Everything seemed to be going the Phillies’ way. Up by 6 1/2 games with just 12 left to play in the 1964 season, they appeared to have clinched their first pennant in more than a decade. Outfielder Johnny Callison narrowly missed being the National League MVP. Third baseman Richie Allen was Rookie of the Year. But the "Fightin’ Phils" didn’t make it to the postseason—they lost 10 straight and finished a game behind the St. Louis Cardinals. Besides engineering the greatest collapse of any team in major league baseball history, the ’64 Phillies had another, more important distinction: they were Philadelphia’s first truly integrated baseball team. In September Swoon William Kashatus tells the dramatic story—both on the field and off the field—of the Phillies’ bittersweet season of 1964.
More than any other team in Philadelphia’s sports history, the ’64 Phillies saddled the city with a reputation for being a "loser." Even when victory seemed assured, Philadelphia found a way to lose. Unfortunately, the collapse, dubbed the "September swoon," was the beginning of a self-destructive skid in both team play and racial integration, for the very things that made the players unique threatened to tear the team apart. An antagonistic press and contentious fans blamed Richie Allen, the Phillies’ first black superstar, for the team’s losing ways, accusing him of dividing the team along racial lines. Allen manipulated the resulting controversy in the hopes that he would be traded, but in the process he managed to further fray already tenuous race relations.
Based on personal interviews, player biographies, and newspaper accounts, September Swoon brings to life a season and a team that got so many Philadelphians, both black and white, to care deeply and passionately about the game at a turbulent period in the city’s—and our nation’s—history. The hometown fans reveled in their triumphs and cried in their defeat, because they saw in them a reflection of themselves. The ’64 Phillies not only won over the loyalties of a racially divided city, but gave Philadelphians a reason to dream—of a pennant, of a contender, and of a City of Brotherly Love.
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SEPTEMBER SWOONRichie Allen, the '64 Phillies, and Racial Integration
By William C. Kashatus
THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2004 The Pennsylvania State University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA SHAMEFUL PAST
At the turn of the twentieth century, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois walked the cobblestone streets and trash-strewn alleys of Philadelphia's Seventh Ward, where the city's African American population was concentrated. The first black person to earn a doctorate from Harvard University, Du Bois looked woefully out of place in his homburg, spats, and Victorian suit.
But his refined manner and genteel demeanor also served to disprove the popular stereotype among whites of the African American community's social and intellectual inferiority. Hired by the University of Pennsylvania in 1896, the twenty-seven-year-old scholar was directed to investigate the deeply ingrained notion among Philadelphia's white middle class that their "great, rich, and famous city was going to the dogs because of the crime and venality of its Negro citizens."
Of course, Du Bois believed that his employers were "thinking wrong about race." Their self-described "Negro problem" was, he concluded, not the result of race at all, but the result of the environmental and social conditions that confronted Philadelphia's black community. What he found was a "city within a city"-40,000 African Americans living among more than one million whites but isolated by race prejudice, poor housing patterns, job discrimination, and the legacy of slavery. His findings were published as The Philadelphia Negro, a ground-breaking study of African American life that disproved the negative perceptions the white middle class had of the city's black community.
At the same time, Du Bois did not exonerate African Americans because of their poor living circumstances. Although he asked whites for greater understanding and tolerance for the "Negro problem," the black scholar faulted the city's more successful blacks for a lack of leadership. He called on this "talented tenth" to serve as leaders and role models for Philadelphia's black community, which was the largest of any northern city. Unless they assumed a leadership responsibility for the less advantaged members of their race, he warned, the black community would become "permanently separated from the mainstream of society."
Du Bois's theory of social and economic uplift depicted Philadelphia's African Americans not merely as the victims of white racism but also as active agents in achieving material success and social acceptance. Indeed, the city's black community faced a difficult challenge because of the twin identity. More than three decades after the American Civil War, which was meant to establish freedom and fairness for former slaves, Philadelphia blacks had few opportunities to better themselves economically. Not only did the industrial revolution require skills they did not possess at that time, relegating them to the ranks of unskilled laborers, but they had to struggle against the strong racial prejudice that prevailed in the "City of Brotherly Love." Many whites refused to hire qualified blacks, or even to work alongside blacks as stevedores, street and sewer cleaners, trash collectors, porters, and waiters. They also refused to rent to blacks outside the Seventh Ward, where the worst slums in the city were located. Segregation became even more fixed as the twentieth century unfolded because of increased migration of African Americans from the South, lured by the promise of better employment opportunities.
