October 25, 2014

The Best Kept Secret in Philadelphia A’s History

November 15, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

For most Phillies fans this is the toughest October that they have had to endure over the past three years. Though being christened “the team to beat” from the start of the playoffs, someone forgot to pass that memo on to the San Francisco Giants who refused to be steamrolled by the Phillies’ highly regarded starting rotation. Game 6 provided enough nightmares for the hometown faithful to last until Spring Training; blowing an early lead, showing the S.F. starter Jonathan Sanchez an early exit yet not being able to take advantage, having the opposing manager Bruce Bochy burn through his bullpen making the Giants extra vulnerable should they force a Game 7, wasted chances with men on base and of course their $100 million dollar man, Ryan Howard, ending the year with the bat on his shoulder admiring a called third strike from Giants closer Brian Wilson.

Two months ago the baseball world was asking if the word “Dynasty” could possibly be attached to this Phillies team should they make another World Series. The resume would have been intriguing; four NL East Division titles, three NL Pennants and possibly two world titles. Could this talk be revived this time next year if they can secure another championship? Absolutely. I do not see it happening, though, with a bullpen that lacked depth outside of Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge and that was exposed in the NLCS; Jayson Werth literally heading for greener pastures that will be the color of money and the questionable move of allowing first base coach and base stealing guru Davey Lopes to leave. Not to mention the continued onset of the silent killer of many a good team – aging stars that are kept around for too long.

Now that I have ruined your Thanksgiving, what if I told you that you can go and experience a place that displays memorabilia and preserves memories of a past Philadelphia baseball dynasty? Two different ones to be exact, with legendary players and one all-time great team mixed in. Don’t waste your time going over Phillies history because you won’t find any hints there. You have to go way back to when Philadelphia had two Major League teams with its AL representative being the Athletics. From 1910 through 1914 the A’s won four AL Pennants and three World Series and then from 1929 through 1931 they captured three more pennants and two more titles with the 1929 squad always being in the discussion when the subject of greatest team of all time is brought up. What I find most impressive, and what I feel is rarely mentioned, is that these A’s of the late twenties/early thirties showed dominance in an era where the talk mainly revolved around the Yankee teams led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. These A’s teams were no flukes with Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane (the player Mutt Mantle would name his son after), Eddie Collins (probably better known as one of the “clean” White Sox in the 1919 Series), Lefty Grove, Al Simmons and of course managed by the immortal Connie Mack.

Located under an hour outside of Philly in Hatboro, PA is the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society. Desperate for a fix to combat the shakes and other withdrawal symptoms that I experience as each baseball season ends, I made my way out of the fetal position and changed out of my Chase Utley footie pajamas to pay a visit and take in some history of the game and a forgotten era in Philadelphia baseball.

The society/museum is housed in a converted store found among a row of shops. It can be found by its green awning that reads “Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society.” The simplicity of the sign does not do any justice to the pieces of the game that are found inside.

Upon first entering, you come across a collection of baseball books, vintage Athletics t-shirts and bobbleheads of old time players that are for sale. As you find your way to the back you will see large standing glass cases which celebrate not just the A’s, but also select pieces of baseball history. On display is a ticket stub from a game played in 1901 along with vintage stubs of different World Series games that the A’s played during their time here. Also you can see a nice collection of old Athletics World Series programs and pocket schedules and an interesting trophy that looks like a scaled down version of a racing cup that the team got for winning their first championship in 1910.

For those that like old ballpark nostalgia, displayed are three seats and a classic turnstile taken from the legendary Shibe Park. To go with this is also a program of the 1943 All-Star game played there that also happened to be the first time the Mid-Summer Classic was held at night, which is something I did not know. Board games carrying the images and endorsements of 1952 MVP Bobby Shantz and Phillies pitching great Robin Roberts were pretty impressive to look at and makes you want to try one out. A timeline of replica jerseys that the A’s had worn through the early years shows an interesting evolution of designs, logos and uniform quality.

Autographs? Tons of them ranging from Hall of Famer Chief Bender, on what looks like an index card, to various ones of Connie Mack along with numerous signed baseballs by groups of players. One of the more notable signatures that caught my attention was one ball that carried the immortal Satchel Paige’s. By far my favorite item, and the one that reminded me of the game and a time that we will never see again, was a letter sent by Jimmie Foxx that was donated. Evidently the person who donated the letter also shared the same first name as Foxx and sent him a letter when this fan was a child. Foxx sent the young kid back a typed letter acknowledging that they had this in common and telling him that he will keep trying to hit home runs and then signed it. How cool is that? It really made me think about the way the game has changed from the often personable player/fan interaction of back then to the memorabilia fueled relationship now where you often have to pay to meet your heroes and obtain their signatures.

I would guess that the most valuable pieces on display are the baseballs signed by Ruth and the other by Gehrig. It is not every day that you get to see something like this in person without having to either travel to Cooperstown or attend an auction where they would be there for the public to see. Being a huge fan of Gehrig, it was interesting to see a ticket stub from the July 4th, 1941 Lou Gehrig Day when the Yankees retired his number 4. The society did a solid job of honoring these all-time greats as well as showing pieces of Phillies history through the years.

The only change I would make to the museum would be to have the items better organized. There were times when I wondered if they even knew all that they had because they would have random items laying on top of some display cases preventing you from viewing what was underneath. When viewing historical artifacts you are leery about handling anything to begin with let alone moving things to see other items. With a little work they could make an amazing exhibition even better. In no way, though, should this prevent anyone from making this a top priority to see if you are a baseball fan in anyway. It is well worth the time and the trip.

Pickoffs:
– If you are pondering something to ask Santa to stick under your tree this holiday season, may I suggest Edward Achorn’s book Fifty-Nine in ‘84? Rarely do I read baseball books on players pre-1900 but Achorn’s story on Old Hoss Radbourn gives tremendous insight into how the game was played then and what the life of a player was like in the late 1800’s.

- Should you be a Minor League baseball junkie and also enjoy baseball cards then check out the 2010 Topps Pro Debut Series 1 or 2 set. I picked up a pack the other day of the Series 2 and fell in love with them. Minor League Nerd Alert – I was fired up to pull a Trystan Magnuson 2010 Futures Game Relic card that had a piece of his jersey from the minor league showcase game. I recognized his name because just a few days after the Futures Game I saw Magnuson pitch in the Eastern League All-Star Game so I was familiar with him. Sshhh…..I grabbed a box of the Series 2 from e-bay for about $30 and will open all the packs myself yet plan to place the purchase under the guise that they are for my boys.

Matt Aber is a baseball enthusiast who was hoping to land the Phillies’ first base coaching position after Davey Lopes left. Matt has two seasons of t-ball coaching experience which makes him the front runner for the Mets managerial opening. He is an advocate of the national organization called “The Miracle League” which allows special needs children to play baseball. He encourages you to support this worthy cause and learn more athttp://www.miracleleague.com/.

Comments

2 Responses to “The Best Kept Secret in Philadelphia A’s History”
  1. Jeff Polman says:

    I’ll have an opportunity to manage the 1931 A’s to victory (hopefully) in the upcoming Seamheads/Strat replay league, so now I’m inspired to visit Hatboro on my next visit to Philly. Great stuff, Matt.

  2. Ken Aber says:

    Also it is worth noting that the proprietors of the A’s museum are in the twilight (if not approaching midnight) of their living years. Hopefully a younger group will get involved and keep the A’s Historical Society thriving so this great era of our National Pastime can be shared with the next generation.

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