Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Living Former Philadelphia Athletics & 1950 Phillies "Whiz Kids"

September 19, 1954: The Philadelphia Athletics play their last home game, at Connie Mack Stadium (formerly Shibe Park). They lost 4-2 to the Yankees. They close their season with 3 games in Boston and 3 in New York.

April 12, 1955: The Kansas City Athletics play their 1st home game, at Kansas City Municipal Stadium. They beat the Detroit Tigers 6-2.

The last active player who had played for the Philadelphia Athletics was Vic Power, who lasted until 1965. The last one who had played for the Kansas City Athletics? My man, Reggie Jackson, who lasted until 1987.

There are 19 living former Philadelphia Athletics, the youngest of whom is 83 years old. They are:

* Carl Miles, 98, from northern Missouri. A pitcher, his entire career consists of 2 appearances for the 1940 A's. He is the 2nd-oldest former Major League Baseball player, behind former Boston Brave, Chicago White Sock and Cleveland Indian Eddie Carnett.

* Fred Caligiuri, 97, from Western Pennsylvania. A pitcher, he was a September callup for the A's in 1941 (5 games) and 1942  (13 games), and never appeared in the majors otherwise.

* George Yankowski, 93, from the Boston suburbs. A catcher, he appeared in 6 games for the A's in 1942, and 12 for the Chicago White Sox in 1946, his career interrupted by World War II.

* Bill "Buster" Mills, 96, from Boston. A catcher, his entire major league career consisted of 4 appearances for the 1944 A's.

* Dick Adams, 96, from California's Sierra Nevada region. A 1st baseman, he played 37 games in the major leagues, all with the 1947 A's.

* Billy DeMars, 90, from Brooklyn. A shortstop, he was with the A's for 18 games in 1948. He is also a surviving St. Louis Brown, appearing in 61 games for them in 1950 and 1 in 1951. He remained with their organization as they became the Baltimore Orioles. He won the 1964 Midwest League Pennant, managing the Fox Cities Foxes. He was a coach on the 1980 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

This leaves only 6 living men who had played for Connie Mack as Philadelphia Athletics manager.

* Ed Samcoff, 91, from Sacramento. A 2nd baseman, his entire career consisted of 6 games with the A's in April 1951.

* Eddie Robinson, 95, from Paris, Texas. Played in the majors from 1942 to 1957, including 1953 with the A's. The last survivor of the Cleveland Indians' 1948 World Champions, and oldest living ex-Yankee, playing in the 1955 World Series.

* Neal Watlington. A catcher, he made 21 appearances for the A's in 1953.

* Tommy Giordano, 90, from Newark. A 2nd baseman, his only big-league experience was in 11 games as a September callup in 1953.

* Ozzie Van Brabant, 89, from near Windsor, Ontario and Detroit. A pitcher, he made 9 appearances for the A's in Philly in 1954, and 2 for them in K.C. in 1955. They were the extent of his big-league experience.

* Carl Scheib, 89, from the Harrisburg area. A pitcher, he had a 45-65 record from 1943 to 1954, all with the A's except for the end, with the St. Louis Cardinals.

* Bill Oster, 83, from Manhattan. A pitcher, he was a late-season callup in 1954, and didn't appear in the majors again after the move.

* Bill Wilson, 87, from central Nebraska. A center fielder, the A's picked him up in 1954, he made the move with them, and he hit the 1st home run in Kansas City Athletics history on Opening Day 1955. But that was his last year in the major leagues.

* Art Ditmar, 87, from the Boston suburbs. A pitcher, he came up to the A's in 1954, moved with them, and was sent to the Yankees along with Bobby Shantz in 1957. He won Pennants with the Yankees in 1857, 1958 and 1960, and has a 1958 World Series ring. Traded back to the A's, he finished his career in Kansas City in 1962.

* Bobby Shantz, 90, from nearby Pottstown. A pitcher, he was the longest-lasting and most accomplished player on this list. He was with the A's from 1949 to 1956, including on either side of the move. The 5-foot-6 "little lefty" was a 3-time All-Star, and in 1952 he went 24-7 for a mediocre A's team, earning him the American League's Most Valuable Player award.

An injury late that season robbed him of his speed, but he was converted to a reliever. He pitched for the Yankees in the 1957, 1958 and 1960 World Series, winning it in 1958. When the Gold Glove Award was founded in 1957, he won it 8 straight times. In 1962, he was an original member of the Houston Colt .45's. (They changed their name to the Astros in 1965.)

