"Tommy McDonald lived life like he played the game of football. He was charismatic, passionate and had fun. He was such a character. Heaven is a happier place today.The entire Hall of Fame family that includes his fellow Hall of Famers, the Board of Trustees and staff share our heartfelt condolences with the McDonald family. The flag at the Pro Football Hall of Fame will fly at half-staff in Tommy's memory.Tommy's legacy will forever live in Canton, Ohio through his bronzed bust that is a symbol of many great accomplishments. His impact on the Game serves as inspiration to generations of fans."
Hall of Fame wide receiver Tommy McDonald passed away yesterday at the age of 84. The news was broken by David Baker, president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The cause of death is not yet known, but McDonald has suffered from dementia illnesses for some time.
In a formal statement, Baker shared a few comments about McDonald:
McDonald's energy and influence were beyond his pedestrian 5 foot 9, 175 pound frame. The Eagles drafted him in the third round of the 1957 NFL Draft as a running back from the University of Oklahoma. Local press were enthusiastic about the pick. During his three seasons with Oklahoma the Sooners never lost a game and were crowned national champions in both 1955 and 1956. McDonald was presented with the Maxwell Club Award, presented to the best all-around player in the United States. At Oklahoma, McDonald proved to be a unique talent as he could both run, pass, and catch. Plus, McDonald was fast, said to be able to run the 100 meter dash in 9.9 seconds. Former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Don Daniels remarked in January 1957 that he "wasn't born a football player, he's not big enough. He was born a champion and he just chose football to be it in...he should make the Birds a better ball club than they were last year."
The electrifying Eagle played the game his way, shunning a face mask because he said it made it hard to see the ball and cutting his football jersey sleeves short which he said gave him better arm extension. McDonald also sandpapered his fingertips before games because he said it made them more sensitive and made it easier to feel the football. He was among the first to celebrate a touchdown by throwing the ball into the stands. Football historian Ray Didinger defined McDonald in his Eagles Encyclopedia as "an original." Former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin was quoted as saying "I played with a lot of great receivers, including Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears with the Rams...but if I had to pick one guy to throw the ball to with the game on the line, I'd pick McDonald. I know somehow the little bugger would get open and he'd catch the football." Vince Lombardi admitted that he'd win the championship every year if he had a team of Tommy McDonalds.
He was drafted as a back but was switched to flanker during his rookie season to see if he could make an impact. He caught two touchdown passes and forever stayed outside the tackles. The team acquired quarterback Norm Van Brocklin the next year and the era's best big play duo formed as Dutch's cannon arm launched footballs to one of the quickest and fastest receivers in the league. The duo helped lead a high flying Eagle offense to the NFL championship game in 1960 where the two hooked up in the 2nd quarter on a 35 yard touchdown pass to give the Eagles the lead.
McDonald was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in 1964 for a kicker, Sam Baker, defensive tackle John Meyers, and offensive lineman Lynn Hoyem. Needless to say it was one of the worst trades in team history. McDonald went revived his career in 1965 when he joined Roman Gabriel in Los Angeles. He retired following the 1968 season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
The non-waiver trade deadline is at 4pm today, July 31. In June, many pundits considered the Phillies to be aggressive at the deadline in an effort to bolster the left side of the infield, right field, and/or the bullpen but on the eve of the deadline, the only trade the club has made was adding Asdrubel Cabrera from the Mets in exchange for Double-A pitching prospect Franklyn Kilome. Will the Phillies make another deal by 4pm? Maybe. But what we do know, or assume, is that the team will look to bolster their bench or bullpen tomorrow, if anything.
Over the past 32 years since 1986, the Phillies have made a few headline trades that I'll review here. In 1986, the non-waiver trade deadline moved from the June 15 to July 31. This brief overview will begin with trading an ace and end with trading for an ace.
First up, the disgruntled Curt Schilling. Schilling was basically a lost relief pitcher trying to find his way in the big leagues when the Phillies acquired him in April 1992 for Jason Grimsley. In 1993 he became a staff ace helping the club to the unlikeliest National League pennant in recent memory. In nine years with the Phillies, Schilling won 101 games, the most wins he had with any one club, and made three straight All-Star appearances in 1997, 1998, and 1999. Unfortunately the Phillies couldn't recapture the Macho Row magic from 1993 and by 1997 Schilling began to request a trade to a contender. The soap opera continued into the 2000 during Schilling's age 33 season. The ace told the club he'd waive his no trade clause to go to the Yankees, Mets, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Indians, or Braves.
The situation was challenging for the Phillies, who under GM Ed Wade finally began to fill the farm system with players who they thought - and would - make a difference at the big league level; Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, and Chase Utley. A veteran presence could help these players develop into bonafide big leaguers but Schilling wanted out. The club also had to consider that their ace was in his middle 30s and already had two shoulder operations. How long would Schilling remain a viable ace? To top it off, Schilling was in his second-to-last year of a contract and if the Phillies didn't trade him in 2000, he could make extension negotiations incredibly painful for the club and/or refuse to waive his no trade clause and further limit where the club could deal him. Finally, on July 26, 2000 the Phillies dealt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks for pitchers Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Vicente Padilla and first baseman Travis Lee. Daal was the top piece in the return for Schilling but proved to be exceptionally mediocre while Padilla turned out to be the best acquisition of the trade, eventually earning an All-Star appearance in 2002. Schilling of course went on two form one of the greatest pitching tandems in baseball history when he joined with Randy Johnson. The two carried the expansion Diamondbacks to the 2001 World Series title.
Schilling was the Phillies best pitcher in the organization but Scott Rolen was the crown jewel. Rolen debuted in 1996 and dazzled fans and the media alike with his acrobatic plays at third base and his combination of power and base running savvy. He was a true five-tool player. In his first full season in 1997, he won the National League Rookie of the Year award in a class that included Livan Hernandez, Andruw Jones, and Vladimir Guerrero - all from NL East clubs. More importantly, Mike Liberthal and Rico Brogna made their full season debuts. In the ensuing seasons, Doug Glanville and Bobby Abreu were acquired via trades and inserted into an improving Phillies lineup.
But in 2000, injuries and and loses piled up and the club began to sell off players as they finished the season with 97 losses in a year that began with visions of a winning record for the first time since 1993. It sent a message to Rolen - right or wrong - that the Phillies weren't willing to spend patience or money to build a winner.
In 2001, Rolen rejected a 10-year, $140 million extension, questioning the club's commitment to winning and demanded a trade. It didn't help that his relationship with Wall of Fame player and then manager Larry Bowa was poor. Rolen was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals along with Doug Nickle and cash in exchange for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith and Mike Timlin. Polanco played well for the Phillies in his first stint with the club over four seasons.
Without a doubt, the Phillies lost the Schilling and Rolen trades. None of the players the Phillies received in return made a difference at the big league level in terms of driving the club to the postseason. Schilling wound up winning two World Series titles with Arizona and Boston, including his infamous performance against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS on a sutured tendon. Rolen continued his acrobatic play in St. Louis and won a World Series with the team in 2006. Both players are, in my opinion, serious considerations for induction into the Hall of Fame. Forget what they said or were assumed to have said to the media or on social media, inside the lines, both players deserve a healthy look by BBWAA voters.
Now that we've got the irritating and painful trades out of the way, it's time to focus on trades that brought the Phillie faithful serious jubilee. The Phillies were a favorite to repeat as National League champion following their run to the 2008 World Series championship. After Cole Hamels, the Phillies rotation in the summer of 2009 included Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer, Chan Ho Park and Brett Myers. New GM Ruben Amaro had his eyes set on the cream of the crop: Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay. But when talks with Toronto broke down because Philadelphia wouldn't include top prospect Domonic Brown, Amaro focused his efforts on Cliff Lee. Lee was 22-3 with a 2.54 in 2008, good enough for the AL Cy Young Award.
The trade deadline was all Phillies fans could talk or think about in 2009 leading up to the final days of July. The Phillies struck a deal with Cleveland that sent Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson and Jason Knapp to the Indians in exchange for Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco. Carrasco, Donald and Marson were highly touted prospects in the Phillies organization, who felt that Donald and Marson would develop and continue the success the club started a few years prior. Consistency is important if an organization wants to be considered among the upper echelon of major league clubs. But the Phillies were in a unique "win now" position. Trading for Lee proved to be an overwhelming success. The fanbase fell in love with the player and vice versa. Lee helped lead the club back to the World Series and although they lost to the Yankees in the fall classic, he provided arguably the most memorable moment of that series with his nonchalant catch in the sixth inning in Game One.
Todd Zolecki and Jim Salisbury detailed the strange situation in the offseason that still has fans scratching their heads. In their book The Rotation, Zolecki and Salisbury explain that the club was in a precarious position. It was no secret that the Phillies wanted to bolster their rotation with Roy Halladay. But keeping Cliff Lee proved to be problematic. Lee and his agent Darek Braunecker wanted Philadelphia to extend Lee's contract. Under advice from adviser and former GM Pat Gillick, the club did not feel comfortable offering the ace a long-term extension. Their core players were either already in large contracts or would be up for sizable extensions soon. With that in mind, the Phillies braintrust offered Lee a three year deal at $18 million per year. The money was good but Lee and Braunecker wanted more years. The Phillies also had reservations about locking up a pitcher like Lee, who just a few years prior had been sent down to Triple A and had some injury concerns, to a long term contract that would cover not only prime years but also post-prime.
