Giving 'Em Fitz: Phila. A's memorabilia discovery

Posted: December 02, 2013

Mike Turner nearly forgot about the tiny bedroom closet in his late father-in-law's house.

Chick Galloway, a shortstop for nine seasons with Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's, had built the house in Clinton, S.C., in 1926, the year Turner was born.

Since the former ballplayer's death in 1969, two of Turner's daughters have occupied the Spanish-style dwelling adjacent to Presbyterian College's campus.

Now his youngest daughter, in the midst of a divorce, is making plans to sell the longtime family residence. And during preparations for the sale, Turner stumbled on the closet.

Forty-four years ago, after his father-in-law's funeral, he had stored Galloway's baseball memorabilia there.

Among the forgotten treasures were 12 letters from Mack to Galloway, who, after an errant throw fractured his skull and ended his playing career, became a $100-a-month Athletics scout; photos of him and his A's teammates posing sheepishly with Thomas Edison and proudly with their 1920s automobiles; trophies and awards; and baseballs as yellowed as the news clippings inside the collection's scrapbooks.

The memories and the house go together, Turner believes, like baseball and Ballantine.

His fondest wish is that some Northern baseball buff in search of a sunny retirement residence will want to buy both.

"That would be the best-case scenario," Turner drawled. "Then again, there probably aren't many people up there who remember Chick Galloway, are there? Or even the A's?"

Not many.

Traces of the Athletics' 54-year history here are gradually disintegrating, like those decomposing newspaper articles in Galloway's musty scrapbooks.

Most Philadelphians old enough to recall the team's dreary final seasons before the team moved to Kansas City after the '54 season are collecting Social Security now. Forget about Connie Mack, they've got trouble remembering Charlie Manuel.

Last April, the historical society long dedicated to preserving the team's heritage closed its Hatboro museum and store and consolidated its operations with the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame Foundation at Spike's Trophys in Northeast Philadelphia.

Two months later, Mack's last surviving child, Ruth Mack Clark, died at 99.

Only 26 players from the Philadelphia A's five-decades-plus existence - none from the glory days - are still around. Many of the historical society members charged with updating that grim countdown have died themselves.

Someday they'll all be gone, and the A's will become a dimly remembered relic, like Baldwin Locomotive or Willow Grove Park.

Eight of those remaining Athletics are in their 90s. Three more are 89. Bobby Shantz, the Montgomery County native who is the best known of the survivors, is 88.

In November alone, two more former A's died - Ace Parker and, just last Monday, Lou Brissie.

The story of Brissie, an Athletic from 1947 to 1951, typifies the richness of that disappearing history.

A 6-foot-4 pitching prospect who, like Galloway, was a South Carolinian, Brissie enlisted in the Army during World War II.

He was a corporal six months after D-Day when his unit was passing through northern Italy. There, during a mountain trek in December 1944, a shell fired by the retreating German army exploded in the unit's midst.

Shrapnel fractured his right foot, seriously damaged his right shoulder, and, worst of all, splintered his left shinbone - his push-off leg - into 30 pieces.

"It split open," Brissie would recall, "like a ripe watermelon."

As he recuperated in Naples, infection attacked the damaged leg. Doctors seriously contemplated amputation.

But Brissie fought back and in September 1947, after 23 operations and a couple of miracles, the 23-year-old made it to Philadelphia and the big leagues.

Forced to wear an awkward metal brace on the surgically repaired limb, he still managed to win 30 games over the next two seasons, earning an American League all-star berth in 1948.

That same year, his comeback was nearly short-circuited by another mortar, this one off the bat of Ted Williams.

"I hit a ball back to the box, a real shot, whack, like a rifle clap," Williams recalled in a 1969 memoir, My Turn at Bat. "Down he goes, and everybody rushes out there, and I go over from first base with this awful feeling I've really hurt him. Here's this war hero, pitching a great game. He sees me in the crowd, looking down at him. . . . He says, 'For Chrissakes, Williams, pull the damn ball!' "

Galloway wasn't so lucky.

Derided his rookie season by an Inquirer sportswriter as "very unreliable on ground balls and almost a cipher at bat," he made himself a better-than average major-league shortstop.

In 1922, his best season, Galloway hit .334 with 26 doubles, nine triples, and six home runs.

But on June 26, 1928, as he waited his turn at batting practice, an errant throw by pitcher Josh Billings struck the then-Detroit infielder in the head.

Seriously injured, his speech impaired, Galloway never played again. He failed a 1930 tryout with the A's, who by then were world champions.

He returned to Clinton and his four-year-old house. It was close by the field where he had learned the game from his father, the baseball coach at Presbyterian College.

Galloway had attended Presbyterian himself, starring in baseball, basketball, and football. And it was not long after he was a student there that Mack found him.

The A's owner-manager was an unusual talent scout for that era. He preferred college players, believing they were more intelligent and refined than their tobacco-stained counterparts.

Brissie would be another of his college boys. He was recommended to Mack by his college manager, a former A's shortstop named Galloway.

And the college where Galloway managed and Brissie pitched?

Presbyterian.

From its 240-acre campus, you can see Galloway's old house.

And there, from a back-bedroom closet, you can still see Philadelphia and the team this city loved and lost.


ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com

@philafitz

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