Sweet memories to chew on
Goldenberg's Peanut Chew.
I can't tell you if the candy was any good, but I sure remember the billboard. It was the second one from the left-field foul pole at Connie Mack Stadium, where baseball was played in this town from April 12, 1909, through October 1, 1970. I couldn't tell you what the one adjacent to the foul pole was, but who's going to forget a product known as Goldenberg's Peanut Chew?
You folks had your Fenway Park. Those of us growing up in the Delaware Valley had as our connection to major league baseball the ballpark located at the intersection of 21st Street and Lehigh Avenue in the city of Philadelphia.
It came into being as Shibe Park, named after the visionary who had it built, and it had a second life as Connie Mack Stadium, renamed after the Grand Old Man of Philadelphia baseball (who was born, incidentally, on Dec. 22, 1862, in East Brookfield, Mass.).
By the time the last game was played in Connie Mack, it really did have to go. The requisite tears were shed, for there were great memories and a significant amount of 20th century baseball history attached to it, but the park had fallen into disrepair and the neighborhood surrounding it really was no longer safe.
There was always a sense of adventure surrounding a game at Shibe/Connie Mack. It had been built at a time when the predominant way of getting to a ballpark was by taking the trolley, and there never was much legitimate parking. But there were free parking spots on the streets of that neighborhood, and if you were lucky, you'd snare one.
Of course, you did so with an understanding. As far back as I can remember, as you got out of your car, you'd be approached by a small boy.
"Watch your car for a quarter, mister?"
So you'd give him the quarter. If you didn't, the worst that would probably happen would be that when you returned you'd be in the market for a new hubcap or two.
But that was in the '50s, and, perhaps, the early '60s. By the time the Phillies made their escape to the new ballpark in South Philly, the request was for more than a quarter and the consequences of refusal were more serious.
Fenway Park owes a great deal to Shibe/Connie Mack. They all do. For Shibe Park changed everything. Ben Shibe's ballpark was the first baseball stadium constructed of steel-reinforced concrete. In 1909, all existing ballparks were made of wood, and they were all certified fire traps - all of them. Shibe thought the time had come for baseball to enter the 20th century in terms of stadium construction.
According to the writings of the Baseball Historical Society, Shibe Park had "rusticated bases, composite columns, arched windows and vaultings, ornamental scrollwork and a fabulous French Renaissance tower, with cupola."
For this, Ben Shibe was labeled "the Edison of the sport" by writer James Isaminger of the Philadelphia North American when Shibe died in 1922.
You don't hear much about Ben Shibe now, but you should. Stuart Schimler of the Baseball Historical Society had this to say: "It was his business savvy that helped turn a nascent game at his birth into a multimillion-dollar enterprise by his death."
The playing surface, like so many of the day, was ludicrously large, with dimensions of 378-515-340. In what you'd have to call its '50s prime, it was 334-447-329, with double-decked bleachers extending from the left-field foul pole to the flagpole in dead center and a 32-foot corrugated wall running from the right-field foul pole to center, atop of which sat an electronic scoreboard, and on top of that sat a large Ballantine Beer sign, and on top of that was perched a 10-foot-high Longines clock. A ball hitting the Ballantine sign was in play. A ball striking the clock was a home run.
Dick Allen once hit one over everything, which gave new and as yet unmatched meaning to the concept of opposite-field power.
Note that 440 to dead center. That's a poke. They stored the batting cage behind the fence. I once saw Willie McCovey hit the 440 sign on the fly and barely chug safely into second. (And you think Mike Lowell is slow.)
The park seated 33,000, but 13,000 of those seats were in that outfield, and for very good reason. Explained Ben Shibe back in 1909, "Those who live by the sweat of their brow should have as good a chance of seeing the game as the man who never had to roll up his sleeves to earn a dollar."
I guess the Yankees would respectfully disagree, huh?
The stairs in the upper deck were very steep, and they tell me the press box was an adventure beyond words. Once you got off the lone three-person elevator, you had to negotiate a silly catwalk. Legend has it that Giants announcer Russ Hodges used to take off his belt and strap himself in by fastening the belt around his chair.
The clubhouses were cramped and spartan, and few opposing players were very sad about moving to Veterans Stadium.
But it had its charm. It was intimate and friendly and it had those wonderful landmarks. It was news when Dick Allen hit that prodigious blast over the scoreboard and it was news when he hit one over the distant roof in left. Then again, whether known as Richie when he broke in back in '63 or Dick when he returned for a second go-round 12 years later, he was just a newsy kind of guy.
Connie Mack's successor didn't have much of a shelf life. No one mourned Veterans Stadium when it closed in 2003, and now the Phillies play in Citizens Bank Park, a noted home run paradise. They have a pictorial essay commemorating both Shibe/Connie Mack and the Baker Bowl, where the Phillies played from 1887 through 1938 before becoming tenants of Connie Mack's Athletics.
That's all well and good. But, come on. It's not Philly baseball without the Goldenberg's Peanut Chew sign.