The Phillies acquired Halladay in December 2009 in exchange for Travis d'Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor. Combined with the prospects from the Lee trade at the 2009 deadline, the Phillies farm system was depleted. While club president David Montgomery never told Amaro that he couldn't keep Lee and sign the pitcher to an extension, he made it known that doing so would risk the club's ability to resign core players to lucrative deals and remain competitive in the long term. Amaro felt the smart option was to trade Lee and that's what he did after Halladay was acquired. Lee was sent to Seattle for Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramierez, and Tyson Gillies. The return proved to be a complete loss. But it did set up another quality acquisition on the road to arguably the greatest starting rotation in major league history.
In 2010, the Phillies were again one of the favorites to represent the National League in the World Series. Halladay proved to be a terrific acquisition and the rotation was one of the best in baseball with Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer. But Moyer hit the DL in July with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and strained flexor pronator tendon in his left elbow.
Amaro and the Phillies were very interested in reacquiring Cliff Lee from Seattle, who's season began with pennant dreams but limped to the deadline as another failed campaign. Unfortunately, Seattle required top prospect Domonic Brown to be included in the trade whom Philadelphia considered untouchable. Instead, they turned their attention to Houston, where veteran ace Roy Oswalt requested a trade to either Texas or St. Louis in order to stay close to his home in Weir, Mississippi. As the deadline approached, Astros GM Ed Wade continued to field offers from other teams. Oswalt wanted a shot at World Series redemption and wanted to be traded to a contender, and Philadelphia fit the bill. The Phillies agreed to trade J.A. Happ to Houston to fill the hole left by Oswalt in their rotation and also offered Jonathan Villar and Anthony Gose. After agreeing to deal Gose to Toronto for Brett Wallace, the deal was in place. Philadelphia acquired another front line starter in Roy Oswalt to replace the injured Jamie Moyer on July 29, 2010.
Although the acquisitions of Lee and Oswalt at the trade deadlines didn't end in World Series victory, it marked a turn in Phillies trade deadline history. It proved to fans that the team was willing to push their chips into the middle of the table to bring multiple championships to the championship starved city. It was the golden era of Phillies baseball. Although trading Lee to Seattle is still a head scratcher for Phillies fans, it was ultimately one of the necessary transactions to bring the greatest pitching rotation to the City of Brotherly Love. The club probably doesn't acquire Oswalt if they signed Lee to an extension in 2009 or if they traded for Lee instead of Oswalt at the 2010 deadline.
With the non-waiver trade deadline almost two weeks away, speculation continues to intensify regarding who general manager Matt Klentak and the Philadelphia Phillies will acquire to bolster their postseason-contending roster.
In the latest edition of "Phillies Roundtable," SportsTalkPhilly.com writers Jesse Larch, Matt Albertson, Matt Noskow and Paul Bowman speculate potential trade targets the Phillies could consider this July.
- Phillies get: LHP Blake Snell, INF Matt Duffy
- Tampa Bay Rays get: Nick Pivetta, RHP Adonis Medina (No. 2), OF Jhailyn Ortiz (No. 5), RHP Franklyn Kilome (No. 7), 2B Daniel Brito (No. 10), LHP Jhordany Mezquita (No. 30)
Not only is Blake Snell currently the ERA leader in the American League, but he is a 25-year old left handed pitcher who makes a little over $500,000 in salary and is under team control through 2022. The Phillies currently have no lefties in their starting rotation, and have been rumored to be keen on adding a southpaw to their stable of starters. Names of former Phillies like J.A. Happ and Cole Hamels have dominated the rumor mill but Blake Snell is one of the best lefties in all of baseball this season, and is possibly still not in his prime. Being able to add the lefty Snell to juxtapose the right-handed Aaron Nola at the top of the Phillies rotation would be a move that could give the Phillies a real shot at National League dominance bearing in mind that the team would maintain their financial flexibility heading into the offseason with this move.
It was the best of times when the Phillies opened their new ballpark on April 30, 1887. The national Sporting Life noted in its May 4 issue that despite the cold weather, the new grounds were among the very best in the major leagues. "The weather was quite cold and the wind very high, nevertheless people assembled to do honor to the occasion and to testify by their presence their appreciation of the exceeding liberality, enthusiastic faith in base ball...Philadelphia...[possesses]...a pleasure resort unequaled anywhere." The Sporting Life further explained that the stadium was built of brick and metal, among the first baseball stadiums in the nation to announce a club's geographic permanence compared to earlier stadiums which were made of wood. That year was the Phillies' most successful in their short five year history, finishing second in the National League, finishing 3.5 games behind the Detroit Wolverines who went on to defeat the St. Louis Browns in a 15 game World Series.
The stadium was once the crown jewel of the National League when it opened in 1887 but it soon fell on hard times with a fire in 1894 and several more safety incidents in the early twentieth century. Despite this, the club was, by and large, the main draw in town as the Athletics and their league, the American Association, were on the decline and folded following the 1890 season. The short-lived Philadelphia club of the Player's League jumped to the American Association after the former league dissolved following the 1890 season, and subsequently folded for good after the 1891 season when the American Association also collapsed.
The good times continued to roll by and large into the 20th century as the club posted several winning seasons and finished in the first division in 22 of 31 seasons between 1887 and 1917. Baker Bowl witnessed the teams narrative of near misses, middling finishes, and catastrophic seasons all the same. The stadium was ahead of it's time in construction but was eventually overshadowed by more aesthetically pleasing and larger parks - Ebbets Field, Braves Field, Fenway Park and Shibe Park to name a few. Unlike these sensible grounds, Baker Bowl was a relic of the 19th century and was wedged into an uncomfortable layout. Philadelphia baseball historian Rich Wescott detailed the park's construction and a few of it's quirks in his book Philadelphia's Old Ballparks. He explained that the grounds were originally a dump that were filled in with 100,000 loads of dirt and the street grid in which it was placed resulted in obscure, almost comical, field dimensions: 342 feet to left field, 408 feet to center field, and 281 feet to right field. Yes, a scant 281 feet to right field that was protected by a 40 foot high wall (eventually increased to 60 feet). By comparison, the Green Monster at Fenway Park is 37.5 feet high. Additionally, Wescott noted that the field was built next to the Reading Railroad across Broad Street and a train tunnel ran under center field resulting in that area being approximately 10 feet higher than home plate.
Baker Bowl's massive right field wall dominates the landscape in this 1938 image
(Courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center. Temple University. Philadelphia, PA)
The quirky dimensions meant that fans were incredibly close to the action. Wescott recounted a story by Ed Doyle, another Philadelphia baseball historian who frequented the ballpark in the 1920s, in his book Philadelphia's Old Ballparks. "One of the great things about Baker Bowl was that you could sit in the stands and see the expressions on the guys' faces on the field...you could hear them yelling to each other; you could almost shake hands with them, you were so close."
Beginning in 1910, baseballs used in the major leagues incorporated a cork center creating a livelier ball. Philadelphia's small bandbox soon had trouble keeping the ball in the yard as home runs throughout the league escalated. Wescott explained that between 1911 and 1938, Phillies players led or tied the National League in home runs hit at home an astounding 19 times. The cork centered ball created a hitters paradise and a pitchers nightmare - the Phillies' team batting average in 1930 for example was a balmy .315 (second in the league behind the Giants' .319 average) but the pitching staff suffered significantly and posted a league worst 6.71 ERA (1.47 points higher than 7th place Pittsburgh).
The Phillies' park was too small even by 20th century deadball era standards but they were unable to vacate the grounds, extending Baker Bowl's lifespan by some 25 years. The first roadblock was that the club did not even own the grounds on which they played! When Al Reach and Colonel John Rogers sold the club to the Potter syndicate in 1903 the agreement was for the club alone while Reach and Rogers held the title on the ballpark and leased the grounds to the club. The Potter syndicate sold the club to a group of Philadelphians represented by sportswriter Horace Fogel in 1909. Although unsubstantiated, rumors swirled that Charles Murphy, owner of the Cubs, and Charles Taft, a Cincinnati newspaper man and brother of President Taft, financed the deal. Later that year, Fogel reportedly concocted a scheme to have Taft and Murphy purchase both the club and the grounds. Taft's wife purchased the grounds for $250,000 and the club for $350,000, bringing the total sale price to over $600,000. Fogel's remained as club president.
The reunification of club and grounds did not mean that Fogel was relieved of all financial responsibility. The Philadelphia Base Ball Association, over which Fogel presided, leased the ballpark from Taft for a period of 99 years at periodic escalating rates; $15,000 from 1910-1914, $17,500 from 1915-1919, and $20,000 for every year thereafter. The Association was also responsible for taxes, water rent, and other municipal charges made against the property. Finally, the Association was required to carry a $100,000 in fire insurance.
While the terms of the lease seem detrimental, the large sale of the club allowed Fogel to pursue premium talent such as Grover Cleveland Alexander, Erskine Mayer, Gavvy Cravath, and Dode Paskert, all of whom were key cogs in the machine that won the franchise's first National League pennant in 1915.
