Tag Archives: REVIEWS

Book Review: The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox

For younger fans of the Boston Red Sox, and Major League Baseball in general for that matter, this might be hard to believe. But for a long stretch of my lifetime, those Bosox were considered to be jinxed at best, chokers at worst.

The Red Sox have captured three recent World Series crowns in 2004, 2007, and in 2013. They have reached the postseason four other times as well in this century. They are considered one of the leading AL contenders once again this season.

But from 1908 until 2004, just short of a full century, the Red Sox could not manage to win a single World Series championship. In fact, during that stretch, the Sox captured just two American League Pennants.

The first of those came in 1946, when Ted Williams and company were edged out by the Saint Louis Cardinals thanks famously to the “Mad Dash” of Enos Slaughter in Game Seven.

I began following baseball in 1971, and distinctly recall rooting for Boston in the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. One of the attractions for me to the Red Sox cause was that lengthy frustration, attributed to the “Curse of the Bambino” by more superstitious fans.

Famed Boston baseball historian Herb Crehan has a fairly new book out, published by Summer Game Books last year. The book is based on the other AL Pennant won by the Red Sox during that 95-year stretch.

The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox: Birth of Red Sox Nation“, was released in 2016, written by Crehan. His bostonbaseballhistory.com website is the definitive stop for all things Red Sox. The book includes a forward by pitcher Jim Lonborg, who played a pivotal role for Boston in that 1967 season.

HISTORY LESSON

This well-written, easy to read, 267-page effort from Crehan covers that season with a central theme in mind. Crehan opines that those 1967 Red Sox lit the fire for what has become known as “Red Sox Nation.” This is the term for the rabid multi-generational fan base of the team reaching well outside of the New England region.

Before even beginning the 1967 team story, Crehan sets the stage for the reader with an intro titled “A Brief History of the Boston Red Sox” presented as a prologue.

In these 13 pages covering 1871 through 1966, Crehan rolls through one of my favorite subjects, real baseball history. He takes you from the early Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves) to the Boston Americans (now the Red Sox), discussing the Boston baseball evolution.
In the 1966 season, Boston finished in ninth place with a 72-90 record in the American League. It was the club’s second consecutive season finishing ninth out of the 10 AL teams playing at that time.

THE 1967 RED SOX: LITTLE HOPE

Crehan opens the story of the 1967 team by setting the scene. The opening of the baseball season provided a respite to the escalating war in Vietnam: “In most minds, the boys of summer promptly took precedence over the boys of battle.”
Crehan quickly explains that the positive feeling regarding the game was not necessarily translating to the Boston area.
“But in Boston, as on so many recent Opening Days, there was little joy, less to shout about and lots of lethargy. It is hard for fans under the age of 55 to appreciate the depth of cynicism surrounding the 1967 Red Sox. It had been 21 years since the team’s last appearance in a World Series and the Red Sox hadn’t finished in the first division since 1958.”
The previous seven-year stretch had been particularly horrendous for fans of the team. The Red Sox finished no higher than sixth place in any season between 1960-66. Fans stayed away in droves.
From that 1946 World Series winner through today, the Red Sox have drawn more than a million fans to Fenway Park in 44 of the 52 seasons. A half-dozen of those eight poorly drawing years came during the 1961-66 seasons.

BOSOX START SLOW

Bottom line, there was no talk in Boston or anywhere else in baseball of the 1967 Boston Red Sox emerging as contenders. In fact, the season started out much as most believed it would, with consistent losing.
On May 20, a loss at Fenway to the Cleveland Indians left the Red Sox with a 14-17 record and in seventh place. At that point, the Bosox were a full seven games behind the front-running Chicago White Sox in the American League standings.
In fact, as late as July 13, the Red Sox continued to struggle. The club split a doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles that day. They had lost six of eight games. Despite a 42-40 mark they were in fifth place, still a half-dozen games out of first. And then it all suddenly began to turn around.

