The Summer Book You Have Been Waiting For: “Philadelphia’s Top 50 Baseball Players”
Baseball fans and fathers rejoice! The perfect summer baseball book for the Philly sports fan has arrived in time for trips to the Jersey Shore and Father’s Day gift requests. Rich Westcott’s “Philadelphia’s Top 50 Baseball Players” complements every person’s interest level who appreciates the city’s baseball history.
In order to make the cut for the book a player had to do more than just don the uniform of a Philadelphia team, but had to play in the city for at least five years or have been born in the greater Philly area. When looking at the title you may assume it is a book ranking all 50 players according to some metric or other supported opinion, or at least that is what I thought. I was pleased to see that was not the case, but instead the players were broken up by era and grouped together.
This I liked because often times I feel that books that are based around lists tend to side track the reader because as you are reading you are making a case in your head for why this player should or should not be ranked where they are. Westcott allows the reader to focus on the player and where he fits in historically, and in turn, leaves the ranking portion up to the reader if that is what he or she chooses to do.
Each player profile is about five pages long and hits the player’s memorable career moments, statistical highlights and how they grew up and found their way to the majors. There is no fluff and Westcott gets right to the meat of the story so you are never bored. If you are someone who is always on the go then Westcott’s book is perfect because you can pick it up for five minutes and read about a player, put it down for two days and pick it right back up again and feel like you haven’t missed a thing. This means no guilt in trying to remember what happened twenty pages ago and how what that player accomplished tied back to something you read five chapters before but cannot remember now.
I consider myself someone who is well versed in the steeped baseball history of the city and I found myself learning new and interesting facts. I appreciate how the author went beyond just members of the Phillies and delved into the greats that played for the Philadelphia A’s, Hilldale Daisies and the players who grew up in the area and went onto star for other clubs. With the A’s being gone for nearly 50 years the book is a great learning tool for younger fans, those wanting to read about more than just the current team they have grown up following, or those just getting into the history of the game to see that the Phillies were not always the only game in town. Not to mention the Negro League stars such as Judy Johnson, Biz Mackey and Roy Campanella who played in Philly’s own backyard.
As a matter of fact you will want to bang your head against the wall as you read how Campanella grew up in the city and wanted to play for the Phillies and even went so far in 1942, while at a game at Shibe Park, to personally ask the Phillies manager for a tryout, was then told to call the team president, and did so from a phone in the ballpark. Roy was turned down by one of the more well known racist franchises of the times and a team who was atrocious in the 1940s. Aside from eventually having a Hall of Fame career as a catcher playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers where he would win three MVP awards in the 1950s, and win multiple pennants and a World Series, all while being recognized as the leader of the team, Campanella did not amount to much as a player….sigh.
My five favorite player profiles in no particular order were Campanella, Ed Delahanty, Judy Johnson, Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx. The book is full of anecdotes, like Campanella’s, that will either make you laugh or cry and reflect back on moments in history where things either worked out great for the city or make you wonder what could have been.
On the flip side the biggest error I found in the book was when Westcott pointed out that Mike Schmidt hit his 500th home run off of the Pittsburgh Pirate’s Don Robinson in 1987 at Forbes Field. This would have been awesome except for the fact that Forbes Field closed in 1970 and this happened instead at the multi-sport cookie cutter Three Rivers Stadium. I will go with the nostalgia angle, though, and picture Tug McGraw striking out Willie Wilson at Shibe Park to win it in 1980 instead of the concrete tomb of the Vet.
Overall, Westcott did a solid job of selecting the players. The only protest I have is leaving Pete Rose and Cole Hamels out of the book as both players have left significant marks in Philadelphia baseball history. For Rose it has been said that he taught the talented, but flawed in October, Phillies teams how to win while playing in two World Series with them and helping to capture the first one in franchise history. Hamels was the reason for championship number two and is considered one of the premier pitchers in the game and was the one constant on the pitching staff during what can be called the Golden Era of Phillies baseball from 2007-2011 (and the era could continue if 2012 was just a blip). When your franchise has only won two titles in 100 plus years you have to put the two players who played a key role in there. You cannot put Bobby Abreu in the book and leave these two out.
Do yourself a favor and either put the book on your Father’s Day wish list or grab it to take with you on vacation. Then decide for yourself who should be on or off the list and test your knowledge of the game to see if you can find any discrepancies on the historical front.
Matt Aber is a baseball enthusiast who thinks by sheer luck he would allow less inherited runners to score than Chad Durbin has. He is an advocate of the national organization called The Miracle League which allows special needs children to play baseball and encourages you to support this worthy cause and learn more at www.miracleleague.com
Be sure to follow Matt on Twitter @MLBOutsider.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.