Following on the heels of his equally entertaining “The Philadelphia Athletics by the Numbers,” this next chapter in Taylor’s campaign to keep alive the memory of the City of Brotherly Love’s most interesting professional sports franchise, “The Ultimate Philadelphia Athletics Reference Book” (Xlibris Corp., ISBN 978-1-4500-2571-3, 457 pages, $23.99, www.Xlibris.com) is another example of how yeoman research, combined with a true love of your subject, can produce a compendium as interesting as its namesake.
Briefly recapping Taylor’s credentials in terms of his status to both write and subsequently entitle such a book… for the past 35 years or so, Taylor has been as important a name in Philadelphia baseball as Larry Shenk, Bill Giles, Whitey Ashburn, Harry Kalas, Ruly Carpenter, Allen Lewis, Jayson Stark or anyone else you care to list who hasn’t officially worn a uniform. A nationally- respected authority on baseball cards and memorabilia, a former college (Ursinus and Spring Garden) baseball coach, a widely-read baseball columnist, an even more widely-read author, the co-founder of the first Philadelphia area baseball card show, the owner of the first Philadelphia area baseball card store, the host of a nationally-syndicated collectibles radio show, an expert witness in the anti-trust lawsuit against Topps, a vice president of two baseball card companies, the founding president of the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society… well, you get the picture. Ted Taylor has been involved in Philly area baseball in just about every way possible, and that includes as an infielder at Millersville State (as it says on his baseball card), and, prior to that, on the sandlots of Cheltenham Township, where he’d sometimes let a young kid named R. Jackson into the game.
So, yes, Ted Taylor is well-qualified to discuss the subject at hand, the team he rooted passionately for up until the time they left town, when he was 13 years old. That was 56 years ago. And yet, the Philadelphia Athletics still live on, even in the minds of those of us who are too young to remember them directly as a franchise that reached the absolute pinnacle of major league baseball not once, but twice, and that also fielded awful teams featuring the likes of Squiz Pillion, Steve Gerkin, Bruno Haas and Lynn “Line Drive” Nelson.
Sure, every baseball historian knows about Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, Home Run Baker, Rube Waddell, Eddie Plank, Charles Albert Bender, Eddie Collins, Bobby Shantz and Eddie Joost. And a vast majority of the cognoscenti recall Indian Bob Johnson, Doc Cramer (pronounced CRAMM/er, by the way), Wally Moses, Elmer Valo and Hank Majeski. But even the most devoted baseball fans, with unlimited access to Baseball-Reference.com, probably don’t know much about Dean Lovill, Syver Slaalien, Harry Kallas (no, not THAT Harry Kalas), Red Schillings (no relation to Curt), or Richard or Stan Jok. It’s here that Taylor is at his best… giving the reader at least a paragraph on all 877 players who wore an Athletics uniform and appeared in a big league box score, or a spring training game while the team was based in Philadelphia. But, that’s not all. Taylor also dredged up information on 250 more players who never made it to the majors, but who were the property of an Athletics farm team, plus another 65 who played in the minors under an A’s contract, but only appeared in the majors with other teams. There are even another dozen bios of front office personnel, coaches, trainers, broadcasters (By Saam) and even a mascot, Louis Van Zelst. In all, there are a staggering 1204 biographical sketches of everyone from Connie Mack himself to Al Spaziano. It is truly the product of a labor of love, as made clear time and again during Taylor’s narratives of the A’s players.
As an inevitable bonus of Taylor’s bios, the reader turns up some fascinating facts scattered about the 54-year history of the Philadelphia A’s. For instance, since Taylor included bios of players who appeared just in spring training games for the A’s, under the “R” heading you’ll find one George Ruth. Yes, THAT George Ruth (could there be any other?) During spring training 1925, the Babe suffered a broken finger on his left hand, and missed a week of training camp in St. Petersburg. For some reason, or maybe just because he was Babe Ruth, and he did pretty much whatever he wanted, the Yankees let him go all the way across the state to Ft. Myers and suit up for Mack on March 4 for an exhibition game against the American Association’s Milwaukee Brewers. Sad to say, the Babe went 0-3. Also mentioned in the Ruth bio is the story of the baseball trip to Japan after the 1934 season, in which the Babe served as one team’s manager, with, according to Taylor, the basic premise that he was also auditioning for the A’s manager’s job in 1935 (Mack was one of the leaders of the trip.) Also sadly, for both the Babe and the A’s, Mack didn’t like what he saw, publicly stating that, within weeks of signing Ruth to manage the A’s, his overbearing wife Claire would be running the team. It is, nonetheless, interesting to speculate how different the history of the A’s, and Philadelphia baseball, would have been if the Babe had become their manager. Let’s put it this way, the Phillies might have had to change their nickname at some point.
