Tag Archives: Larry Shenk

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.

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.

Shenk 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 his background in a separate interview piece 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.