Horace Fogel eventually received a lifetime ban from baseball after waging a lengthy smear campaign against then National League president Thomas Lynch and National League umpires. The Taft-Murphy syndicate had had enough and sold their controlling interest in the club to a group led by William Locke and his cousin, William F. Baker (after whom Baker Bowl is named). The sale was for the club alone and ownership of the grounds stayed in Taft's hands.
Baker was financially conservative and sought to move the Phillies from their antique grounds in 1913 and move to nearby Shibe Park but he could not come to terms with John Shibe about concession profits. The July 7, 1938 Sporting News explained the state of the ballpark. "Baker Bowl was too small for real major league ball. Its grandstand and bleachers could not accommodate big league crowds and the playing field was tragic...so Baker tried to move in at Shibe Park, meanwhile paying the $25,000 [incorrect figure] rental on the Phillies park...in 1913." Shibe, owner of the Athletics, insisted that concessions were to be controlled by the A's. The two parties did not agree so a deal to move the Phillies to Shibe Park as tenants in 1913 was not struck.
Without an agreement to move the Phillies to Shibe Park, Philadelphia's National League team was caged in Baker Bowl. The money gained from the sale of the club and grounds withered and by 1920, the club was again in the second division. The dilapidated park continued to deteriorate; a section of the grandstands collapsed in 1927. By the time Baker Bowl celebrated its Golden Anniversary it was an out-of-place relic of a bygone era. It was the only ballpark in the majors where the PA announcer addressed the fans with a megaphone near home plate because the club never added an electronic PA system to the stadium. No thought was given to adding electric lights to the stadium either despite several other clubs doing so.
Finally, in June 1938 the Athletics and Phillies came to an agreement for the Phillies to move to Shibe Park. Both sides agreed that concession profits would be controlled by whichever club was using the grounds. Charles Murphy, who bought the Mrs. Taft's portion of the Baker Bowl stake, was dead by 1938 but his 16 heirs consented to the Phillies' move to Shibe Park with the caveat that the club still paid its lease until a substantial payment was made to release them from their perpetual lease. Although the club had to pay two leases for a period of time, the news media, club, and fans all agreed that the move was long overdue. The Sporting News reported in its July 7, 1938 issue that the Phillies "rejoiced when the news was announced that the Phillies had a new home." It continued, "The public indorsed [sic] the move...to tell the blunt truth, there were many fans who refused to go to the Phillies' park because they were in actual fear of the stands collapsing."
The Final Game and Aftermath
The Phillies began their final half season at Baker Bowl wearing very obscure uniforms. The club's primary colors dating back to 1883 were red and blue, with occasional departures to black and even green! But 1938 was different because it was the tercentenary anniversary of the Swedish settlement of the Philadelphia region in 1638. Residue of the Swedes were few but could be seen in the city's blue and yellow flag. The club decided to use the color scheme for both home and away uniforms.
Jim Henry shown in the Phillies' 1938 away uniform (used with permission from Baseball-Birthdays.com)
The Phils played their last game at the ancient Baker Bowl eighty years ago on June 30, 1938. The Philadelphia Inquirer described the affair metaphorically in its July 1 recap:
"Yesterday they [the Phillies] said farewell to the old orchard, packed their bags, sang Auld Lang Syne, and, in keeping with the traditions of the Phils of recent years, took a 14-1 beating at the hands of the New York Giants. It isn't a pleasant thing to talk about - no massacre ever is - and the Phils' last stand was comparable to that made by General Custer against the Indains."
(Courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center. Temple University. Philadelphia, PA)
The game is hardly interesting as the Phils were outclassed by the Giants 14-1. A short series against the Braves in Boston was waged before the Phils returned to Philadelphia and their new permanent home for the first time on July 4, 1938. Overall, 1938 was a peculiar year for the Phillies. The uniforms were obscure, the history of Baker Bowl and the team's midseason move were down right strange, and the club began a stretch of five straight 100+ loss seasons.The park may have showed serious age and limitations during the Phillies 1910s glory years but by 1938 it was almost unusable. Red Smith remarked years later in the New York Times that it "bore a striking resemblance to a rundown men's room." Pitcher Claude Passeau, who started the final game for the Phils that day in 1938, commented that Baker Bowl was a terrible place to play and an impossible place to pitch. Author Ralph Bernstein recounted that the park was falling apart at the seams in its final years and embers from locomotives from the nearby railroad tracks would cause the wooden stands to catch fire. Historian Rich Westcott further detailed the aging hulk. "When fans in the upper deck stamped their feet, rust from the floor often showered the patrons on the lower level. Foul balls landing on the decaying tin roof dumped rust onto the upper deck spectators...A standing joke was that fans attending games...had to have enough money not only for the price of admission, but also for a dry cleaning bill."
With the major tenant gone, Baker Bowl was repurposed to an automobile race track, an ice skating rink, and a used car lot. At the end, all that remained of the park's construction were its walls In 1950, with the Phillies in their first serious pennant chase since World War I, Baker Bowl's 15th Street wall collapsed during a storm and the rest was soon demolished. The property was sold in 1956 for $400,000 and the lot was eventually carved up for commercial uses. In 2000, a Pennsylvania Historical Marker was dedicated to Baker Bowl and currently stands at Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue. The marker is one of four such markers- Shibe Park (1997), Baker Bowl (2000), Veterans Stadium (2005), and the Jefferson Street Ballparks (2017) - dedicated to Philadelphia baseball parks.
Baker Bowl's collapsed 15th Street wall in 1950.
(Courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center. Temple University. Philadelphia, PA)
Like some of you (I hope many), I was extremely excited that the Phillies were going to play in front of a national audience on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" and move on to a high profile week with series against the Yankees and the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. It was the team's first appearance on "Sunday Night Baseball" in five years. The Phillies entered Sunday's contest having won two in a row against the Nats, securing their fourth straight series win over opponents whose combined record by June 24 was 162-141 (.534). Despite a loss that night, the coverage was rather good. ESPN's Jessica Mendoza obsessed over Odubel Herrera throughout the game and twice declared that he is an All-Star while the broadcast team described the Phillies as "an exciting team to watch." The bullpen aside, the Phillies put together two weeks of solid baseball and displayed their potential to a national audience. What wasn't to like? The team was 41-33 and held the 2nd wild card spot in late June!
The Yankees arrived in south Philadelphia after being swept by the Tampa Bay Rays - a distant afterthought in the AL pennant chase. I told myself, "I have to go down and support the club against the Yankees." I knew the Yankees empire would turn out in droves at our fair red brick cathedral but I still wanted to experience the electric atmosphere. I bought a ticket for what I hoped would be a pitchers duel between Jake Arrieta, a Cy Young award winner, and Luis Severino, currently a Cy Young award favorite. The previous night, Phillies starter Vince Velasquez pitched a quirky good game; his pitches were all over the place but he only surrendered two runs on three its. Unfortunately the offense looked tired and failed to record a hit before the sixth inning. I hoped some rest and a big game pitcher on the hill would solve the problem.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler announced in his post game press conference today that starter Zach Eflin will make his first start of the 2018 major league season this Tuesday against the Miami Marlins. In four games with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs this year, Eflin is 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA in 20 innings of work and has recorded 15 strikeouts against 5 walks and no home runs surrendered.
The 24 year old's career has been maligned with injury issues resultant from patellar tendinopathy in his knees, a condition he has dealt with most of his life. He joined the Phillies organization as the kingpin of the Jimmy Rollins trade with the Dodgers in 2014. He was projected to be as high as a no. 3 starter in the bigs, as his four-seam fastball reached upwards of 97 mph with a two-seam fastball in the low-90s. His slider and changeup are still improving and will be critical to his effectiveness at the big league level.
Eflin was promoted to the majors for the first time in June 2016 and started 11 games before going on the disabled list for his knee condition, which required season-ending surgery. In 63 1/3 innings in 2016, Eflin went 3-5 with a 5.54 ERA. He began the 2017 season with a rehab start in Clearwater and subsequently assumed his role as one of Lehigh Valley's starting pitchers. After one start in Lehigh Valley, Eflin was called up to the majors again in the aftermath of Clay Bucholz's season-ending injury in April. In 2017, Eflin regressed and went 1-5 in 11 starts with the Phils with a 6.16 ERA in what was a Bermuda Triangle-esque season between Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley, and the dreaded disabled list.
Eflin has showed flashes of upper rotation ability in the past but has not been able to do so on a consistent basis. He will need to command the strike zone with his fastballs and get batters out with his breaking balls in order to put the organization in a precarious, but good, situation with Eickhoff progressing and Lively's eventual return to health.
Philadelphia is recognized as being first in a lot of things while it's National League franchise has little experience in firsts. Nevertheless, the Phillies were a part of history when in 1921 the Phillies played the Pirates at Forbes Field in the first ever MLB radio broadcast. The team again made history on May 24, 1935 in Cincinnati when they played the Reds in the first major league night game. On Wednesday April 4, 2018, in another first, the club played the New York Mets in New York in an exclusive Facebook Watch broadcast, a video platform that the social media giant launched last August. MLB produced the game with Scott Braun as the play-by-play person along with analysts Cliff Floyd and John Kruk. But this wasn't your grandfather's TV broadcast! Fans were able to interact with the hosts throughout the game via Facebook. The Wednesday matinee was the first of 25 games that will air exclusively on Facebook.
