to work with Harry Kalas?
AIC: I spent time with Harry, have a couple of pics with him. But never actually got to work with him.
MV: Who are your favorite players on the current team?
AIC: Chase Utley. He plays the game hard. I mean, I like the way he runs out all the ground balls. Utley never gives up. Injuries might be the only thing to stop him making the Hall of Fame.
MV: Any predictions on the 2015 Phillies team?
AID: Predictions? Well, everybody knows we are in a rebuilding process. What I want to see this season is more from young players. Find out if Maikel Franco is ready for MLB. If Cody Asche can become a good outfielder. I mean, they should just give the young players more time.
MV: Angel, thank you so very much. Very gracious of you. Gracias for doing this in my only language. You did great with the English.

AID: Thank you for taking the time to do this article. Appreciate it. I hope to meet you this baseball season. Let me know when you come to the ballpark. 

Mitch Williams Interview

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Williams (center) during his stint as an analyst with the MLB Network

Mitch Williams is one of the most colorful, controversial, and popular athletes in Philadelphia sports history. “The Wild Thing” who heroically shut down the Braves to clinch the 1993 National League Pennant, then became a publicly vilified goat on yielding Joe Carter‘s World Series-winning homerun just 10 days later.

Williams rose from the ashes of that emotional ’93 devastation to eventually be forgiven and embraced again by Phillies fans, and ultimately beloved by them. He did it by never shirking responsibility, and by always displaying openness and candor in handling the situation.
I was fortunate enough to be able to interview the former Phillies closer this week. In our conversation, Mitch showed that he is as feisty, frank, and competitive as ever.
We covered a wide range of topics, from his current internet talk show “Unleashed with Mitch Williams“, to last year’s incident that resulted in his being fired by the MLB Network, to his opinion on the current Phillies bullpen of Jonathan PapelbonKen GilesJake Diekman, and Justin De Fratus.
Along the way there were detours to Curt Schilling‘s Hall of Fame worthiness, his relationship with Lenny Dykstra, and even a more recent run-in with former Phils pitching coach Rich Dubee involving both Diekman and Phillies pitching great Roy Halladay.

THE MITCH WILLIAMS INTERVIEW

MV: How did the Wildfire radio gig come about?
W: Twitter. They tweeted me about it and we started it.
MV: Nice, power of social media. What are your biggest payoffs with it? What do you enjoy most, get out of it?
W: Right now it’s the only way to keep my voice being heard until my lawsuits are settled. No one in network TV will hire me after MLB Network fired me over lies told about me on a rumor blog! I can’t talk about the cases because they are in the hands of the court. But go to Law360.com article on Mitch Williams. Just Google that. It will tell you the facts.
NOTE
: link in that quote from Mitch will take you to the article he referenced
MV: Any idea of a time frame on that resolution – at least in your hopes?
W: It could last 2 years. Don’t know.
MV: Sure. Legal situations can sure drag out.
MV: Are you still at all, or plan on, coaching kids ball again? Where are your kids, as far as their interest/participation in baseball?
 W: My youngest is a monster at 10 years old. He is heavy into baseball, and I am looking at doing some clinics. Will have more info on those soon.
NOTE: Mitch’s daughter, Nikola Williams, is a HS basketball player in South Jersey. She is currently one of 10 girls, including former Philadelphia Eagles star Jon Runyan’s daughter Alyssa, nominated in a poll being run by NJ.com under the question: “Who do you want taking the final shot in Burlington County?
MV: Started tossing Nikola a bunch of votes – good luck!
W: Thanks Matt!
MV: Glad to hear you’re staying involved teaching the game.
MV: Can you answer a couple on the old days? Curt Schilling, a Hall of Famer? Dykstra, still feuding?
W: First, Schilling is not a Hall of Fame pitcher. The HOF is for a body of work over a career. 216 wins in 22 years. Jack Morris had 254 in 18 years, all 18 in AL facing 9 hitters a night. Schilling spent 12 of his years facing 8 hitters a night in NL. Morris had 175 complete games. CS had 81.
NOTE: Schilling actually had 83 complete games 
W: If Morris ain’t a HOFer, Schilling definitely isn’t. Everyone thinks Schilling is an HOFer because of his postseason stats. That isn’t what the Hall is for. If they build a wing on the HOF for postseason performance, CS is a first ballot HOFer. I actually think they should build a wing on the HOF for that.