TURNAROUND TO SURPRISE CONTENTION

It began with a 10-game winning streak in mid-July. By the end of that month, the Red Sox were in second place, just two games behind the White Sox.
It would take three more weeks, but Boston would finally catch the Chisox by sweeping a doubleheader from the Washington Senators on August 22.
One key player, 22-year old right fielder Tony Conigliaro, was not around for all of the drama. A budding star, ‘Tony C’ was hit in the face by California Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton on August 18, and was lost for the season.
The finishing stretch to that 1967 regular season would test the cardiac conditioning of fans all across New England. Over the final six weeks, Boston was never more than a game off the pace, or a game in front.

FINAL DAY MADNESS

Heading into the final day of the season, the Red Sox were tied at the top of the American League with the Minnesota Twins at 91-70. Tthe Detroit Tigers were just a half-game behind.
Remember, this was still two years before the divisional era would begin. All 10 teams were lined up in the league. Whoever finished in first place was the Pennant winner, advancing immediately into the World Series.
On that final day, October 1, Boston skipper Dick Williams sent his ace Lonborg to the hill in a head-to-head showdown with Minnesota for the pennant. Crehan writes of the buildup to that game:
“Lonborg, a native of San Luis Obispo, California, and a pre-med graduate of Stanford University, was the undisputed ace of the Red Sox staff with twenty-one wins already to his credit. However, the big right-hander entered the game winless against the powerful Twins, a team that had always given him trouble. Lonborg couldn’t have known it as the sun came up over Boston Harbor that morning, but he was about to achieve the most important victory of a distinguished career that would span fifteen seasons in the major leagues.”
The Red Sox would thrill the Fenway faithful with a 5-3 victory over the Twins on that final Sunday. Lonborg went the distance, allowing seven hits and walking four batters.

RED SOX VS TWINS

The Twins had broken to an early 2-0 lead, and that scored carried into the bottom of the sixth. Then the Bosox erupted for all five of the runs that they would score on the day against Twins 26-year old ace Dean Chance.
Lonborg incredibly began the big inning with a bunt base hit. It was the first of four straight singles to start the frame. The last of those was a game-tying, two-run single off the bat of future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski to score Lonborg and Jerry Adair.
Ken Harrelson then hit into a fielder’s choice, with Dalton Jones racing home with the run that put Boston on top for the first time. After that, Chance and the Twins fell apart. A pair of wild pitches, a walk, and an error combined to push two more Red Sox runs across. Those runs would provide Boston’s ultimate margin of victory.
With two outs in the top of the 8th, the Twins tried to rally. Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva registered back to back singles. Then Bob Allison‘s base hit to left field scored Killebrew to cut the Boston lead down to a 5-3 margin.
However, Allison committed the final boner of the day for the Twins. Trying to put himself into scoring position, he went for second base on his clutch hit. Yaz came up firing, and gunned to second baseman Mike Andrews. Andrews’ tag nailed Allison for the final out of the inning and killed the Minnesota rally.

CAPTURING THE PENNANT

In the top of the 9th, the Twins had one final shot when Ted Uhlaender led off with a base hit. At that point in today’s game, had he somehow lasted that long, Lonborg would be lifted. The great lefty bat of Rod Carew was stepping to the plate.
But Williams stuck with his starter, and Lonborg rewarded his skipper. First he coaxed Carew into an easy 4-3 double play. Then he retired pinch-hitter Rich Rollins on a pop out to shortstop Rico Petrocelli to end the game.
The Red Sox and their fans exploded in a frenzied celebration. Yet there was still a potential fly in the ointment. Remember, Detroit had entered that final day just a half-game out. Should the Tigers sweep their doubleheader with the California Angels, they would finish tied with Boston. This would force a playoff for the AL Pennant.
The Boston locker room would eventually settle down, and the team would follow the Tigers-Angels action on a radio broadcast. Detroit had captured the opener 6-4, and moved to an early 3-1 lead in the second game.
But the Angels were no pushover, they roared back with three runs in both the third and fourth innings, coasting home with an 8-5 victory. The Tigers were eliminated, and the Red Sox were officially champions of the American League.

