In the long-suffering history of the Phillies, one chapter stands head and shoulders above the rest – 1980, when the club finally ended 97 years of futility by capturing its first-ever World Championship.
Now, however, that glorious campaign has to share top billing with another chronicle in Phillies lore, following last October’s dramatic Fall Classic triumph over the upstart Tampa Bay Rays.
The Phillies have lost more games than any team in big league history, but few clubs and few cities have a richer heritage, all of which is captured at Citizen Bank Park’s Memory Lane, where the entire chronology of Philadelphia baseball is on display for fans to enjoy.
It starts in 1883, when Col. John Rogers, a Philadelphia lawyer and politician, and Alfred J. Reach, a sporting goods entrepreneur and former player, founded the Phillies to bring the “City of Brotherly Love” back into the National League following a six-year hiatus. From that inaugural season until 1886, the Phils played at Recreation Park.
The next year they moved into 12,500-seat Philadelphia Park, considered the finest baseball stadium in America. Fire, however, destroyed the stadium and while it was being rebuilt, the Phils spent the 1894 season at a University of Pennsylvania field.
The new Philadelphia Park re-opened with 18,800 seats and was renamed Baker Bowl in 1913 after new team President William Baker. In 1915, when the Phils won their first pennant, the Baker Bowl hosted the first-ever World Series game attended by a U.S. president – Woodrow Wilson. Philadelphia lost the Series, however, to the Red Sox, four games to one. Each Boston victory was decided by a single run.
The Negro League World Series was played there from 1924-26, and Babe Ruth played the last game of his career there in 1935, with the Boston Braves.
Baker Bowl was razed in 1950.
All of this early history and the complete timeline of Phillies baseball is presented in captivating fashion at Memory Lane, located on a brick wall behind the batter’s backdrop on Citizen Bank Park’s center field concourse.
Huge blow-up pictures of Phillies Hall-of-Famers and detailed text recount year-by-year highlights from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Right next to Memory Lane, fans standing on the concourse can get a bird’s-eye view of pitchers from both teams warming up in the bi-level bullpens.
They’re among many attractions that make seeing a game here an absolute must, while watching the 2008 World Champions defend their title.
Citizens Bank Park
Opened in 2004, Citizens Bank Park is the fourth stadium in Phillies history. They played at Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium from 1938-71 and Veterans Stadium from 1971-2003. More than just a ballpark, however, Citizens Bank is a treat for memorabilia buffs and collectors, with its rich array of colorful attractions.
Fans are greeted outside by four larger-than-life bronze statues of all-time greats Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Richie Ashburn and Mike Schmidt – the work of world-renowned sculptor Zenos Frudakis. In addition, the Phillies relocated the Connie Mack statue that was part of the Veterans Stadium and Connie Mack Stadium experiences.
Near Memory Lane, fans can also take in the Phillies’ Wall of Fame featuring plaques of all the top players, from Grover Cleveland Alexander to Pete Rose.
One of the most popular attractions is Ashburn Alley, a festive outfield entertainment area named in honor of Phillies legend Richie Ashburn. It has a retail store, concessions and picnic tables, opening 2-½ hours prior game time so fans can watch batting practice. Guests may enter Ashburn Alley through the Left Field Gate. This fun area spans the entire outfield concourse and includes All Star Walk with granite markers of every Phillies All-Star since 1933, when the first All-Star Game was played. Additions take place annually as Phillies players receive All-Star honors.
History permeates the entire stadium, not just the outfield area. The Hall of Fame Club is a premium seating area, primarily in the infield behind the press box. One of its features, a Cooperstown Gallery, contains 32 oil paintings of players from the Phillies, Philadelphia Athletics and Native Sons who are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown Gallery is one of many stops on ballpark tours.
With a capacity of 43,647, Citizens Bank Park opened on April 12, 2004, replacing the much larger (62,623 capacity – largest in the NL), but colder and utilitarian Veterans Stadium that ranked among the worst of the old doughnut-shaped steel-and-concrete ringed stadiums of the late 20th century.
In every respect, Citizens Bank is warmer, more hospitable and fan-friendly than its most immediate predecessor, hearkening back to the days of Shibe Park when the 1950 “Whiz Kids” won the National League pennant.
Shibe Park was home to the Philadelphia A’s from 1909-54 when they left Philadelphia for Kansas City. The A’s and Phils shared the park from 1938-54 and the Phils played there through 1970.
It hosted the All-Star Game in 1943, won by the American League, 5-3, and again in 1952 when the NL got revenge, 3-2. The ’43 contest was the first-ever night All-Star Game. The AL won despite the fact that Yankee manager Joe McCarthy refused to play any of his New York stars. Angered by criticism that he favored his own players, he kept them all on the bench. It was the only time that a Yankee hasn’t appeared in an All-Star Game.
The ’52 contest was a rain-shortened affair that lasted just five innings, played before a crowd of 32,785. However, hometown hero Curt Simmons of the Phillies turned in a masterful three innings as he blanked Junior Circuit hitters while holding them to just one hit.
The A’s Bobby Shantz, who went on to win the 1952 AL MVP Award, struck out the side for his team in the fifth, when the rain-soaked game was finally brought to a halt.
Shibe Park was home to five Athletics World Champion teams – 1910, ’11, ’13, ’29 and ’30. The Phillies won just one pennant there in 1950, when relief pitcher Jim Konstanty was named National League MVP.
The Yankees, however, won that year’s World Series four games to one, the second of their five straight World Championships from 1949-53.
Shibe Park also hosted three Negro League World Series. It was renamed Connie Mack Stadium in 1953 and was torn down in 1976.
At Veterans Stadium, the Phillies won three straight NL East flags from 1976-78, but never got past the first round of playoffs in postseason action. Finally, with a much-needed spark from Pete Rose at first base and Tug McGraw’s inspirational leadership, the Phils won their first World Championship, defeating the Royals in six game in 1980.
Three years later, they returned to the Fall Classic, but fell to the Orioles in five games.
Now, the Phillies have launched a new era in Philadelphia baseball history led by stars such as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Some day, their names may join the Wall of Fame, too, giving future generations of fans even more great memories to reflect on while visiting one of the most attractive stadiums in all of major league baseball.
Paul Post is a freelance writer from Glens Falls, NY.