In 1964, he was sent by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Chicago Cubs as part of the Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock deal. The Cubs then sent him back home, to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he closed his career with that ill-fated team (although the infamous Phillie Phlop was hardly his fault). He then retired with a career record of 119-99. He is the only surviving A's player who is a member of the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame.

* Bill Harrington, 88, from Sanford, North Carolina. A pitcher, he was with the A's from 1953 to 1957, including the move, and no other teams.

* Hal Raether, 83, from southern Wisconsin. A pitcher, he made 2 appearances, both for the A's, 1 in Philly in 1954, 1 in K.C. in 1957.

* Joe DeMaestri, 87, from San Francisco. A shortstop, and like DeMars a surviving former St. Louis Brown, "Froggy" played for the A's from 1953 through 1959, including the move. He was an All-Star in 1957. He was a throw-in in the trade that brought Roger Maris to the Yankees. He was sent in to replace Tony Kubek after his injury in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, and his last major league appearance was on the next year's Series, winning a 1961 World Series ring.

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For comparison's sake, there are only 4 members of the Phillies' 1950 National League Pennant winners, "the Whiz Kids," are still alive, 66 years later:

* Ralph "Putsy" Caballero, 88, from New Orleans. An infielder, he was with the Phillies from 1944 to 1952, but could never win the starting job at 3rd base from Del Ennis or at 2nd base from Mike Goliat. He is, however, the last surviving Phils player who appeared in the Pennant clincher of October 1, 1950 against the Brooklyn Dodgers, won by Dick Sisler's 10th inning home run.

* Bob Miller, 89, from Detroit. A pitcher, he spent his entire career with the Phillies, from 1949 to 1958, with a record of 42-42. He coached the University of Detroit Mercy baseball team from 1965 to 2000, winning nearly 900 games. He should not be confused with either of the 2 Bob Millers who roomed together on the famously bad 1962 Mets, and each answered the phone by saying, "Hello,
Bob Miller here."

* Paul Stuffel, 89, from Canton, Ohio. A pitcher, he was called up to the Phils in September 1950, too late to make the World Series roster. He also appeared for the Phils in 1952 and 1953, but that was it for his major league career.

* Curt Simmons, 86, from Egypt, Pennsylvania; and Whitehall, Pennsylvania. A pitcher, he was drafted into the Korean War in September 1950, nearly costing the Phils the Pennant, and he could have made a difference in the World Series against the Yankees. He was with the Phillies from 1947 to 1960. He finally got to appear in a World Series in 1964, ironically at the expense of the Phillies -- and, in said World Series, at the expense of the Yankees. He finished his career with a record of 193-183. He is a member of the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame.
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On June 6, 2003, the Interleague schedule finally allowed the now-Oakland Athletics to make their 1st appearance in Philadelphia since leaving town, 49 years earlier. They came to Veterans Stadium, and the Phillies invited every living former Philadelphia Athletic. A few showed up, including Bobby Shantz, Eddie Robinson and Carl Scheib. Also attending, but now deceased, were Guz Zernial, Eddie Joost, Joe Astroth and Pete Suder.

Robin Roberts, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Phillies, including their 1950 Pennant season, was also on hand that night, signing copies of his book My Life In Baseball. (He had previously written a book titled The Whiz Kids and the 1950 Pennant. He was universally hailed as a great guy, but was much better at pitching than he was at picking book titles.) He has since died.

A crowd of 29,583, including myself, saw the A's beat the Phils 7-4. It was small consolation for anyone old enough to remember the A's, and to know that, not only had the A's won more in Philly before the move (9 Pennants to 2, 5 World Championships to 0), but had won more since the move (6 Pennants to 3, now 6 to 5, and 4 World Championships to 1, now 4 to 2, and, even at their worst, the Oakland A's have never had a collapse like 1964 or heartbreaking postseason moments like 1977 and 1993).

Although how each family managed its money meant that the Carpenters, who bought the Phillies in 1943, would be the team that stayed, and the Macks, who owned the A's, would have to be the team that left, Mitchell Nathanson suggested in his book The Fall of the 1977 Phillies: How a Baseball Team's Collapse Sank a City's Spirit that, for reasons competitive and cultural, the wrong team moved away. In spite of the Phillies' passionate fan base, their nice new fan-friendly ballpark, and their 2007-11 golden age, he may have had a point.

UPDATE: Three of these men died in 2016: Joe DeMaestri on August 26, Carl Miles on September 9, and Dick Adams on September 24.

This leaves 16 living men who played for the Philadelphia Athletics, and only 4 living men who had played for Connie Mack as a manager.

Putsy Caballero died on December 8, 2016. That leaves Bob Miller, Paul Stuffel and Curt Simmons as the last 3 living 1950 Whiz Kids.

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