Summer of '69: A snooze in Philly

Dick Allen was in his last year with the 63-99 Phillies in 1969. That season, the slugger liked to write in the dirt around first base - he's working on the word "Mom" here.
Dick Allen was in his last year with the 63-99 Phillies in 1969. That season, the slugger liked to write in the dirt around first base - he's working on the word "Mom" here.
Posted: July 09, 2009

This is a remarkably rich anniversary summer. Even now, from the distance of 40 years, 1969's seems a little unreal. There was simply too much jaw-dropping news to digest:

Man on the moon, Woodstock, the Manson murders, Chappaquiddick, disclosure of the My Lai massacre, secret Vietnam peace talks, Hurricane Camille.

Anyway, remembering all those monumental events got me thinking about sports. While our attention was fixed on outer space and spaced-out hippies, what was going on in life's toy department that summer of '69?

Unfortunately, not much in Philly.

The Phillies

Much like their ballpark's neighborhood, the team was deteriorating rapidly. Gene Mauch was gone. Bob Skinner wouldn't last the summer. Johnny Callison was in his final Phillies season. Chris Short would pitch just 10 innings. But this was the summer of Dick Allen. Allen wanted out, a yearning he occasionally scrawled in the dirt near first base and one that would be granted at season's end. He was acting out, downing a few beers before arriving at the ballpark, or showing up late for workouts and sometimes games. Fans booed him mercilessly. Some threw garbage on his lawn. Not surprisingly, in the NL East's inaugural season, the Phils finished fifth, 36 games under .500, 37 games behind the seven-year-old Miracle Mets. Only 519,914 witnessed the misery at Connie Mack Stadium.

The Eagles

Training camp at Albright College in Reading was the first for new owner Leonard Tose, GM Pete Retzlaff, and coach Jerry Williams. No one can recall whether that was the summer defensive end Tim Rossovich set himself on fire, rode a motorcycle off a pier, dove naked into a birthday cake, or ate a beer stein. They do recall that those Eagles would go 4-9-1. Leroy Keyes, the Purdue back Philadelphia took with its No. 1 pick after missing out on O.J. Simpson, was impressing no one en route to being converted into a defensive back.

The Sixers

Not much to be excited about here, either. When training camp opened, Wilt Chamberlain was no longer around. Even though Wilt had won the last three MVP awards, GM/coach Jack Ramsay traded him to the Lakers for Archie Clark, Darrall Imhoff, and Jerry Chambers. Billy Cunningham and Hal Greer couldn't score enough to make the season interesting. The Sixers would finish at 42-40 and were knocked out of the playoffs in five games by Milwaukee.

The Flyers

The news from camp in Quebec wasn't encouraging. Bobby Clarke, the team's second-round pick in that year's draft and a diabetic, had passed out twice. Finally, a team physician devised a diet for the blond center: a Coke with three teaspoons of sugar before the game, then sugar-laced OJ during and after games. The rookie would stay on his feet throughout the season, but the Flyers wouldn't, winning a franchise-low 17 games and missing the playoffs for the first time.

Boxing

Curiously, there were no fights here that summer, but at Madison Square Garden on June 23, Philly's Joe Frazier continued his slow and methodical march toward the heavyweight title by scoring a seventh-round TKO over Jerry Quarry.

Horse racing

Sounds hard to believe now, but it wasn't unusual that summer for any or all of the area's racetracks - Garden State, Delaware Park, Liberty Bell, and Brandywine - to outdraw the Phillies.

Golf

The PGA Tour was here July 20, the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Dave Hill won the IVB Classic - one of the first corporately sponsored sporting events - at Whitemarsh Country Club. Interestingly, Frank Beard was the Tour's leading money-winner that year. He earned $164,707, tip money for Tiger Woods.

No contest: Why is sports-talk station ESPN-AM (950) going through the charade of having fans select Philly's greatest athlete of the last 50 years?

There is no choice. There is no drama. Wilton Norman Chamberlain is No. 1. And it's a long way down to No. 2.

Speaking of charades: As if baseball's normal All-Star Game voting weren't ridiculous enough - I mean even in Chicago elections, they don't allow people to cast 25 ballots - the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote has added another level of techno-nonsense to the process.

Consider the PR-clumsy push to get Shane Victorino added to the team:

Mayor Nutter was knocking on South Philly doors this week soliciting Victorino votes, which may be the biggest waste of political time since Gov. Rendell started appearing on Eagles Postgame Live.

Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White encouraged fans to vote for Victorino through Twitter, which is a little like having Vince McMahon pick the Olympic wrestling team.

Rendell and Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle made the old pineapple/cheesesteak bet on whether Pennsylvania or Hawaii votes more often for Victorino. Pineapples? That's the best we can get from an island paradise?

Victorino's parents asked Oscar Goodman, the Philly-born mayor of Las Vegas, where the Phils outfielder resides in the off-season, to solicit votes.

Victorino might deserve a spot on the team, but it would be a shame if he had to earn it that way, by prostituting himself.

NASCAR note of the week: From RaceBuddy's Road Blog on NASCAR.Com:

"One thing I really like about being in the road: Stuckey's. Is there a better snack than a pecan log and a Dr Pepper?"

How about pineapples?


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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