Played in sandlots and fields, baseball has ruled over the summer afternoons of Philadelphia’s youth since the game was devised in the 1800s. Professional baseball soon followed and has been here ever since.
To celebrate that long tradition, the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia has opened an exhibit the history of baseball in the city to coincide with the opening of Citizens Bank Park, the Philadelphia Phillies’ new home. The display tracks the victories and, more often, defeats of Philadelphia’s various baseball teams.
The most beloved of those squads, the Whiz Kids of the 1950 Phillies, capped an over-achieving season by losing four straight games and the championship to the New York Yankees in the World Series. 14 years later, the 1964 Phillies had such a dominant last-season lead in the standings that Phillies tickets for the Worlds Series were already being printed (one of which is on display at the exhibit). In what is called the infamous ’64 Swoon, the Phillies lost 10 of their last 12 games and fell out of contention.
“That’s sort of the way Philly sees itself, as the ‘almost’ team,” said to Stewart Desmond, the AKMP’s director of research and interpretive programming, referring to the many teams that almost won titles.
Starting with its origins in 1876 at the Jefferson Street Grounds in North Philadelphia, the exhibit chronologically follows baseball in Philadelphia. The early years mark the pinnacle of baseball’s popularity in the city, which supported two pro teams until 1954. During that time, the American League’s Athletics, who have since moved to Oakland, Calif., and the National League Phillies played in several North Philadelphia stadiums, including Shibe Park, which was renamed Connie Mack Stadium after the legendary A’s manager and Hall of Famer.
“Baseball stadiums were a neighborhood then,” Desmond said of North Philadelphia baseball. But that era ended when crime increased and the Athletics skipped town. When Veterans Stadium opened in 1970 in south Philly and parking lots replaced the communities, professional sports in the city changed forever
The exhibit’s section on “the Vet” chronicles the Phillies’ 1980 season, in which the team won its only World Series championship. “Tug” McGraw’s famous photo after the series’ decisive victory provides the background for the display, which includes a uniform worn during the season by Schmidt, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.
Several stories on display say more about the city’s social history than its baseball history. Before pro ball officially started, when North Philadelphia was a prominent area in the city, the Athletics in 1859 played a game near Temple’s future campus at 15th Street and Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue), an area that never again housed pro baseball. Race relations are illustrated by the story two local clubs who played in the Negro Leagues, the first organized black league, formed in 1920.
For less than the price of a seat at the new ballpark, the exhibit reminds Phillies fans why they hang in until September every year.
To find details about upcoming events at the exhibit, visit AKMP’s website at www.philadelphiahistory.org. For more information on the Philadelphia Athletics and city baseball history, visit https://philadelphiaathletics.org/.
Rory Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org