STORY BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
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It mentions Larry Bowa’s tenure at shortstop, and his first stint on the Phillies’ coaching staff, but not his time as the baseball team’s manager.
That’s because Bowa got that job in 2001, and this book is supposed to be about the Philadelphia Phillies of the 20th century.
Think the ball club’s regression since the 2008 World Series Championship is depressing? Try muddling through the 100-year period when the team amassed the lion’s share of its 10,000+ all-time losses — a dubious record in professional sports that seems unlikely to ever be broken. Daring to muddle is “The 20th Century Phillies by the Numbers” by Ted Taylor, which arrives on the 100th anniversary of the season the Phils won their very first National League pennant to advance to the World Series.
Taylor revisits the team’s embarrassing role in the Jackie Robinson story, their particularly putrid performance in 1941 (We’re spared the agony of the great collapse of 1964, which is barely mentioned), and notes that during the years the A’s of the American League also played here (1901-54), “Phillies” was often preceded by the words “the lowly” whenever they were mentioned in the newspapers. It got so bad that in the late ‘60s outfielder Curt Flood refused to accept a trade to Philly, unknowingly paving the way for modern free agency (and setting the stage for the J.D. Drew debacle in the ‘90s, which we’re also spared from rehashing).
But Phillies fans always come back for more because of baseball’s distinction as a harbinger of spring, and the contagious joy brought by winning teams like the “Whiz Kids,” the “Wheeze Kids,” the 1980 World Series Champs and the worst-to-first surprise of ‘93. Taylor relives those shining moments, of course, and drops in personal anecdotes that remind us of our own Americana ballpark memories.
The Montgomery Media columnist, who has a baseball pedigree ranging from coaching at Ursinus and Spring Garden colleges to being the founding president of the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society, doesn’t withhold his colorful opinions. “Philadelphia sportswriters and internet bloggers all know what is wrong. They are clearly smarter than the people running the organization. It’s obviously the fault of the general manager or the president or the scouting director or the head of the minor leagues — all of them dopes, apparently,” he writes tongue-in-cheek.
“The Glenside Kid” also preaches from his soapbox — be forewarned that he does this a lot — that Olney native son Del Ennis should be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and that it’s Ennis’ name that should be attached to the team’s retired No. 14, and not Jim Bunning, for whom Taylor has an unexplained personal disdain. A “Why the Hall Not?” chapter also makes a compelling argument for inducting sluggers Cy Williams and Dick Allen.
Taylor is Chris-Berman-bonkers for player nicknames, from Hughie “EE-Yah” Jennings to “Fidgety” Phil Collins to “Cookie” Rojas. Over two chapters, he profiles nearly 500 of the 2,000 men that put on a Phillies uniform last century, in a way that’s easy to digest.
He’s even more obsessed with uniform numbers (The subtitle of the book is “You Can’t Tell the Players Without a Score Card”). You can almost imagine Taylor’s head on the verge of exploding at the thought of hall-of-famer and ‘30s superstar Chuck Klein never getting a uniform number of his own retired for the unusual reason that he wore six different numbers. “The 20th Century Phillies by the Numbers” is a great reference book if you’re ever wondering who wore 00-99 and when.
The pictures are a charming mixed bag that make you wish there were more. There are gems like the 1889 team photo, with more than half the players sporting mustaches; the program cover from the 1947 Phillies/A’s City Series game at Shibe Park; and a picture believed to be from the ‘50s of Phils players in shiny, short-shorts basketball uniforms at a charity game. Taylor, who worked as an executive at two trading card companies, also flies in lots of thumbnail photos from baseball cards.
For all of its juicy stories (Did you know the Phils almost moved their ballpark to the suburbs a couple times?) and the cool retro cover art, “The 20th Century Phillies” has moments where it gets off track. For example, there’s a chapter that even hard-core fans probably wouldn’t care that much about, dedicated to short-lived major-leaguers double-doomed to obscurity because they put on a jersey with no number. He digresses, albeit very informatively, on the move of the A’s to Kansas City and the area’s Negro League teams, like the Philadelphia Stars. Puzzlingly casting a net well outside the 20th century, memorable 2009 Phillies pitcher and recent hall of fame inductee Pedro Martinez and executive Pat Gillick are listed in “The 20th Century Phillies.”
Check it out for yourself at www.amazon.com and www.bibliopublishing.com. You can also request a signed copy by mail for $24 to TTA LLA, P.O. Box 273 Abington, PA 19001.