While the Babe’s day in an A’s uniform is the most intriguing example of what Taylor refers to as “Paper Elephants” (in other words, White Elephants on paper only) there are plenty of other examples. Say, Jim Konstanty, the 1950 National League MVP for the Phillies. Bet you didn’t know he was the property of the Athletics at one time. After failing brief major league trials with the Reds and Braves, he spent the 1946 season with the A’s Toronto minor league team. However, the Toronto team changed ownership after 1946, and Konstanty stayed with Toronto, and not with the A’s. The franchise eventually became a Phillies farm team while Konstanty was still pitching there, which is how he eventually got to Philadelphia.
There are dozens of priceless bits of information in the bios. Vic Power once told Taylor that he was traded to the A’s because the Yankees kept waiting for him to turn white, and that clearly wasn’t going to happen. (Which may be the best line in the whole book.) Roy “Tarzan” Parmelee got his nickname because a sportswriter once wrote that every time he pitched, he seemed to be out on a limb. Buster McCrabb was once waved into an A’s game as a reliever by Mr. Mack, despite the little detail that he wasn’t on the team’s active roster. He pitched an inning anyway. Tony Kubek batted .308 for the A’s Williamsport team… only this was in 1935 and it was the father of the same-named infielder/broadcaster. Walter Johnson once got a spring training invitation to the A’s camp, only this was in 1936 and it was Walter Johnson, Jr. A sore arm kept the Big Train’s son from ever playing with the A’s. Bill Hockenbury never played in a big league game… but he could have. While he was sitting on the A’s bench after a late-season 1947 call-up from the minors, Mack (who was awful with names, especially as he got older) looked right at him and said something like, “Hockenbocker, get in there and run.” Before he could get out of the dugout, Austin Knickerbocker went in to run, and Hockenbury never did get in a game.
It’s possible to wander through the 1200 bios ad infinitum. However, that’s far from all that’s in the book. Taylor starts with a brief history of Connie Mack’s A’s (there were at least five other iterations of the name before Mack came along in 1901.) Following the bios, which take up almost 300 of the book’s 450 pages, Taylor mixes in facts, statistics and opinion in the final 10 chapters. Such interesting subjects as the team’s Hall of Famers, individual honors and accomplishments, a season-by-season rundown, including a listing of the regulars in each season and the hitting and pitching leaders, an update on the numbers worn by A’s players, significant trades (many of which were salary dumps that were real stinkers, although some of Mack’s late in life deals, like those giving away George Kell and Nellie Fox were just plain awful), a “last man standing” chapter that follows Philadelphia A’s players after the team left town, a provocative chapter on the Hall of Fame cases for four former A’s (Wally Schang really should be in the Hall… I’m not sure if I concur with the other three), and various odds and ends, including more on Paper Elephants.
“The Ultimate Philadelphia Athletics Reference Book” also features dozens of photographs, many from Taylor’s own collection, and some of more than a little historical interest. There’s a shot of an unidentified “Athletics” team that was probably taken of a minor league A’s aggregation in 1890s. And here’s Ty Cobb, holding up his new Athletics uniform with the white elephant on the chest. There’s a priceless Mack family photo of The Tall Tactician, his three sons (showing that Connie Junior was 6’5”), his brother Mike McGillicuddy, and future senator Connie Mack, III. There’s also another shot of Connie Mack, Jr., during his one year in an A’s uniform (as a coach – he threw his arm out at a high school pitcher at Germantown Academy… he should have gone across the street to Germantown Friends, like Jesse Biddle). Or how about Jimmie Foxx and Bing Miller – shirtless – in spring training, in 1932, when men didn’t even go shirtless at the beach?
All good things must come to an end. Taylor concludes “The Ultimate Philadelphia Athletics Reference Book” with an Epilogue that asks that question, what’s the fascination with the Philadelphia Athletics? (As evidenced by the 1300 members of the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society.) His answer, in part says it’s because the final chapter has indeed been written on the Philadelphia A’s, there will be no more games in this ballpark…
“So in a world of constant turmoil, uncertainty and change, the Philadelphia A’s remain a constant and, as such, remain an icon we will long cherish – and one the city will cherish as long as there are professional sports in Philadelphia.”
It’s a good theory. However, it should be added that another reason so many still cherish the Philadelphia Athletics is due to the work of Ted Taylor.