THE 1967 WORLD SERIES

In the World Series, the Red Sox would find the Saint Louis Cardinals waiting as representatives of the National League. Just as had happened 21 years earlier, the Cards would capture a seven-game victory.
The Red Sox beat one future Hall of Famer in that series. Lonborg edged his future Philadelphia Phillies rotation mate Steve Carlton by a 3-1 score in Game Five.
However, Boston simply could not solve the other Hall of Famer in the Cardinals rotation. Bob Gibson went 3-0, allowing just 14 hits over 27 innings with a 26/5 K:BB to earn the Most Valuable Player honors.
Crehan takes you through each game of that World Series, including Williams dice roll in Game Seven, where he started Lonborg on just two days rest.
“Lonborg managed to hold the Cardinals at bay during the first two innings of Game Seven. “I felt pretty good warming up,” Lonborg remembered. “I had pitched on two days rest several times that year…felt a little tired, but in a big game like that you are most interested in pitching command than power.””
Lonborg’s efforts that season were truly heroic. He would be rewarded for a 22-7 season by winning the AL Cy Young Award. But in Game Seven, he just didn’t have it. The Cardinals tagged him for six earned runs on 10 hits. Against the dominance of Gibson, that ineffectiveness proved the difference.

RED SOX NATION

Despite the Fall Classic defeat, the 1967 season was the beginning of major success for the Boston Red Sox. The club would reel off 16 consecutive winning seasons, returning to the World Series again just eight years later.
From that 1967 season through last year, a total of 50 seasons, the Red Sox and their fans have experienced just eight losing campaigns. They have been to the World Series five times, winning the last three.
Fenway Park has become a genuine “place to be” in Boston. The Red Sox have drawn more than three million fans on five occasions, and since 1986 have drawn over two million in every full season.
Just last month, Forbes estimated that the Boston Red Sox were worth $2.7 billion. That makes the club the third most valuable in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the arch-rival New York Yankees and the NL’s Los Angeles Dodgers, two teams playing in much larger home markets.
Crehan doesn’t simply take you chronologically through that 1967 season. The fourteen full chapters each highlight a specific player and their contributions to that Red Sox team. In addition to the players already mentioned here previously, those players include Reggie SmithRuss GibsonGeorge ScottJoe FoyGary Bell, and Jose Santiago.
When you examine the record of the team on the field, the response of the fan base, and the growth in value for the franchise in the last fifty years, it’s hard to argue with Crehan’s ultimate argument.
Those “Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox” truly did give birth to the “Red Sox Nation”, just as his book title proclaims. This is an outstanding read, particularly for Boston fans, but also for all baseball fans.

Book Review: "Ahead of the Curve" by Brian Kenny

 

There is no book that I have read in recent years that I can more highly recommend than Ahead of the Curve” by Brian Kenny.

Kenny is a 2003 Emmy Award winner who was named as the 2004 Media Personality of the Year by Sports Illustrated. He is now well-known by baseball fans as a studio host for the MLB Network. In addition, Kenny is respected as a boxing analyst and broadcaster.
A longtime ESPN anchor and analyst, Kenny left in 2011 for the television stint with the then two-year old MLB Network. He also hosts ‘The Brian Kenny” show weekdays on NBC Sports Radio.
With his new TV gig, Kenny also joined former player Harold Reynolds on the ‘MLB Now‘ program. The show is highlighted by Kenny espousing modern “Sabermetric” statistical analysis of America’s Pastime.
Those Sabermetric views make up the centerpiece of “Ahead of the Curve“, which comes with an “Inside the Baseball Revolution” sub-title.

JAMES AND SABR REVOLUTIONIZE THE GAME

Sabermetrics principles were introduced decades ago by stats guru and writer Bill James, a hero of Kenny’s. This study and analysis of baseball via a statistical approach draws its name from SABR, the Society for Baseball Research, which itself was founded in 1971.
Kenny writes in chapter four titled “The Epiphany” of his own introduction to James’ questioning of previously long-accepted baseball dogma:
“Reading James unrelenting questioning gave me a vivid illustration of scientific inquiry. Like most everyone else, I had somehow glazed over all of that in Chemistry and Biology. Apply it to baseball? Now it all made sense. And nothing would ever be the same. Other baseball writing, by comparison, would seem like a gossip column.”
But readers of this book review shouldn’t allow the idea of statistics to intimidate you. Any baseball fan with any level of education will easily understand and appreciate the vast majority of Kenny’s brilliant work.

