This Tuesday, July 13, marks the 45th anniversary (1976) of the demolition of Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. Connie Mack used to be the home of the Philadelphia Athletics ball club from 1909 until 1954 when the team moved to Kansas City, eventually settling in Oakland, California in 1968. The Phillies played at Connie Mack from 1938-70, moving afterward to Veterans Stadium. Connie Mack was named after the long-standing manager and co-owner of the A’s, Connie Mack (1862-1956), but was originally called Shibe Park after Benjamin Shibe (1838-1922), a sporting-goods manufacturer and the team’s majority owner.
I bring this up for three reasons; the first personal and the other two having to do with time and space, which reminds me of the old saw about the difference between Brits and Americans. I am thinking of Brits right now in anticipation of their elimination at the hands (feet?) of the Italian soccer team in the European championship match later today, although I might just as well have said because of The Crown on Netflix. To wit, the British think a hundred miles is far and Americans think a hundred years is long. That’s not as silly as it may sound.
Personal. I attended Ursinus College in suburban Philadelphia from 1974-78 and was around for the demolition of Connie Mack. Some friends and I drove by on July 13, although we did not get out at 21st and Lehigh as in that scene from Laura Fedora when fifteen-year-old Richard Mercurius describes the “grinding, chomping, chewing, and belching of the equipment.” I remember 1976 for the Bicentennial celebration, fireworks at Valley Forge, and Queen Elizabeth’s visit, all of which are recounted in that same book with the name of a hat.
During this period I had a college girlfriend whom I have written about before and only years later came to appreciate. I moved to Center City Philadelphia in a studio apartment on Chestnut Street across from Wanamaker’s department store with its grand organ. The apartment, Wanamaker’s, and I are long gone, although, ironically, the organ and Queen remain. Make of that what you will, but my connection to the area remains strong even if through nothing more than Tastykakes and annual giving to the college.
Time. Another saw says that if you live long enough, you’ll see everything. So the Brits definitely have the advantage here. Concerning baseball, I have lived long enough to see Connie Mack Stadium, Veterans Stadium, and Citizens Bank Park. I have sat in the grandstand at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota to see the Twins and Rod Carew play. I have also watched Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Pete Rose, and Cal Ripkin although not at the same time.
A long and complicated history exists regarding Connie Mack Stadium. As noted, it was called Shibe Park and hailed as an engineering feat since it was the first ballpark constructed entirely of steel and concrete, which accounts for Richard’s description of twisted metal. A bit of trivia that I like to spring on people is the white elephant on the Athletics’ uniforms. It comes from a remark made by New York Giants’ manager John McGraw during the 1905 World Series that Shibe had a “white elephant” on his hands when he bought the A’s. Connie Mack turned the insult into a marketing ploy for the team, and the A’s still use the mascot. Unfortunately for Mack, the Giants won the series. The A’s wouldn’t exact revenge until the 1989 World Series when they swept the San Francisco Giants four games to none (after the earthquake, of course).
Space. When Shibe Park opened in 1909, it was called “a palace for fans, the most beautiful and capacious baseball structure in the world,” “the greatest place of its character in the world,” and designed “for the masses as well as the classes.” One modern commentator has described it as initiating “the golden age of ballparks.” Its destruction sounds sadly similar to the destruction of Penn Station in New York in 1963. The upper part of the station was demolished to make way for Madison Square Garden. At the same time out in Queens they were building Shea Stadium, another circular, dual-purpose (i.e., football, baseball) complex. Its only advantage is that it did not have Astro Turf.
There exists a sociological dimension to this radical change of space from a green-sodded baseball field and diamond to an urban block with parking. Urban planning and renewal sometimes do not work and end up doing violence not just to original architecture but to the relationships of people within their communities. The demolition of Connie Mack serves as an obvious example, but what about the addition of a roof-top deck completely dwarfing the cupola? Or the extension of the right-field wall from twelve to thirty feet so people watching from their homes on 20th Street couldn’t see games for free? What that did to the neighborhood and local economy has been well documented. The “spite fence” affected thousands of people and even city tax collectors had gotten into the act.
Richard may have the final word on the destruction of Connie Mack Stadium when he says, “It was awful. It was like watching a wounded animal being eaten alive by lions or that scene in The Old Man and the Sea when sharks swim right up to the fish and tear chunks of meat off the bone while the old Cuban goes spastic, cursing and shaking his fist. Like those sharks, the men in the machines went about their work like it was just another day.”
Image credits: Temple University Digital Collections. For quotes and sources, see Shibe Park, The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Laura Fedora. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” Today, Tab Hunter would have been 90.