The Phillies will appear on Facebook exclusive broadcasts three times this season, April 4 against New York, April 26 against Arizona, and May 10 against San Francisco.
Radio was in its infancy in 1921 and its commercial value had yet to be tapped into. After World War I ended in 1917, radio was primarily used as a point-to-point communication technology. Amateurs interested in the technology experimented with radio broadcasting while larger corporations such as General Electric and Westinghouse did the same. KDKA, a Pittsburgh radio station owned by Westinghouse was the first to broadcast a major league baseball game. On August 5, 1921, a Westinghouse rate foreman and night time station announcer named Harold Arlin rigged a crude broadcasting setup behind home plate at Forbes field, converting a telephone as a microphone which was connected to a transmitter. Arlin explained in a later interview that baseball seemed like a natural fit for the new medium. Things we take for granted today were not obvious to Arlin that afternoon at Forbes Field, such as talking between pitches. The transmitter didn't work sometimes while crowd noise drowned out his voice on occasion. "We didn't know whether we'd talk into a total vacuum or whether somebody would hear us."
Some owners feared the idea of broadcasting baseball games on the radio. They thought that people wouldn't find the need to go to the ballpark if they could hear the game for free in the comfort of their own homes. But the broadcast, which Arlin thought would be just a "one-off" experiment, was heard by many and soon radio's were flying of store shelves in Pittsburgh. Caught up in the throes of the game on radio, fans flocked to Forbes Field, too.
The Phillies lost to the Pirates that day 8-5.
Fourteen years later, the Phillies again participated in a historic event, this time at Cincinnati's Crosley Field on May 24, 1935. Between 1929 and 1934, the Reds and Phillies had shared occupancy in the National League cellar. The Great Depression shocked the baseball world and put many owners on the financial ropes. The market crash wiped out Reds owner Sidney Weil's finances and he was forced to sell the team to the bank, the Central Trust Company. The company needed to find a buyer and fast and they did in the form of Larry MacPhail, the grandfather of current Phillies President Andy MacPhail.
MacPhail was a cavalier personality and an excellent marketer along the lines of Bill Veeck. For example, while in Europe as an Army Captain in 1918, MacPhail and a five others set out to capture the former German Emperor Wilhelm II who was in hiding in the neutral Netherlands. Their goal was to put Wilhelm on trial for war crimes. In his book Lights On! The Wild CenturypLong Saga of Night Baseball, former SABR President David Pietrusza detailed the party's escapade. "The party crossed the Dutch frontier and got as far as the front parlor of Wilhelm's residence-in-exile at Amerongen. Captain MacPhail swiped an ashtray with the Hohenzollern monogram engraved it it, but the raiding party beat a hasty retreat once they realized that they now faced capture themselves by an agitated detachment of Dutch cavalry."
MacPhail purchased the beleaguered Columbus Sentaors of the minor league American Association for $100,000 and increased attendance each year, making the club the only financial success in the league. Despite outdrawing the parent club St. Louis Cardinals in 1931, MacPhail was fired in 1933 for what the club deemed wasteful spending, including spending too much on office furnishings. This made him available to take over the Reds. Upon taking over the Reds, MacPhail embarked on a plan to overcome major league baseball's ban on holding night games, a practice that was ongoing in the minor leagues. It took the magnate three hours to convince Commissioner Landis and the other owners that hosting a night game was in the financial best interest of the Reds.
After more deliberation with the league and other owners, MacPhail and the Reds pressed on with what everyone knew was far from a guaranteed success. According to Pietrusza, General Electric installed 614 1,500 watt lamps in 8 13-foot towers at Crosley field. Each lamp (or bulb) was 44 inches in diameter. The project cost the Reds $62,000 to cover the field in 1 million watts and 13,815,000 lumens(!) of incandescent artificial illumination. Unlike the minor league installations, the lighting at Crosley Field covered equally in 70 footcandles of light. Impressive for the era.
The Reds invited the Phillies to practice for an hour under the lights to get used to the artificial illumination but they declined. Player-Manager Jimmie Wilson was quoted as saying "It has been my experience with night baseball that after playing a game under light the muscles of the players are stiff the next day."
Pietrusza notes that typical weekday attendance to a Reds home game was 1,500 but the night game sold out (approximately 25,000 people packed into Crosley Field). President Franklin Roosevelt turned the power on at the stadium from the White House thanks to a special set up and the 614 1,500 watt lamps turned night into day. Reds radio announcer recalled later that there weren't any shadows that night, the lights were perfect.
As for the game, the Phils lost to the Reds 2-1 in what turned out to be a typical game without any issues, errors or major injuries like some predicted prior to the contest. Commissioner Landis was unable to attend and the only owners in attendance were MacPhail and Phillies owner Gerry Nugent. George Wright, of the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings and brother of former Phillies manager Harry Wright, was invited but unable to attend due to poor health.
The Phillies participated in two major baseball firsts and on Wednesday April 5, 2018 participated in another, the first exclusive baseball broadcast on the social media titan, Facebook. Many fans lamented the exclusivity of the broadcast, often citing the assumed core age group of baseball fans (40-60 years old) and that demographic's possible difficulty in viewing the contest. Despite a lengthy rain delay, the game was completed and I was personally impressed with how the broadcast was done. To me, the best aspect was the absence of commercials which made me feel more invested in the game and delivered the feeling that the viewer was actually at the ballpark. The absence also created the illusion that the game was moving at a faster pace, which is one of the most critical issues facing major league baseball's popularity with the under 30 demographic. Interviews were conducted with Mets and Phillies beat writers who answered fan questions asked directly from Facebook. Players' Instagram usernames flashed across the screen when they were at bat. The overall experience was interesting and I'm not opposed to watching it again.
Radio broadcasts and night baseball became the norm for baseball fans from their inception through the present. Will baseball broadcasts on social media become another norm? I doubt it but I believe it's an opportunity that should be presented as another option - not an exclusive one - for the fans seeking a different experience.
Oh, and like the first radio broadcast game and first night game, the Phils lost the first Facebook exclusive broadcast. There's something to be said for consistency.
In our first excerpt from Ed Bolden and Black Baseball in Philadelphia, we learned that Ed Bolden was a dynamic leader who helped bring the Hilldale club to prominence and was fundamental in the founding of a second major negro league, the Eastern Colored League (ECL). But Bolden was not without his critics or challenges. In what follows, Dr. Courtney Smith examines when and where this unrest began and how Bolden navigated a difficult period in his baseball life.