KENNY MAKES STATS ANALYSIS ACCESSIBLE

That is the true genius of this book. Kenny explains things in layman’s terms. He highlights the explanations and arguments with famous baseball events and personalities. As a result, he makes statistical analysis accessible to the common fan.
In comparing Joe DiMaggio to Ted Williams, or Mike Trout to Miguel Cabrera, both of which Kenny does in the book, he supports all of his points. Furthermore, Kenny does so in a language that fans of the game will find both easy and enjoyable to follow.
In the book, Kenny explains some of his favorite principles, such as the “bullpenning” concept. This was an idea touched on in the 2016 World Series.
“If professional baseball were starting now, there’s no way we would use the current model. We would “bullpen” most days. It will take a certain amount of reconditioning, no doubt, but the benefits of doing this would be enormous. No more ‘starters’, no more ‘relievers’, no more ‘wins.’ Another useful habit from the nineteenth century will be broken, giving the first to get there a huge advantage.”

TRADITIONAL STATS UNDER SCRUTINY

Kenny also goes after a number of traditional baseball statistics and theories that he finds to be mostly hogwash. Things like the sacrifice bunt, ‘Errors’ tracking for fielders, the ‘Win’ and ‘Save’ statistics for pitchers, and ‘Batting Average’ as a primary tool to evaluate hitters all come under Kenny scrutiny.
In conclusion, if you haven’t yet read this book, what are you waiting for? The final judgment of my book review of “Ahead of the Curve” is that it is a must-read for every true baseball fan. Therefore, this is one of those rare books that will earn a lasting place in your personal baseball library.

Book Review: "God Almighty Hisself: the Life and Legacy of Dick Allen"

Perhaps the single most controversial figure in the 133-season history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise is the subject of a new book “God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen” by Villanova University law professor Mitchell Nathanson.
This is not a clumsy tome hastily thrown together to make a quick buck by giving fans some light summer reading.
Instead, Nathanson has produced a legitimate, first-class biography that tells the story of the 1960’s superstar who made a somewhat triumphant return in the mid-70’s to the city that once spurned him.
Allen was born and raised in and around Wampum, Pennsylvania, a one-square mile borough in Lawrence County on the western edge of the Commonwealth that can be found approximately 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and just 10 miles from the PA-Ohio border.
Though the town was overwhelmingly white in population and he was being raised in the racially charged America of the 1950’s, Allen experienced few overt problems thanks largely to his athletic abilities.
He and brothers Hank and Ronnie became basketball stars at Wampum High School, leading the team to championships while each became All-State players.
Allen became a professional baseball player rather than a pro hoops star simply because America’s pastime paid more, and Allen looked to provide a better life for himself and his family
, led by his mother, a God-loving and fearing Christian woman who worked hard to support her boys as a single parent.
He was also part of what Nathanson refers to as the “second generation of black players” who came after trailblazers such as Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby had begun integrating the game a decade or so earlier.
“This was Dick Allen’s generation,” writes Nathanson, “and their stories are, in fact, no less compelling, no less triumphant.”