I bet as the guards were knocking every tooth out of his head in prison, the World Series loss didn’t seem all that big a deal.” ~ Mitch on Lenny

 W: As for feud with Lenny, I never cared enough about him to feud with him. He spent 20 years ripping me for the World Series. I know I lost it for our team. Never claimed I didn’t lose it. I didn’t need a convicted criminal to remind me every time someone stuck a camera in his face. I bet as the guards were knocking every tooth out of his head in prison, the World Series loss didn’t seem all that big a deal. So I’ve had no feud with him.
W: Ain’t gonna shake his hand and give him a hug, which he tried to do when I saw him. I am not a guy that hugs someone that has said really nasty stuff about me that my kids had to hear. I ain’t phony. I don’t have to like someone to acknowledge their ability. If I had a big game to win, I would want Schilling to start it. And Lenny was the smartest baseball player I ever played with. He knew the game inside out. But he was literally the dumbest human I’ve ever met off the field. I told both of them the same thing when they were ripping me.

I am not perfect. But I have never been sent to prison, and I don’t owe the state of Rhode Island $75 million dollars” ~ Mitch on Lenny and Curt

W: When our baseball careers are over, we will just have to be men. And neither of them would make a pimple on a man’s ass! I am not perfect. But I have never been sent to prison, and I don’t owe the state of Rhode Island $75 million dollars. I am involved in 2 law suits that I can’t talk about, that I was forced to file. But when those are over, people will all hear the actual truth about all that BS! And the people that have always stood by me will find out they were right to do so.
W: I wouldn’t let the people of Philly down by doing what I was accused of, the people of Philly are great. That is why I can’t wait for this to all be over so they know that I didn’t betray them and let them down! I care too much about representing the Phillies fans in a positive way. Because they always stood by me. I never took that lightly. 
MV: Any comments on the current Phils pen? Paps, Giles, Diekman, De Fratus?
W: The Phils got a very good and young bullpen. If the team can stay close for 6 innings, they could do better than expected in ’15 because of the bullpen!
MV: The Papelbon stuff, crotch-grab and all – overblown? Bad move? Any insights on him at all? Diekman a hard throwing lefty like you – similar?

Dubee wouldn’t listen to someone that saw something he couldn’t begin to understand. So he got fired, and Roy’s career ended 5 years before it should have” ~ Mitch on Dubee and Doc

W: Pap was out of line! As for Diekman, I asked Charlie Manuel 3 years ago if he minded me calling Jake to work with him. That I could spend 30 minutes with him and he would be able to repeat his mechanics, and he would be throwing as hard as Aroldis Chapman. Charlie wanted me to work with him. So I called Jake and offered to pay for his flight to come here to New Jersey, and I could show him a couple of things that would simplify his mechanics and he would throw even harder.
NOTE: Rich Dubee was the Phillies pitching coach at the time Mitch offered to help with Diekman
W: But Rich Dubee got offended and wouldn’t let Jake come. I saw Dubee that spring and he yelled at me in the clubhouse in front of the team, that he knew what he was doing, and I should never talk to his pitchers again. So I looked at him and just said “Okay Rich.” Then I went into Charlie’s office and told Charlie to tell Dubee if he ever yelled at me in front of anyone again, I would knock him out in front of those same people.
W: Then I did a breakdown on Roy Halladay on MLB Network, on why he was struggling. It was so simple to see on film, and he would be throwin’ 100. But Dubee and his sub .500 record in AA ball chose his ego over Halladay’s health. He went from winning the Cy Young in ’10 and 2nd in ’11 to his career being over in ’13 because Dubee wouldn’t listen to someone that saw something he couldn’t begin to understand. So he got fired, and Roy’s career ended 5 years before it should have.

MV: Appreciate everything, Mitch. Thank you for the interview.