Why Philadelphia breeds a major-league attitude

Above, the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout, the AL Rookie of the Year; left, Todd Frazier, who finished third in National League voting. Both grew up in South Jersey and continue the area's baseball tradition.
Above, the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout, the AL Rookie of the Year; left, Todd Frazier, who finished third in National League voting. Both grew up in South Jersey and continue the area's baseball tradition. (Associated Press)
Posted: November 26, 2012

Rich Westcott is the author of "Native Sons: Philadelphia-Area Baseball Players Who Made the Major Leagues," and the forthcoming "Philadelphia's Top 50 Baseball Players"

It was another feather in the cap of Philadelphia-area baseball when the 2012 major league Rookie of the Year awards were announced last week.

Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels was a unanimous winner in the American League, and Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds captured third place in the National League voting. Both are products of South Jersey; Trout grew up in Millville, Frazier in Point Pleasant.

The performances of Trout, also a leading candidate for his league's Most Valuable Player award, and Frazier contributed heavily to what has been a banner year for local baseball players. Valley Forge's Mike Piazza is on the ballot for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Germantown native Bucky Walters is listed on the hall's "pre-integration era" ballot. Ryan Vogelsong, who was raised in Coatesville, had another stellar season with the San Francisco Giants, and won three games in the post-season. And 49-year-old Jamie Moyer of Sellersville became the oldest pitcher in baseball history to win a game.

These achievements ably demonstrate that this region takes a backseat to none when it comes to developing baseball talent.

Since 2000, 32 players from the area have performed in the big leagues. Since the start of the 20th century, nearly 350 major leaguers, from short-timers to superstars, have come from Philadelphia, its four Pennsylvania suburban counties, or South Jersey.

This local lineup includes six members of the Hall of Fame (Roy Campanella from Philadelphia, Reggie Jackson from Wyncote, Goose Goslin from Salem, Herb Pennock from Kennett Square, Tom Lasorda from Norristown, and Joe McCarthy from Philadelphia). There have been four MVPs: Campanella (three times), Jackson, Walters, and Bobby Shantz from Pottstown. Five Rookie of the Year winners were local: Piazza, Del Ennis, and Jeff Leonard from Philadelphia, Jon Matlack from West Chester, and, in 2009, Andrew Bailey from Voorhees.

Two home-run kings come from the area - Jackson and Harry Davis from Philadelphia - as do batting champions Goslin and Mickey Vernon of Marcus Hook. Walters was a three-time 20-game winner, and Pennock went above 20 twice. Orel Hershiser, who grew up in Cherry Hill, won a Cy Young Award. And when the 17th manager to come from the area, Mike Scioscia of Springfield (Delco), led the Angels to victory in the 2002 World Series, he joined McCarthy, Lasorda, and Danny Murtaugh of Chester as local managers of World Series winners.

Boston Braves shortstop Ernie Padgett, one of only 15 players in modern baseball history to pull off an unassisted triple play, was a native Philadelphian. So was the Brooklyn Dodgers' Cal Abrams, who was thrown out at the plate by Richie Ashburn in the final game of the 1950 season when the Phillies clinched the NL pennant. Manager Kid Gleason of Camden and third baseman Buck Weaver of Pottstown were members of the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox.

Local high schools that have sent the most players to the big leagues include Northeast (eight); Chester and Southern (seven); Olney and Norristown (six); Pottstown (five); Central and Frankford (four); and Penn Charter, Father Judge, Springfield (Delco), North Catholic, and Burlington (three).

I recently asked Piazza why the region has made such a significant contribution to professional baseball.

"From Little Leagues to high schools to colleges, baseball is heavily emphasized," he said. "There is a very strong baseball tradition and atmosphere here, and kids start playing at an early age. When I played Little League ball, we had at least 100 people in the stands for every game."

He added: "I played some basketball and football, but I developed a passion for baseball at a young age, and afterward, that's about the only thing I thought about. The Philadelphia area breeds that kind of attitude."

Indeed it does. With exceptional results, as this year clearly demonstrates.

E-mail Rich Westcott at rnwestcott@juno.com.

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