Everyone’s A Critic
Prior to the 1925 season, the criticism Bolden faced typically came from people outside of the ECL, particularly Foster and his emissaries in the Chicago Tribune. Starting in the 1925 season, however, Bolden started to face pronounced criticism from people associated with the league he founded. In June, Oscar Charleston, player-manager of the Harrisburg Giants, wrote a letter in which he decried the ECL as a farce. While Charleston never specifically referred to Bolden in his letter, he did refer to unnamed men who are “hoodwink[ing] and fool[ing fans] out of hard earned cash.”[i] He bemoaned the lack of clarity in determining which games count toward the ECL’s standings and which ones count as exhibitions. Charleston also referred to incidents marring two recent games between Harrisburg and Hilldale. In one game held in Darby, Charleston claimed that the supposedly unbiased umpires consistently made calls favoring Hilldale. On the following day, the teams met in Lancaster, and the umpires called the game after three innings due to rain. The umpires’ decision rankled Charleston because it came after a mere fifteen minutes of rain and because Harrisburg had a four-run lead. ECL rules, as Charleston pointed out, gave umpires the option of calling a game after thirty minutes of rain, not fifteen. Several other factors angered Charleston. First, the rain had stopped, and the grounds’ crew had started to prepare the field for the resumed game. Additionally, Hilldale and Harrisburg stood in contention for first place in the ECL, and the umpires emerged from Hilldale’s dugout when they called the game. Charleston, therefore, concluded that the umpires called the game in order to protect Hilldale’s position in the league’s standings. He also concluded that the decision came at the expense of his team and that similar actions would ultimately undermine the ECL.[ii]
Bolden delivered a sharp rebuke of Charleston’s claims in a letter published in the Tribune. Without admitting to Charleston’s claims of biased umpires, Bolden reiterated his commitment to building a strong system of umpires in the ECL. He then referred to a letter from an unnamed umpire who refused to work any games at Harrisburg due to threats he had received from the players. Bolden also disputed Charleston’s claims of biased umpires at the recent game in Darby, noting that the umpires made several calls favoring Harrisburg. To counter Charleston’s claims of more biased umpires at the game in Lancaster, Bolden provided a different version of events. He asserted that the rain delay lasted for longer than thirty minutes and that the rain had left the field unusable. The umpires had to call the game, and the ECL’s rules supported their decision.[iii]
In the same edition of the Tribune, editor J.M. Howe both defended Bolden and acknowledged the veracity of some of Charleston’s grievances. Howe admitted that poor calls marred the game played at Darby, but he flatly denied that the ECL’s umpires deliberately made bad calls to favor one team. He also concurred with Charleston on the lack of clarity in regards to games that count toward the ECL’s standings as opposed to games that count as exhibitions. Howe highlighted a problem Bolden referred to in his response to Charleston, the problem of umpire baiting. Finally, Howe sounded an alarm about the dangers of too much criticism directed at the ECL. He expressed faith in the ECL’s leaders to fix the league’s problems provided that they work together to achieve common goals. Howe’s final sentence nicely summarized his viewpoint: “Let the league live, but make it live RIGHT.”[iv]
Shortly after that controversy flared, Bolden found himself immersed in more criticism stemming from the failure of the Wilmington Potomacs franchise and questions about the legitimacy of Hilldale’s record. George Robinson, the Potomacs’ owners, announced the club’s dissolution in July; his team’s players went to other clubs. At the same time, the ECL published league standings that showed Hilldale in front of the second-place Harrisburg Giants. William Nunn in the Pittsburgh Courier suggested that Bolden, who oversaw the publication of the standings, manipulated the standings in order to put Hilldale in first place. Echoing Charleston’s and Howe’s criticism, Nunn called for a publication of all games officially counting as games toward the ECL’s standings. He also wondered if the ECL’s team managers knew ahead of time whether or not a game counted as official league games.[v]
Not surprisingly, Bolden went on the offensive against the Pittsburgh Courier. He accused the newspaper of spreading lies and propaganda against Hilldale and the rest of the ECL. He also accused the newspaper of colluding with Charleston and not reporting on instances when Charleston himself and his players fought umpires and players from opposing teams. In response to Nunn’s suggestion that he had engaged in underhanded tactics to boost Hilldale, Bolden accused Robinson of engaging in underhanded tactics to boost the rosters of three of Hilldale’s competitors. Those competitors included Charleston’s Harrisburg Giants. The Courier flatly denied Bolden’s charges and republished the ECL standings that prompted Nunn’s column. Those standings clearly showed that Hilldale played and won three league games in the span of one week. According to those same standings, Harrisburg played seven league games and lost five of those games. As Nunn did in his column, the newspaper demanded Bolden release a list of official ECL games. The newspaper also demanded that Bolden assert better leadership in regards to the ECL’s umpires and to the on-field assaults he mentioned.[vi]
On the heels of that heated exchange, Bolden faced more criticism from Robinson, the former owner of the dissolved Wilmington Potomacs. Robinson’s criticism came in the form of a lengthy letter in which he defended his actions, took offense at Bolden’s claims against him, and openly questioned Bolden’s leadership. He framed his criticism of Bolden by recalling the banquet he organized for Hilldale following the 1924 season and other ways he had shown support for Bolden and the ECL. Robinson then recounted events that led to Bolden’s hiring of William Dallas to serve as the umpires’ supervisor. According to Robinson, Bolden selected Dallas because the two enjoyed a friendship. Robinson further claimed that Bolden and Nat Strong, who exercised control over the ECL schedule, crafted a schedule that advantaged Hilldale and other ECL teams at the Potomacs’ expense. The Potomacs never played games Bolden promised them and lacked access to one of the ballparks under Strong’s control. To refute Bolden’s claims he acted underhandedly in dispersing his players, Robinson provided details about the deals he made with other clubs. He recalled a conversation he had with Bolden about one of his pitchers. Robinson claimed he rejected the deal because he felt Bolden made an unsatisfactory offer. In his conclusion, Robinson made a dramatic statement: “I want to make it known that in my estimation the Eastern Colored League is the poorest operated business proposition I have ever known!”[vii]
The criticism Bolden endured frayed his control over the ECL’s affairs. In one of his regular columns in November 1925, Wilson issued a call for Bolden to resign his position and for the ECL to choose someone not affiliated with any of the teams as his replacement. Wilson reasoned that such an unaffiliated chairman would better address the ECL’s problems related to umpires and scheduling. At the start of the 1926 season, James Keenan of the Lincoln Giants refuted rumors that the ECL owners had decided to replace Bolden as the league’s commissioner. As the season progressed, however, the ECL faced mounting problems related to the umpires and uneven schedules. In July, the ECL once again contracted to seven teams when a new franchise, the Newark Stars, failed to survive its inaugural season. Shortly after the Stars folded, six of the remaining seven ECL owners met to discuss problems with uneven schedules, access to ballparks, and the possibility of continuing with only six teams. Tellingly, Nat Strong did not attend the meeting, and the other owners did not count his Brooklyn Royal Giants as one of the six teams staying in the ECL.[viii]
All of the criticism, combined with the internal ECL problems, presaged Bolden’s removal as the league’s chairman in January 1927. In a letter released to the press in August 1926, Bolden reiterated his devotion to enforcing player discipline, maintaining balanced schedules, and the betterment of the game of baseball. He also tried to make the argument that he alone should not face the sole blame for all of the ECL’s problems. As he noted, “the Eastern Colored League is ruled by a majority vote of the Commission and it is unkind to hold me personally responsible for the action of the league.”[ix] Bolden’s letter ultimately proved futile. The ECL’s 1927 season started with James Keenan leaving the league and then returning in time for the annual meeting with NNL owners. At that meeting, the ECL owners Isaac Nutter, an attorney from Atlantic City, as the new league president. As the president, Nutter enjoyed authority over Bolden, who served as the league’s secretary-treasurer. By creating a new position and electing an outsider to that position, the ECL demonstrated a readiness to move ahead without the league’s founder at the helm. For Bolden, his departure from the league’s leadership marked the start of a troubling period for him, a period marked by professional and personal tribulations.[x]
Down But Not Out
As Bolden faced rising dissension and instability, Foster suffered a similar fate in the Midwest. The NNL suffered from franchise instability, uneven schedules, and financial shortcomings. Prior to the 1925 season, Foster dramatically offered his resignation, but the other owners rejected his offer and reaffirmed his leadership of the NNL. Foster, however, adopted a hard line with his owners and vowed to no longer advance them money to help their team’s finances. He also adopted a hard line with his own team by releasing many of his veterans and rebuilding the Chicago American Giants’ roster. Later in that same season, a gas leak at Foster’s boarding house in Indianapolis nearly killed him. Players found Foster unconscious and slumped against a gas heater; he had a burn on his left arm from the lit heater. An ambulance rushed Foster to a local hospital, and someone from the Chicago American Giants contacted Foster’s wife to urge her to join her husband in the hospital. Foster regained consciousness later the same afternoon, and he soon returned to his home in Chicago.[xi]
Foster’s personal difficulties persisted into 1926. In the middle of the season, Foster appeared to take an absence from leading the NNL, and the owners discussed the possibility of electing a temporary replacement. Foster’s absence later became permanent when he suffered a mental breakdown. According to one of the stories, Foster had exhibited mentally unbalanced behavior for several weeks and had a physical altercation with a police officer. The same story also claimed that Foster had terrorized the other occupants of his home. Other stories related to this situation had Foster looking for fly balls in Chicago’s streets, hitting someone with his car, locking himself in his office bathroom. Police arrested Foster in his home, and Foster then underwent psychiatric care in a Chicago hospital. Foster never recovered, and he died in 1930 while still under psychiatric care. In his absence, the Chicago American Giants returned to the World Series, and the other NNL owners elected Dr. G.B. Key of St. Louis as the new president. The NNL, however, faced continued financial difficulties, and the league sorely lacked the kind of leadership Foster had demonstrated earlier in the decade.[xii]