“But this generation, unlike Robinson’s, did not end with an exclamation mark. Instead it bled slowly and imperceptibly into the modern game, where the racial double standard finally disappeared, and if you don’t look for it, you’re likely to miss it. But it’s there. And Dick Allen, at times unwittingly, at times quite cunningly, is a large part of the reason it ultimately succeeded.” ~ Nathanson

The racial and other societal challenges of the times were made a bit more difficult for Allen than even others in the game, as the Phillies were notoriously averse to bringing in black ball players.
The Phils would become the last major league team to integrate when John Kennedy made his debut on April 22nd, 1957 at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, NJ as a pinch runner in a game against the Dodgers.
But it was Allen who would become the franchise’ first-ever black superstar during a time when Philadelphia was far less ethnically diverse than it has become today.
Over the first couple of chapters, Nathanson does an outstanding job of setting the stage for the rest of his book, for Allen’s experiences in Philly, and for the slugger’s 15-year big league career. In those pages he paints a clear picture of Allen’s personal life, and of the game in those days.
Things were especially difficult in places like the Phillies’ minor league affiliate at Little Rock, Arkansas, where Allen became the first-ever black player.

When the game was on, everybody was for you,” Nathanson quotes Allen. “When the game was over, everybody walked away from you and you were on your own.

Nathanson covers the rise of the mid-60’s contending Phillies with Allen starring as the club took a run at the 1964 NL Pennant, a run that every fan of the team knows ended in one of the most inglorious collapses in baseball history.
He pulls no punches in covering Allen’s infamous pre-game locker room fight with teammate Frank Thomas, the deterioration of Connie Mack Stadium and its surrounding neighborhood, and other racial elements of the times surrounding the team in the 1960’s in vivid, well-researched, and well-written detail.
He moves through Allen’s deteriorating relationship with the media, and in some ways through them, the Phillies fans, and ultimately with the club’s front office as the decade drew to a close.

By opening night of the 1969 season, hostility was thick in the Philadelphia air; most of those who trudged toward the dilapidated ballpark in the dilapidated neighborhood did so for one reason: to boo Dick Allen.”

Even as Allen finally escaped from Philadelphia in a trade to the Saint Louis Cardinals on October 7th, 1969, there was major controversy attached.
Allen was dealt by the Phils along with infielder Cookie Rojas and righty pitcher Jerry Johnson to Saint Louis in exchange for catcher Tim McCarver, closer Joe Hoerner, backup outfielder Byron Browne, and the centerpiece of the deal from the Philly perspective, a 31-year old outfielder named Curt Flood.
Flood was a 14-year big league veteran who had debuted at just age 18, and who had become a 3x NL All-Star with the Cardinals. The center fielder was riding a streak of seven consecutive Gold Gloves at the time of the trade, and had finished fourth in the 1968 NL MVP balloting.
But Flood refused to report to the Phillies, and would fight the trade in the single most important legal battle in the history of the sport.
Flood would ultimately lose his personal legal battle, but all players owe him a debt for setting the stage for the overturn of baseball’s “reserve clause” and the onset of free agency.
The Phils would be compensated in the end with the inclusion of Willie Montanez in the deal in place of Flood.
But of course, Flood had to have been dealt for Allen. The deal, its historic legal battle, and the reflection and impact on Allen and the Phillies are covered well by Nathanson.
Allen’s career in Saint Louis would last one season, followed by a trade to the Dodgers. That stint would last one season, followed by a trade to the Chicago White Sox.
Those single seasons came despite the fact that he produced, including making the NL All-Star team in 1970.
In Chicago, Allen took his game to another level, becoming the American League Most Valuable Player in 1972 at age 30. He would make the AL All-Star team in all three of his Chisox seasons.
A month into the season (1972) he had decided that he had at last found a home“, writes Nathanson. He quotes Allen during that MVP season:

I like it here in Chicago and I made up my mind that no matter what happens, this is the last club I’m going to play baseball with. I’m just too tired of moving around.”

