The Old Days Of The Phila. A's Remembering Fresh Fields And Connie Mack.

Posted: August 30, 1998

In those days, if you were a kid and a Philadelphia A's fan, you could catch a train to North Broad Street and walk the seven blocks to Shibe Park and not worry about being alone.

You'd hear the game on the radio as people sat outside to escape the heat indoors. Many of the ballplayers lived in rooming houses, and you could snag an autograph on your way to the ballpark or stop A's manager Connie Mack, wearing his trademark starched collar and straw hat, and ask him to predict the score.

After the game, you could jump out of the stands and run the bases, or stroke imaginary home runs, or nab line drives.

In those days, you recited your prayers at night and went to church on Sunday, but if you were a Philadelphia A's fan, baseball was your ticket to heaven.

``I went to my first A's game when I was 8 years old,'' recalled Ted Taylor, 57, of Glenside, who with his friend of 20 years, Ernie Montella, founded the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society in Willow Grove in 1996. ``I'm walking up the ramp at 21st and Lehigh surrounded by this city with all its factories and smoke and traffic, and then all of a sudden I see the greenest grass, sparkling white bases and ballplayers close enough to touch. It made such an impression.''

Montella, 64, of Warrington, was equally enthralled by baseball. Raised in Marcus Hook, he remembered shining shoes in each of the town's 32 bars.

``I worked my way from Delaware Avenue to 10th Street,'' he said. ``By the time I was through, I'd have enough for a box seat.''

In 1950, the 16-year-old Montella met a high school girl at an A's game, and he married her five years later.

``My grandchildren ask me why I'm such a big baseball fan,'' he said. ``I tell them, `If I hadn't been, you might not be here to ask that question.' ''

Taylor, who writes weekly hobby columns for the Philadelphia Daily News and Sports Collectors Digest, grew up to be a collector of sports memorabilia, particularly of the A's.

``I noticed a lot of guys at sports conventions going for A's stuff,'' he said. ``More and more, I ran into guys who were interested in the team. I'd bid on an A's baseball card and lose it to someone else, and I mean lose it bad.''

So two years ago, Taylor wrote a column announcing the formation of a historical society for the A's, and invited anyone interested to drop him a line.

``The following Tuesday at the post office, the clerk asked me to step over by his desk,'' he said. ``He had a bin with over 100 pieces of mail.''

Taylor and Montella ponied up $50 and inaugurated the organization with its first newsletter, ``Along the Elephant Trail,'' named after the team's symbol. In just two years, the group has mushroomed to 864 members.

``It's rooted in nostalgia,'' Montella said, explaining the society's success. ``It opened the door for people who've had it with baseball because of the strike and all the money to a better period of baseball.''

Having identified 100 former A's players living throughout the country, the society has been running two reunion events each year, with the next scheduled for November in Warrington. More than 300 people are expected to attend.

Taylor remembered a woman at one reunion who approached former A's player Irv Hall for an autograph.

``She said, `When I was a little girl, you were my favorite player.' She still had a crush on him. She was like a teenager around this 70-year-old man. He was her Mickey Mantle.''

Guests at previous reunions have included former A's stars Bobby Shantz, Gus Zernial, Ferris Fain, Pete Suder, Lou Brissie, Lou Limmer and Vic Power, among others.

``It's nice for us old guys,'' said Shantz, 73, who was named Most Valuable Player in 1952. ``I see a lot of old players and fans I don't see too often. It gives us a chance to renew old memories and old acquaintances.''

Shantz doesn't watch much baseball these days.

``It's gotten so doggone money-hungry,'' he said. ``Everything's different. I like to see the fields as dirt. How do you boot a ball on this AstroTurf? And the relief pitching's different. I'd pitch nine innings straight. I liked to stay in the game and finish. Now, you throw 100, 110 pitches, they relieve you and bring in somebody new.''

The team of Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy - better known as Connie Mack, who managed the A's for 50 years - won five world championships and nine American League pennants before the club was sold in 1954 and moved to Kansas City in 1955.

``When you were around Connie Mack, it was like being around somebody from another planet,'' said veteran sportscaster Bill Campbell. ``He made the A's by the sheer force of his personality. He didn't use profanity, always wore a starched collar and tie, and called his players mister.

``There was a lot of regret when the A's left town,'' Campbell said. ``It created a void that's never been filled.''

Philadelphia-area baseball fans are not the only ones who glory in some of the game's bygone eras.

``I have real fond memories of watching the Senators,'' said Tom Holster, 42, president of the Washington Baseball Historical Society. ``I remember going to games with my dad or sitting by the radio and making up the score sheets. Their last game, that last broadcast, I had tears running down my face.''

For these fans, the teams aren't really gone.

``They say when you get older, you go back to your childhood,'' Montella said. ``That's really true.

``I hear these old players talk about how it was in the '30s. I don't know that time, but I remember the '40s. In those days . . .''

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