While Foster’s world crumbled, Bolden inched closer to his own breakdown. In a bad yet appropriate omen for the 1927 season, rain washed out Hilldale’s home opener against Harrisburg. Hilldale ended the season with eighty-four victories, but it amassed a losing record against ECL teams in the first half of the season. In June, Bolden issued indefinite suspensions for George Carr, Nip Winters, and Namon Washington due to their lack of discipline and indifferent playing. All three players had failed to appear for recent games in New York. The suspensions only lasted for a few weeks, but the return of the three players failed to end Bolden’s troubles. White semi-pro baseball had declined in the Philadelphia area, leaving Hilldale with fewer lucrative dates on its non-ECL schedule. Bolden and other owners tried to fill the void by scheduling more black independent teams, but those games failed to produce enough revenue. The growth of black independent teams, like the Homestead Grays, posed a threat to Bolden and other ECL owners since those teams could entice players to jump their contracts. The ECL passed, laws mandating tough punishments for contract jumpers. ECL president Nutter, however, neglected to enforce those punishments, thereby opening the door to continued contract jumping. On top of those setbacks, ECL teams continued to play unbalanced schedules, a financial scandal rocked the Baltimore Black Sox, and the Lincoln Giants withdrew from the league.[xiii]
The seemingly continuous difficulties plaguing both Hilldale and the ECL temporarily forced Bolden out of black professional baseball. In September, Bolden suffered a nervous breakdown as he prepared to serve as one of the commissioners for the upcoming World Series. Bolden spent time in a hospital receiving treatment, and he appeared to make a quick recovery. About a month after his breakdown, Wilson reported seeing Bolden at a football game and having a discussion with him about his plans for the upcoming season. Wilson made a prudent prediction—Bolden would return to Hilldale with a fighting attitude. The other members of the Hilldale corporation, however, seemed less assured of Bolden’s imminent return. They chose Charlie Freeman, a former Hilldale player and vice president of the corporation, as the new leader. Freeman then went to work making decisions, such as hiring former Hilldale star Bill Francis as the field manager, for the upcoming season. A brief item in another one of Wilson’s columns provided some insight into the Hilldale corporation’s actions. According to Wilson, Bolden’s physicians advised him to stay away from baseball and to avoid the stresses associated with running a team. Without a definitive plan for Bolden’s return, the other members of Hilldale’s corporation had to move on without their longtime leader.[xiv]
As Wilson predicted, Bolden returned to work in early 1928 with an aggressive attitude. In his first public statements since his breakdown, Bolden reflected on what he saw as the shortcomings of organized baseball, specifically of the ECL. He refrained from criticizing his own leadership, instead blaming the narrow-mindedness and selfishness of the other commissioners for the ECL’s weaknesses. Bolden then made moves to reclaim control over Hilldale. At a meeting in March, Charlie Freeman, James Byrd, and Lloyd Thompson tendered their resignations. They had held the positions of president, treasurer, and secretary within the corporation. Their replacements included Bolden as the president, George Mayo as vice president, Mark Studeven as treasurer, and Thomas Jenkin as secretary. Bolden took an additional step to emphasize his resumption of control over Hilldale. In one of his first acts upon resuming Hilldale’s presidency, Bolden named Mayo, the corporation’s vice president and a former player, as the field manager. Mayo replaced the recently hired Bill Francis, the man whom the deposed Freeman had selected for Hilldale’s field manager for the 1928 season.[xv]
Bolden made similar moves against the already-fragile ECL. After regaining control of Hilldale, Bolden withdrew his team from the league he founded and announced that the team would operate as an independent franchise. Bolden’s move dealt a near-death blow to the ECL since the league also lost Strong’s Brooklyn Royal Giants and the Harrisburg Giants. His move also garnered a fiery response from ECL president Nutter, who effectively declared war on Bolden and Hilldale by accepting the application for a new Philadelphia-based franchise. Nutter also denounced both Bolden and Strong and issued a defiant proclamation: “Both Hilldale and the Brooklyn Royal Giants will seek admittance to the league again after they see we intend to fight and that neither can make baseball a paying proposition without the League.”[xvi]
In explaining his decision to withdraw Hilldale from the ECL, Bolden cited lack of cooperation, uneven schedules, lack of ballpark ownership, and financial concerns as key factors in his decision. Bolden explained to the Pittsburgh Courier’s Wilson that the ECL “has not been a money-maker” and that “[w]e are through losing money in an impossible league.”[xvii] He later elaborated on the financial problems forcing Hilldale out of the ECL by noting that the team had to borrow money in each of the previous three seasons and lost $21,500 in 1927.[xviii] In an open letter to the Tribune, Bolden sharpened his criticism of the other ECL owners who undermined his plan to use rotating umpires and who did not play all of their scheduled league games. He also cited Hilldale’s past success as an independent franchise and the recent financial losses it sustained as a member of the ECL. Although ECL president had rebuked Bolden, Bolden praised Nutter as a “thoroughly capable man” who remained “sincere in his efforts to build organized baseball.”[xix] Bolden did warn that “it would take a Hercules to [build an organized league], especially if handicapped by lack of parks, and co-operation.”[xx]
The ECL floundered for a few months before finally disbanding in June, thereby confirming Bolden’s comments about organized baseball. Bolden helped to speed the ECL’s demise by securing access to ballparks in the Philadelphia and thwarting the league’s attempts to establish a new franchise. Hilldale appeared to thrive without an organized league in the eastern states, finishing the season with one hundred nineteen victories. The lack of a league structure gave Bolden more flexibility in scheduling Hilldale’s opponents. Hilldale still faced local teams and its former rivals in the ECL. Games against two traveling clubs, the House of David team and a team of Japanese all-stars, filled Hilldale’s schedule. Bolden had no trouble adding top-notch players, including his one-time nemesis Oscar Charleston, to Hilldale’s roster. At the end of the season, Hilldale won a series over the Homestead Grays, a series the Tribune billed as an unofficial championship series for the state of Pennsylvania. Hilldale reversed its financial losses, yet the team failed to attract large crowds at many of its games. The on-going economic downturn for the Philadelphia area’s African Americans made baseball a luxury and left the future of teams like Hilldale in doubt.[xxi]
While Hilldale and other eastern teams competed without a league structure, discussions emerged about reestablishing an eastern league. Speaking for the Eastern Sports Writers Association, both the Tribune’s Dixon and the Pittsburgh Courier’s Wilson called for a new eastern league. According to them, eastern baseball needed an organized league because “the public will never again patronize ‘independent’ baseball as it did in the days before it knew the association brand of the game.”[xxii] They included Hilldale and most of the former ECL teams as the members of the proposed league. Both men pointed to Bolden as the only person who could establish and lead the new league. To support their choice, they briefly related Bolden’s success in leading Hilldale from a sandlot team into the “BIGGEST NEGRO CORPORATION IN SPORTS!”[xxiii] They also listed the great players in Hilldale’s history, Hilldale’s on-field success, and Bolden’s honorable intentions for organized black baseball. Bolden initially demurred on the idea of reestablishing a league, noting all of the financial and logistical problems that had undermined the ECL. One of his former players, Otto Briggs, expressed similar sentiments in an article published in December. By that time, however, Bolden had developed a firmer opinion about reestablishing an eastern league. He supported the formation of a new league, and he announced his support in the Tribune. Unbeknownst to Bolden, his involvement in the establishment of another eastern league marked the beginning of the end of his tenure with Hilldale, a tenure that would have a very ugly ending.[xxiv]
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[i] Oscar Charleston, “Oscar Charleston Terms Eastern League a Farce,” Philadelphia Tribune 20 June 1925.
[iii] Edward Bolden, “Bolden Answers Charleston,” Ibid. 27 June 1925.
[iv] J.M. Howe, “Sport Sidelights,” Ibid.
[v] “Wilmington Potomacs Throw Up the Sponge,” Pittsburgh Courier 25 July 1925; William G. Nunn, “Diamond Dope,” Ibid.
[vi] “Right Back At You, Mr. Bolden,” Ibid. 1 August 1925.
[vii] George W. Robinson, “George W. Robinson Throws Light on the Policies of the Eastern League,” Ibid. 8 August 1925.
[viii] Wilson, “Eastern Snapshots,” Ibid., 21 November 1925; “Newark Stars Quit Eastern League, Players Disbanded,” Ibid. 10 July 1926; “Keenan Gives Big Lie to Rumors About Bolden,” Chicago Defender 6 March 1926; “Baseball Magnates of East and West Hold Harmonious Session at Local Y.M.C.A.,” Philadelphia Tribune 16 January 1926; “League Heads Thresh Out Differences, Eastern League Moguls to Alleviate Ills of Base Ball Circuit That Was Ailing,” Ibid. 7 August 1926.
[ix] Edward Bolden in Howe, “Sport Sidelights,” Ibid. 14 August 1926.
[x] Lloyd Thompson, “Keenan Goes West with Rest of League Moguls; May Have Changed His Mind,” Ibid. 15 January 1927; Wilson, “Eastern League Elects Nutter Pres. to Succeed Bolden,” Pittsburgh Courier 22 January 1927.
[xi] “Detroit Will Have Baseball in 1925; Rube Foster Still Head of the Westerners,” Chicago Defender 3 January 1925; “Foster Releases Several Ball Players,” Ibid. 7 March 1925; “Cuban Stars Remain But Elites Quit,” Ibid. 31 July 1926; “Gas Nearly Kills Andrew Rube Foster,” Ibid. 6 June 1925; “Foster Releases Practically Entire Team,” Pittsburgh Courier 7 March 1925; “Foster Has Narrow Escape from Death in Indianapolis,” Ibid. 6 June 1925.
[xii] “N.N. League Moguls in Meeting,” Pittsburgh Courier 26 June 1926 ; “Affairs in N.N. League Muddled,” Ibid. 24 July 1926; “’Rube’ Foster Insane; In Chicago Hospital,” Ibid., 4 September 1926; “St. Louis Man Elected President N.N. League,” Ibid. 11 September 1926; Wilson, “Eastern Snapshots,” Ibid. 20 November 1926; Posey, “The Sportive Realm,” Ibid. 27 November 1926; Frank A. Young, “Directors of National League Hold Future of Our Baseball in Their Hands,” Chicago Defender 11 September 1926.
[xiii] “Rain Wrecks Opening Day for Hilldale,” Philadelphia Tribune 7 May 1927; Howe, “Sport Sidelights,” Ibid. 19 May 1927; “’Nip’ Winters George Carr and Washington Suspended Indefinitely by Bolden,” Ibid. 9 June 1927; “Daisies Lose Thursday, Win Saturday To Senators,” Ibid. 19 June 1927; Howe, “Sport Sidelights,” Ibid.; Howe, “Sport Sidelights,” Ibid. 14 July 1927; Lanctot, 143-157.