As the mid-70’s approached, no one in baseball, least of all Allen, could ever foresee his returning to the Phillies, who had become perennial losers.
However, as those mid-70’s unfolded, the Phils emerged as serious contenders once again sparked by a young core of players led by sluggers Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski, and veterans like 2nd baseman Dave Cash and pitcher Steve Carlton.
In December of 1974, the White Sox dealt away a then 32-year old Allen to the Atlanta Braves. Holding to his earlier claim that Chicago would be his final stop, Allen balked at the deal for a number of reasons, both personal and professional.
Then in February of 1975, with Allen’s career possibly ending, Phillies legend Richie Ashburn stepped in, paying a “clandestine” visit to Allen at his Pennsylvania farm.
Accompanied by Schmidt and Cash, the trio risked tampering charges to woo Allen into coming back to Philadelphia with the emerging “Yes We Can” Phillies.
It would take months to accomplish, but eventually the Phillies made a deal with Atlanta, while Allen finalized a deal with owner Ruly Carpenter. Like that, he was the Phils’ starting 1st baseman.[teamnews align=”right” topic=”phillies” vertical=”mlb”]
“From the very beginning, I didn’t want to leave here. But I was kind of like pushed,” Nathanson quotes Allen as saying at the news conference announcing his return.

 “I never got the chance to relate to the kids in North Philly the last time I was here. But I’m going to become involved this time.

Allen would hit for just a .233/.327/.385 slash line with a dozen homers over 481 plate appearances with the 1975 Phillies. However, he did drive in 62 runs and banged 21 doubles, while the team took a run at the NL East crown.
After tying for the division lead as late as August 18th, they ultimately would finish 86-76 and just 6.5 games behind the division-winning Pittsburgh Pirates. It was the team’s best finish in a decade.
It would also mark them as serious contenders. The Phillies would go on to win the next three consecutive NL East crowns, and Allen was there to celebrate in 1976. However, his own skills were obviously eroding, especially the light-tower power that had been his calling card.
In many ways, the 1976 season was a mirror image of the one that preceded it: the club ran away from the pack at last but everything surrounding Dick began to unravel,” writes Nathanson.

For the first few months of the season the fans and writers remained solidly behind him; the team’s sparkling play overshadowed his diminishing skills.

In addition to those skills eroding, Allen was once again disgruntled with the organization, which he believed was underpaying him.
He also felt that Tony Taylor, his 60’s teammate with the Phils who was a bench player by this point, was deserving of a final shot at the postseason.
Allen threatened through the press that unless Taylor were included on the postseason roster, he himself would not play in the NLCS or World Series, if the club advanced.
“On the day the club clinched,” writes Nathanson, “word filtered down to Dick that Taylor would not, after all, be added to the postseason roster. The Phils were scheduled to play the Expos in a Sunday doubleheader and needed to win only one of the two games that afternoon to wrap things up. They took care of that in the first game and celebrated their championship in the cramped Jarry Park locker room.”

“Dick declined to join them, choosing instead to remain on the frosty bench accompanied only by his thoughts.”

This preceded what would become, as described by Nathanson, the “Broom Closet Incident” in the bowels of Jarry Park that afternoon.
This sequence of events, which I’ll leave for you to read in the chapter titled “No Apologies“, highlighted a racial divide that was forming in the Phillies clubhouse, and which many believed was being fomented by Allen.
Allen went just 2-9 in the NLCS with three walks and one run scored, his only career postseason appearance.
The ‘Big Red Machine’ swept the Phillies out in three straight games, coming from behind in all three contests. It would be the final ending to Allen’s playing career in Philadelphia.
He signed as a free agent that off-season with the Oakland Athletics, finishing out his career as a part-timer in Oakland, where he hit the final five home runs of his career.
Allen finished with 351 home runs and 1,119 RBI over his career, with a .292/.378/.534 slash line.
He was the 1964 NL Rookie of the Year with the Phillies, the 1972 AL MVP with the White Sox, a 7x All-Star, and had a half-dozen seasons with 30+ home runs.
In 1994, Allen became the 16th man to be enshrined by the Phillies on their Wall of Fame. Eight years later in 2002, Taylor would join him in also receiving that honor.
Nathanson closes this fantastic work with a glimpse at today’s athletes, and the influence of Allen on their ability to both play the game and express their individuality.