To cope with these circumstances, and in hopes of navigating the complicated process of assimilation, Philadelphia's African Americans created and joined fraternal organizations, mutual improvement societies, and churches. While these institutions enabled them to respond better to depressed working and living conditions, they also became places within which social and economic divisions emerged between native Philadelphians and the newcomers from the South. Differences in class and regional background thwarted attempts to create a unified black community in the face of racial oppression. Often, these institutions became sites of struggle for the status and power that could not be secured outside the black community. The relationship that African Americans had with baseball also reflected this dual struggle against white racism, on one hand, and internal division on the other.
Since 1887, when the owners of the white-organized major leagues entered a tacit "gentleman's agreement" to exclude African Americans, Philadelphia was home to a divided baseball tradition. Whites followed the National League's Phillies, established in 1883, and, later, Connie Mack's American League Athletics, established in 1901. Blacks went to see a number of different Negro League teams over the next half-century, including the Pythians, the Mutuals, the Orions, the Giants, the Hilldales, and, later, the Stars. Whites cheered their teams on from the most up-to-date facilities, going to Baker Bowl and later Shine Park, the nation's first concrete-and-steel stadium. Blacks rooted for their teams from the rickety old bleachers of wood-constructed, bandbox ballparks in Fairmount Park, or across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey.
In the early days of the Negro Leagues, the Hilldales were the dominant African American team in the Philadelphia area. Originally an amateur boys' club from nearby Darby, the Hilldales were established by black businessman Ed Bolden in 1910. Shortly afterward, Bolden incorporated the club, purchased a field with the profits from stock sales, and built a 5,000-seat grandstand. By the 1920s his canny business sense and reputation for "fair dealing and clean playing" had catapulted his team to the top of black professional baseball. With such star performers as William "Judy" Johnson, Oscar Charleston, and Bill Yancey, the Hilldales won three Eastern Colored League championships during that decade. Their talent, which paved the way to integrating baseball, was a threat to the white majors.
Occasionally, Connie Mack agreed to play the Hilldales in an exhibition game, taking the risk that the Negro Leaguers would beat his Athletics-which in fact happened a few times during the 1920s. One of the great personal highlights of Judy Johnson's career was a 6-1 drubbing of Lefty Grove. "He just hated us," recalled the Negro League Hall of Famer. "It was nigger this and nigger that. I never wanted a hit so bad in my life as the first time I came up against him." In fact, Johnson got two hits off the A's ace that day, a double and a single, which he hit right back up the middle, "taking the cap right off [Grove's] head." In later years, Grove would deny ever playing against the Hilldales, or any Negro League team for that matter. Mack was different, though.
The legendary manager of the Philadelphia Athletics was ambivalent about integrating the majors. Years after the color barrier had been broken, Mack hired Judy Johnson as a scout for his Athletics, and the two men became good friends. "I asked him one day," recalled Johnson, "I said, 'Mr. Mack, why didn't you ever take any of the colored boys in the big leagues?' He said, 'Well, Judy, if you want to know the truth, there were just too many of you to go in.'" While the remark seems to suggest that Mack did not want to take too many jobs away from the white players, some Negro Leaguers who played in the Philadelphia area seemed to feel that the A's manager genuinely wanted to sign African American ballplayers.
"I remember when the A's played the '29 World Series," said Napoleon Cummings, an infielder for the Hilldales. "They were short of ballplayers, and Connie Mack was trying to get our catcher, Biz Mackey, to help them out. But they wouldn't let Negroes on that ballclub. No soap." Apparently, Mack buckled under the pressure of the gentleman's agreement as well as the racial prejudice of the players themselves, about a third of whom were Southerners and would not play with or against African Americans. In fact, several of Mack's own players during the 1920s were exposed as members of the Ku Klux Klan. It was not until 1953 that the Athletics signed their first black player, pitcher Bob Trice. A year later the Mack family sold the team and the Athletics moved to Kansas City, where it would later sign its first black superstar, Reggie Jackson.
While the national pastime afforded an important opportunity for Philadelphia's African American community to challenge whites' notions of racial inferiority, it also precipitated social divisions within the black community itself. Aside from the precarious financial state of the Negro Leagues, which resulted in teams disbanding after only a season or two, there were tensions within the black community over the operation of the leagues. For example, most teams in the Eastern Colored League, organized in 1923, were owned by white businessmen. The players in that league were often chastised by the more established-and black-controlled-Negro National League, founded by Rube Foster in 1920. An interleague war ensued when the Eastern Colored League began luring the Negro National League's star players with promises of higher wages if they jumped leagues.