[xiv] “Ed Bolden, Hilldale Mentor, Suffers Nervous Breakdown,” Philadelphia Tribune 29 September 1927; “Bill Francis Signs as Manager of Hilldale for 1928,” Ibid. 15 December 1927; “Charlie Freeman Succeeds Bolden as Hilldale Head,” Chicago Defender 26 November 1927; “Bill Francis Will Manage Daisies,” Ibid. 17 December 1927; “Ed Bolden Suffers Nervous Breakdown,” Pittsburgh Courier 1 October 1927; Wilson, “Sport Shots,” Ibid. 29 October 1927; “Bolden ‘Let Out’ As Head of Hilldale Baseball Club,” Ibid. 10 December 1927; Wilson, “Sport Shots,” Ibid.
[xv] Edward Bolden, “Bolden Back in Perfect Health, Proffers Views,” Philadelphia Tribune 2 February 1928; Randy Dixon, “Hilldale and Giants Quit Eastern Loop,” Ibid. 15 March 1928; “Freeman Out as Hilldale Quits Eastern League,” Chicago Defender 17 March 1928.
[xvi] Quoted in “Nutter Backed by Magnates Defies Bolden,” Philadelphia Tribune 15 March 1928.
[xvii] Quoted in Wilson, “Hilldale Withdraws from League,” Pittsburgh Courier 17 March 1928.
[xviii] “Ed Bolden Explains Hilldale’s Position,” Ibid. 31 March 1928.
[xix] Edward Bolden, “Bolden Tells Why Hilldale Quit Circuit,” Philadelphia Tribune 29 March 1928.
[xxi] “Eastern League, Punctured Already, Gets Flat Tire,” Chicago Defender 21 April 1928; Wilson, “Eastern League Will Continue,” Ibid. 28 April 1928; “Eastern League Bubble Bursts as Moguls Disagree,” Ibid. 5 May 1928; “Eastern League Disbands,” Pittsburgh Courier 21 April 1928; “Jap Champs to Play Hilldale,” Ibid. 12 May 1928; “Eastern League Disbands; Fate Long Predicted,” Philadelphia Tribune 18 April 1928; Randy Dixon, “Sport Sidelights,” Ibid.; “Veteran Outfielder and Star Pitcher Will Play for Daisies; Report Soon,” Ibid. 29 March 1928; “Hilldale Club Battles House of David Sat.,” Ibid. 28 June 1928; “Bolden’s Pets Wreck House of David; Divide with the Bacharachs at the Seashore,” Ibid. 5 July 1928; “12,000 Watch Hilldale and Rivals Split,” Ibid. 19 July 1928; “Fandom Eagerly Awaits Initial Fray of Series to Determine Supremacy,” Ibid. 13 September 1928; Dixon, “Sport Sidelights,” Ibid. 20 September 1928; Lanctot.
[xxii] Dixon, “Need of Baseball in East Apparent; Bolden the Logical Reorganizer,” Philadelphia Tribune 9 August 1928; Wilson, “Baseball League in East Vital to Future Welfare of All Clubs,” Pittsburgh Courier 18 August 1928.
[xxiv] Ibid.; Wilson, “Sport Shots,” Pittsburgh Courier 24 November 1928; Otto Briggs, “New League is Unlikely Says Baseball Star,” Philadelphia Tribune 13 December 1928; Bolden, “Hilldale Directors Recommend League,” Ibid.; Briggs, “Fan Proposes a Mixed League,” Ibid. 20 December 1928; Lanctot, 190-191.
Following the Philadelphia Phillies 2007-2011 run of National League dominance, the team has suffered through six consecutive non-winning seasons, the most recent five of which have been losing seasons. You wouldn't expect the year after a 66-96 season to be the year that trend is bucked, but the Phillies were 37-38 after the All-Star Break in 2017. They'll have a full year of Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro in 2018. General manager Matt Klentak signed Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana this offseason, giving rookie manager Gabe Kapler two veterans presences in an otherwised inexperienced clubhouse.
There's reason, for the first time in over half of a decade, for Phillies fans to be excited entering the season. How excited they should be is the question.
The Phillies over/under for wins in 2018 is 75.5, per Bovada. FanGraphs Depth Charts seems to think that over/under is reasonable, as they project the Phillies will go 76-86 in 2018. PECOTA, however, projects that the Phillies will go 81-81, topping the New York Mets for second place in the National League East.
We polled our SportsTalkPhilly.com staff on how many games they believe the club will win in 2018. The question produced a spread that you don't normally see when discussing how many games a team will win before a season:
In February I wrote an article about Satchel Paige pitching in the Phillies farm system for three years in the late 1950's, one step away from the mound at Connie Mack Stadium. Paige had his moments in the majors on several occasions in the years immediately after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, allowing other negro leaguers to sign minor and major league contracts. This spelled the beginning of the end for the proud negro leagues. Many negro leaguers eventually played in the majors or in major league farm systems, but others, whether due to racism, insufficient talent, old age or otherwise, never got their moment to shine on the sport's biggest stage.
Philadelphia baseball fans know that the Phillies have infamously lost more games than any other professional sports franchise in the world. Some of these fans are aware that the Athletics once called Philadelphia home and won five championships during their half-century tenure in the city. Fewer are aware that the city was also home to two championship caliber baseball teams in the first half of the 20th century, the Hilldale Daisies and Philadelphia Stars. Both clubs owed their success and prominence to owner and marketing extraordinaire Ed Bolden.
At Sports Talk Philly, we strive to provide the best Philadelphia based sports content available. It is with great pleasure that I announce that over the next week we will publish, with permission, a book excerpt from Dr. Courtney Smith's recent book, Ed Bolden and Black Baseball in Phildelphia. Dr. Smith is an Associate Professor of History and Political Science at Cabrini University and has presented her research at regional and national conferences, including the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Annual Meeting of the Pennsylvania Historical Association. Additionally, she serves as the Managing Editor for the peer-reviewed Black Ball: A Journal of the Negro Leagues. Without further adieu, I present the first portion in this series which will eventually comprise all of Chapter 3.
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The Fall: Ed Bolden and Hilldale 1925-1930
Over the first fifteen years of his career in black professional baseball, Bolden established himself as the next in a long line of African American leaders in the Philadelphia area. He led Hilldale on a steady progression from a sandlot team to a World Series champion. Additionally, Bolden asserted leadership within the larger world of black professional baseball. He spearheaded the formation of an African-American corporation to support Hilldale. He also established a league, the Eastern Colored League (ECL), that brought together top eastern black professional baseball teams and that mirrored a similar organization Andrew Rube Foster established in the Midwest. Though all owners shared governance powers within the ECL, Bolden served as the league’s first chairman and represented the ECL’s public voice in the Philadelphia Tribune and other black newspapers. In the ECL’s first three seasons, Hilldale reigned as the league’s dominant team, winning three pennants on its way to its World Series victory over the Kansas City Monarchs in 1925.