The athlete who goes his own way can no longer expect to be disparaged; he might even be worshiped for his steadfastness and resolve. Although many wouldn’t know him if they passed him on the street, all of these athletes owe a debt to Dick Allen for making their lives easier and more prosperous, for going through everything he went through simply because he believed that if he wasn’t himself he wasn’t anybody. For making the sports establishment realize that it didn’t matter so much after all what one did before or after the game provided he could perform at a peak level when it counted. They have reaped the benefits; Dick has paid the price.” ~ Nathanson

Nathanson has written a book that I consider a vital work and a must-read for any fan of the Phillies, of baseball, and in fact anyone interested in the history of America in the second half of the 20th century.
This is the fourth baseball-themed book written or co-written by Nathanson, and is certainly going to lead to my seeking out the others for reading as well. You are surely going to find something else of his reviewed here in the future.

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.

Book Review: "Diehards: Why Fans Care So Much About Sports"

If you are a baseball fan like me, you enjoy all aspects of the game. Not just the more analytical, statistics-based evaluations of recent years, or the classic excitement of a dramatic game, series, or season, but the whole enchilada.
The history of the game and the background stories of the players and other individuals involved fascinate me. 
The best resource to obtain information of this type can often be a well-written book on a particular subject.
All of the reading that I have done over decades following the game finally led me to this idea for the introduction of a “book reviews” series, with coverage of both the Phillies in particular and baseball in general.
In moving forward with the series, I will mostly focus on material written about the Fightin’ Phils specifically. But if something influences me enough while only barely touching on the team, will highlight those as well.
I wanted to begin the series with something that  included the Phillies, but also would be of interest to the wider audience of baseball fans. I believe that I may have stumbled upon the perfect choice.
As a big fan of the team and the game in the passionate sports town of Philly, the aspect of fandom itself has always fascinated me. This led to my interest in introducing you to the 2015 book “Diehards: Why Fans Care So Much About Sports” by Chip Scarinzi.
Chip is one of us, a self-described “lifelong, diehard Philadelphia Phillies fan” who grew up in New Jersey
and “studied roster moves and researched their history.”
Chip would produce “real-time hitting and pitching statistics on note cards while listening to the soothing voices of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn call games deep into the night” in those days many of us well recall before the influence of the internet.
Relocating to the west coast as a youth, Chip would eventually split his allegiances between the Phillies in the National League, and his new hometown Oakland Athletics in the American League.
Of course, since he was just a kid, and it’s a different league, and especially since the A’s were Philly’s team longer than any other locality (their first 54 seasons from 1901-54) we can both understand and forgive him.
In “Diehards“, Chip explores what it is that makes the fans in places like Philadelphia and Oakland so passionate. 
What is it that all have in common? What leads us to spend our good money on shirseys, and often act out at a ballpark in ways we would never consider doing, say, at our workplace or even right in our own backyards?
Chip weaves in references to other research, to modern studies on the topic, while instilling the work with his own flavor, which is both understandable and enjoyable to read.

We are social creatures and we long for community. We strive for a feeling of belonging and the mutual understanding that exists when people come together and enjoy shared interests. At the stadium, we look around the horde and nod knowingly to our fellow fans. You’re in on it too, huh? This secret society gathers frequently, dresses the same, chants in the same way, and even sits and stands in unison.” ~ Scarinzi

This isn’t a pop psychology book about sports fandom in general, however. It is that, but it is tailored very specifically towards baseball fans in its references and stories by the influence that the game has had on the author.
Chip covers various areas of fandom over the course of an easy to read 205-page work. From costumed “superfans” and what drives them, to the violence sometimes caused in the name of a team.
Phillies
An appealing target for Phillies fans. (Image source)
He touches on big-ticket issues like faith, loyalty and family and how these influence our choices as fans, from the teams and players we root for to the ways in which we act while cheering and following.
Growing up as a Phillies fan, and still to this day grappling with other people’s perceptions about what that says about me, I am all too aware that some fans…make bad decisions. If I never hear another word about Philadelphia sports fans booing Santa Clause or pelting a top draft pick that never signed with the team, J.D. Drew, with batteries, it will be too soon.
I think we all understand how he feels on that one.
There were a couple of strategic links to Chip’s book placed back in this piece. If you’re looking for some interesting and informative summer baseball reading that touches on the Phillies, this book will be right up your alley. I recommend it highly.