Connie Mack Stadium: Ghost Park

As I have alluded to before, I have been amassing a small library of baseball books since childhood. With everything from books of trivia to memoirs to baseball literature, I have enough reference material on the sport that I often go to my bookshelf when writing posts here, seeking quotes or anecdotes. In fact, each of my last two offerings has included a reference from my personal library.

Today is no exception.

One of the earliest additions to my collection was a fine book by Lawrence Ritter, The Lost Ballparks. As the title would suggest, the book is devoted to bygone stadiums, places like the Polo Grounds and Forbes Field that have long since been torn down. Each chapter of the book is devoted to one or two ballparks and feature a chronology, with notable events listed. Often, demolition photos are even included, as well as pictures of what stands present day on the former sites (for instance, as of 1991, there was an auto dealership where Seals Stadium used to be in San Francisco.)

One of my favorite photos in the book shows Tony Taylor, a second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1960s and ’70s, standing amidst weeds in an abandoned, desolate Connie Mack Stadium. He has a bat on his shoulder and a sad, vacant look in his eyes, as he stands near second base, the old scoreboard behind him. Opened in 1909, the stadium was last used by the Phillies in 1970 and sat derelict until being torn down in 1976. Taylor was photographed in 1974, three years after a fire severely damaged the deserted park.

As someone who minored in history in college, I find material of this sort fascinating. My grandparents own a ranch near Tracy, California with several buildings on the property that date back to the 1930s and before. Growing up, I used to often explore these empty dwellings, structurally unsafe as they’d become. One of the units from a Depression-era worker’s barracks even still has furniture inside from the late 1960s or early ’70s (the woman on the box of Tide has a beehive hairdo.)

Anyhow, I was recently re-reading Ritter’s book and after seeing the photo of Taylor yet again, I decided to see what else I could find online. I found the following on a website called Ballparks of Baseball. Here are links to three cool photos of Connie Mack Stadium, reposted with permission, and how the stadium looked during the half decade it awaited demolition:

Shibe Park 1

This shows the grandstands after the 1971 fire. Note the jungle growth on the former playing field.

And next, more desolation:

Shibe Park 2

Finally, we have a shot from a different angle.

Shibe Park 3

Seems a little strange that old ads were left up– kind of makes me want to drink Coke.

Connie Mack Stadium was finally torn down at the All-Star Break in 1976 and today a church sits on the site. For whatever reason, these historical stadiums never seem to be saved. Demolition wrapped up less than two months ago at Tiger Stadium, which had opened in 1912, and structural demolition began on old Yankee Stadium last week. Hopefully, the same fate will not eventually befall Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

Related posts: A former Pacific Coast League owner dies at 100 with a warehouse of old baseball memorabilia

The Aloysius Travers of wiffle ball

On May 15, 1912, Ty Cobb went into the stands in New York after a crippled heckler and set up for the one of the more bizarre games in major league history.

As recounted in one of my favorite books, Ken Burns’ Baseball, the Detroit Tigers immortal earned a suspension from organized ball after going into the stands for Claude Lueker, who had taunted Cobb as a “half [racial epithet].” Georgia-native Cobb was a legendary racist, with longtime baseball writer Fred Lieb speculating in his autobiography Baseball As I Have Known It that the Tigers great moonlighted as a Ku Klux Klan member (Lieb also wrote that Rogers Hornsby, Gabby Street and Tris Speaker told him they were members.) A disabled newspaper reporter, Lueker commonly berated Cobb at games, but when he shouted the racial epithet, in the third inning of a Highlanders-Tigers game, Cobb had enough. Page 109 of Baseball captured what ensued:

Cobb vaulted the railing, knocked down his tormentor, and began stomping him with his spikes. When someone shouted that the man was helpless because he had just one hand, Cobb answered, “I don’t care if he doesn’t have any feet,” and kept kicking him until a park policeman pulled him away.

(For his part, Lueker may have gotten off light– toward the end of his life, Cobb reportedly told biographer Al Stump that he killed a would-be mugger in the street that same season.)

Following the assault on Lueker, American League President Ban Johnson suspended Cobb without a hearing. However, the rest of the Tigers sympathized with Cobb because of the nature of Lueker’s taunt, given that it was 1912, and what followed was the first player’s strike since 1890. Detroit management scrambled to fill a roster to avoid a forfeit for its May 18 game. According to the 20th Century Baseball Chronicle, among those recruited were amateur players, former major leaguers and even some fans.

For a pitcher, Detroit turned to a seminary student named Aloysius Travers, who would go down in the record books. Travers set major league marks that still stand for runs and hits allowed as the Tigers lost 24-2 to the Philadelphia Athletics. Subsequently, Johnson reinstated everyone, including Cobb, and just like Moonlight Graham in “Field of Dreams,” Travers’ career ended after one game.

So why do I bring this all up? This past weekend, I got to be Aloysius Travers.

One of my good friends is getting married in June and for the bachelor party, we went camping this weekend. I suppose a lot of bachelor parties involve strippers, gambling and drunken debauchery. We played sports. On Saturday, my friend’s best man organized a day of games that began with soccer, kickball, and ultimate frisbee. We started around 10 a.m. and by 3 p.m. everyone was pretty beat, including yours truly. Thankfully, by this point, we were onto our final game, wiffle ball, and because we had an odd number of players, I volunteered to serve as all-time pitcher.

When I played Little League, one of my dreams besides hitting a home run was to pitch. I got an idea this weekend of why that dream never came to pass. Over the course of seven innings, I probably allowed 20 runs between both teams. In vain, I experimented with several different wind ups, debuting the wiffle ball equivalents of Juan Marichal (kick windup), Hideo Nomo (back to the mound) and Dan Quisenberry (submarine), among others, to no avail.

My dad used to do a great job of this kind of pantomime in epic, front driveway wiffle ball games we had when I was a kid. He had a whole lineup of players he impersonated, including the sluggers Mail Murphy and Mickey Mammoth, the all-purpose spray hitter Tito Fuentes, the soft-tossing pitcher MacGregor and my nemesis, the flame-throwing hurler Nelson (for my part, I came up with Silly Mays.)  I often whiffed against Nelson’s overpowering fastball, though my dad was sometimes merciful and kept his star pitcher out of games with the excuse he was in jail.

I wasn’t nearly as menacing this weekend, and my friends teed off on just about everything. In fact, my more elaborate offerings seemed to be belted deeper into the outfield. I honestly didn’t know wiffle balls could go as far as some went. Granted I struck out a few guys, including the groom-to-be (which is kind of messed up, come to think of it.) Still, the next time we play ball, I reckon I’ll be back in the outfield where I spent the bulk of my Little League career.

Either that or, just like Travers, it’s off to the seminary for me. I’m just glad none of my friends chose to impersonate Ty Cobb.