Starting in 1925 and accelerating over the next four years, Bolden faced dissent and criticism that steadily undermined his leadership and standing within black professional baseball. Most of the criticism that Bolden faced stemmed from his tendency to use white umpires, instead of black umpires, in both regular season and postseason games. Even though Bolden led an African American corporation, some people within black professional baseball and in the black press regarded his use of white umpires as a betrayal. As Bolden endured the dissent and criticism, Hilldale’s standing within the ECL dropped, and the team faced financial difficulties. The combined problems took a personal toll on Bolden, and he suffered a nervous breakdown in September 1927. Bolden’s breakdown temporarily took him away from black professional baseball. Once Bolden returned, he pursued aggressive actions designed to protect Hilldale at any cost. His actions precipitated the demise of two leagues, the ECL and the short-lived American Negro League (ANL). He also faced mounting criticism for his continued use of white umpires and his association with white businessmen.[i]
Bolden’s seemingly heartless and cutthroat actions stemmed from an increasingly dire situation facing Hilldale and other black teams. An economic downturn hit African Americans in Philadelphia and other major cities several years before the Stock Market Crash grabbed newspaper headlines. The downturn hurt already-vulnerable African Americans and weakened, or even eliminated, their ability to patronize teams like Hilldale. Though Bolden earned high marks at his full-time Post Office job, his annual salary stood at only $1900. Similarly, many people within Philadelphia’s growing African American population found employment in modest-paying or low-paying jobs. The economic downturn both limited the number of jobs available to African Americans and limited their buying power of their annual salaries. Such a situation meant that Bolden had to fight for every dollar from African American baseball fans in the Philadelphia region. It also meant that Bolden explored another option for maintaining Hilldale’s operations—a partnership with a white businessman.[ii]
For Bolden, the year 1930 marked his ugliest year in his black professional baseball career. His experiences during that year reflected the limits and the effectiveness of the self-help philosophy that had guided him since he had established the Hilldale Corporation. Garvey’s Pan-Africanist movement floundered in the late 1920s as Garvey faced deportation from the United States and his business ventures faltered. Similarly, Bolden’s determination to lead a black enterprise and to foster a black corporation floundered as economic conditions among his base of supporters diminished. His determination to uphold high standards, combined with a personal health crisis, unearthed a streak of ruthlessness in his actions. His willingness to turn to white capital as a means of support triggered a fierce response from other members of the corporation and black sportswriters. That fierce response demonstrated the sense of pride that Hilldale instilled and the persistence of the hope that black capital could support black enterprises. That fierce response also drove Bolden from black professional baseball and, for a time, seemed to close the door on his career.[iii]
Race and Umpires
Umpire-related issues bedeviled Bolden and other baseball owners for many years. Unlike the arrangement in Major League Baseball, ECL and NNL teams selected their own umpires for their home games. As a result, confrontations between players and umpires and allegations of umpire bias marred many games. Prior to the start of the 1924 season, Bolden and other ECL owners felt compelled to adopt new regulations for on-field conduct. The new regulations designated the field captain or playing manager as the only people eligible to resolve on-field controversies or deliver protests against umpires’ calls. The new regulations also prohibited players from engaging in umpire baiting. Players faced ejection and fines for baiting umpires; they faced a fine of $100 for assaulting umpires. Bolden and the other owners also imposed some regulations upon umpires because they believed that “the appearance of [the] umpires and their efficient service have a tendency to upbuild organized baseball.”[i] For the umpires, the new regulations called upon them to arbitrate unbiased games, use discretion when removing players from games, and to act promptly when ejecting players. Umpires faced expulsion for failing to adhere to the vague guidelines.[ii]
The 1924 World Series between the Kansas City Monarchs and Hilldale sparked some renewed discussion about the use of black umpires. Prior to the World Series, a National Commission composed of Bolden, Foster, and other representatives from the ECL and NNL made arrangements for the series. As part of those arrangements, the representatives chose white umpires to work at all of the games. The use of white umpires drew some mild criticism from writers in the Pittsburgh Courier. One writer lamented that the use of white umpires contradicted the overall spirit of the series and represented an insult to the black umpires whom both leagues had used during the season. The writer, however, reasoned that the leagues used the umpires in order to avoid any claims of bias toward Hilldale or Kansas City.[iii] A few weeks later, the Courier’s W. Rollo Wilson mentioned black umpires in his regular column. Wilson used his column to “respectfully invite the [ECL’s] attention to the proposition advanced by us some time since—NEGRO umpires, paid by the league, rotated among the cities of the league.”[iv] As Wilson reasoned, if “colored men can play baseball they can umpire baseball games and should be given the chance to do so.”[v]
The twin issues of race and umpiring blossomed again during the 1925 season. For the first time, the ECL decided to use a rotating crew of umpires, and it hired a white man, Bill Dallas from the Evening Ledger, as the crew’s leader.[vi] In response, Tribune sports editor J.M. Howe drew a cartoon depicting the ECL as an Uncle Tom character. Speaking for the ECL, Bolden wrote a letter strongly objecting to the cartoon and defending Dallas’ hire. Bolden decried the cartoon as “untimely and unfair,” particularly since the ECL’s decision to hire Dallas reflected its desire to provide teams with “a system of competent umpiring.”[vii] Bolden praised Dallas as conscientious, capable of making decisions regardless of a player’s race, and more experienced than other umpires in the ECL. The ECL, therefore, made a logical and sound decision to make Dallas the leader of its umpiring crew.[viii]
Even with the rotating crew of umpires, controversy and conflicts continued to mar many ECL games, and similar incidents engulfed the NNL. In the middle of the season, two NNL umpires wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh Courier’s Rollo Wilson. The umpires asked for patience and understanding for their fellow umpires who occasionally made mistakes. They also chastised the newspaper for publishing managers’ and owners’ complaints, which they regarded as propaganda for the league, and asked for more balanced coverage.[ix] One month after their letter appeared in the Courier, Rube Foster announced that he had released most of the NNL’s umpires. One of the released umpires, Bert Gholston, had co-written the letter published in the Courier. When he announced his decision, Foster used the opportunity to criticize the “wretched” umpires whose work “had been anything up to the standard.”[x] He detailed the umpires’ shortcomings—bad decisions that led to on-field disruptions, lack of knowledge about baseball’s rules, and not using the correct hands to call balls and strikes.[xi] Shortly after Foster unleashed his rant against the NNL’s umpires, an ECL game between Hilldale and Harrisburg featured fights both on the field and in the stands. The game prompted Wilson to lament about the normality of rowdy baseball in the ECL and about the poor state of umpires in the league. He noted that one of the umpires at the Hilldale-Harrisburg game called time to get a drink of water; the pause seemed to help Hilldale’s pitcher. The umpire also refrained from punishing a player who threw dirt at him to protest a call. Wilson cautioned that such actions threatened the ECL’s integrity and had the potential to drive fans away from ECL games.[xii]
As the 1925 season reached its conclusion, concerns and anger involving umpires remained potent. After his release, Gholston blamed race as the key factor in the on-going conflicts between teams and umpires. He accused several NNL teams of planning to physically attack black umpires and of refusing to respect black umpires’ decisions. He also claimed that the lack of respect for black umpires touched the entire league and not simply a few teams.[xiii] Wilson again devoted space in another one of his regular columns to the umpire situation, boldly proclaiming that “EASTERN LEAGUE UMPIRES HAVE NO MORE AUTHORITY THAN A KU KLUXER WOULD HAVE AT A BANQUET OF THE ‘HELL FIGHTERS’ IN HARLEM!”[xiv] He provided some details on more evidence of biased umpires in recent ECL games and disavowed the rotating umpire system, a system he once advocated. Though Wilson focused his ire at the “bimboes” who worked as umpires, he placed some of the blame upon the ECL and the umpire supervisor Dallas.[xv] He reasoned that the lack of support they provide to competent umpires compel those umpires to favor the home teams and, therefore, exacerbate grievances against all umpires.[xvi]
Wilson’s diatribe foreshadowed reactions from black sportswriters concerning the ways Bolden conducted his business. For Wilson, the treatment accorded black umpires likely rankled him because it played into ugly stereotypes concerning African Americans. If black umpires could not effectively assert their authority over black players, then Bolden and other officials had no choice but to use white umpires. The image of white umpires restoring order over black players within a black league could lead to suggestions that African Americans could not govern their own affairs. The use of white umpires, furthermore, could lead to broader suggestions that black men could not occupy positions of authority and that segregation statutes maintained a proper sense of order in American society.
Umpire-related controversies plagued Bolden and the ECL again in 1926 particularly since the owners discontinued the use of a rotating umpire system. Instead, the league reinstated the policy of allowing home teams to hire umpires. Consequently, visiting teams frequently complained about biased calls, and players engaged in altercations with umpires. In one altercation, Hilldale’s Phil Cockrell punched an umpire after the umpire changed his mind on a call. According to the accompanying story in the Tribune, the fight brought local cops out onto the field, and one of the cops hit Cockrell in the back of his head as he left the diamond. Bolden tried to assert leadership on the issue by fining Cockrell $100 and suspending him for five days. Through his actions, Bolden probably intended to make an example out of Cockrell and to discourage other players from attacking umpires. Bolden actions, however, seemed like a desperate attempt to assert his authority over and bring order to an increasingly unruly ECL. Criticism surrounding umpires represented only one of several serious problems plaguing Bolden and the rest of the ECL. The other problems targeted Bolden’s leadership and deeper questions about the way black baseball should operate in American society.[xvii]
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[i] “Status of Umpires Discussed at Meet of Commissioners,” Philadelphia Tribune 19 April 1924.
[iii] “Final Arrangements and Complete Details Are Made for East-West Baseball Classic,” Pittsburgh Courier 20 September 1924; “The Sportive Realm,” Ibid. 1 November 1924.
[iv] W. Rollo Wilson, “Eastern Snapshots,” Ibid. 22 November 1924.
[vi] “White Newspaperman is Picked by Eastern League as Supervisor of Umpires,” Ibid. 28 March 1925.
[vii] “Hilldale Manager Takes Exception to Howe Cartoon,” Philadelphia Tribune 4 April 1925.
[ix] “Comes to Bat in Behalf of Umpires,” Pittsburgh Courier 18 July 1925.
[x] “Foster Explains Action in Releasing Umpires,” Chicago Defender 22 August 1925.
[xii] J.M. Howe, “Sport Sidelights,” Philadelphia Tribune 1 August 1925; Wilson, “Eastern Snapshots,” Pittsburgh Courier 1 August 1925.
[xiii] “Umpires Not Given Support Says Gholston,” Philadelphia Tribune 5 September 1925.
[xiv] Wilson, “Eastern Snapshots,” Pittsburgh Courier 12 September 1925.
[xvii] “Near Riot at Shore When Cops Beat Cockrell; Bacharachs Win Game 1-0,” Philadelphia Tribune 14 August 1926; “Diamond Dust,” Ibid.; William G. Nunn, “Diamond Dope,” Pittsburgh Courier 14 August 1926; Wilson, “Eastern Snapshots,” Ibid. 21 August 1926.
[i] “White Newspaperman is Picked by Eastern League as Supervisor of Umpires,” Pittsburgh Courier, 28 March 1925; “Hilldale Manager Takes Exception to Howe Cartoon,” Philadelphia Tribune 4 April 1925.
[ii] Lanctot, 142-205.
[iii] Judith Stein, The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press), 248-273.