Hilldale was at the center of the controversy. Ed Bolden, the club's president, was initially condemned by the city's African American press for failing to secure an all-black umpiring staff. "Are we still slaves?" asked the editors of the Philadelphia Tribune. "Is it possible that colored baseball players are so dumb that they will resent one of their own race umpiring their game? Or is it that the management of Hilldale is so steeped in racial inferiority that it has no faith in Negroes? Aside from the economic unfairness of such a position, the hiring of white umpires for Negro ball games brands Negroes as inferior. It tells white people in a forceful manner that colored people are unable to even play a ball game without white leadership. It is a detestable, mean attitude, and there is no excuse for it when Hilldale depends on colored people for its existence."
When Bolden scheduled games with local white teams, often ignoring Philadelphia's other African American clubs, or sought financial sponsorship from the white business community, he was called an "Uncle Tom." In fact, however, Bolden considered himself a businessman first and "a race man" second. He realized that the financial success of the Hilldales, and in some years the very survival of the club, was inextricably linked to white involvement. Black teams simply could not rely solely on the day-to-day support of their own fans. Without white support, both at the gate and in the wider business community, the Hilldales would not have been able to meet their payroll. "Close analysis will prove that only where the color line fades and cooperation is instituted are our business advances gratified," Bolden insisted. "Segregation in any form is not the solution." But mounting criticism from the black press and the Negro National League, as well as Bolden's inability to retain his star players, resulted in the disbanding of the team after the 1928 season. Five years later, the Hilldales would return as the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League.
It was the golden era of Negro League baseball. The majors were at a low ebb, with many of the greats like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Al Simmons either retired or in the twilight of their careers. White fans wanted to see more than the home run. They were ready for a more fast-paced, colorful style of play. Black baseball, with its emphasis on base-stealing, drag-bunting, and the hit-and-run, provided the kind of excitement they wanted. There were also exciting young players, like Gene Benson of the Stars, who captured the attention of African American and white fans alike.
Only 5 feet 8 inches tall and 180 pounds, Benson was a soft-spoken but flashy centerfielder with exceptional range and a rifle for an arm. He quickly established himself as one of the finest defensive outfielders in the Negro Leagues. Three times selected for the East-West All-Star Game, Benson pioneered the over-the-shoulder basket catch that was later copied and popularized by Willie Mays of the New York Giants. "Negro baseball was more exciting than the kind of ball being played in the majors," recalled Benson. "We'd steal bases, dance down the third-base line to shake up the pitcher, lay down the bunt, play hit-and-run baseball. Even our defensive play was more exciting to watch. Outfielders played in near the infield and could make running, over-the-shoulder catches. The major leaguers didn't do those things. But white fans were impressed by that kind of play"-so impressed that, by 1940, whites were turning out in droves to see the Stars play.
On Monday nights when the major leaguers were traveling between cities, Connie Mack allowed the Stars to play in Shibe Park, and the team drew as many as 30,000 spectators. Average attendance at their own park at Forty-Fourth and Parkside was between 20,000 and 25,000, and often there were more whites than blacks in the stands. The Phillies, by comparison, were lucky to draw 10,000 for a doubleheader.
Mahlon Duckett, an impressionable seventeen-year-old who was the Negro National League Rookie of the Year in 1940, still remembers looking into those smoke-filled stands at Forty-Fourth and Parkside and being impressed by the sight. "At night, the smoke from the train engines at the Pennsylvania Railroad next to our field would leave soot on the fans' clothing, but we still got capacity crowds."
"Women used to come to the ballpark dressed up-high-heeled shoes, silk stockings, fine dresses, and long-sleeved gloves," adds Stanley Glenn, who caught for the Stars. "Men came dressed in suits, shined shoes, and hats. It was almost as if people were going to a fashion show. You have to understand that black folk didn't have many things to do for entertainment. There was, of course, church, and we went there in droves. Next there was jazz music. And for six months of the year there was Negro League baseball."
Glenn, who graduated from Philadelphia's John Bartram High School in 1944, joined the Stars that June. Manager Oscar Charleston had scouted the young catcher and was impressed with his defensive skills, but some opposing players were not. In one of Glenn's first starts, Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays purposely spiked him sliding into home plate. As the future Hall of Famer got to his feet, he reminded Glenn to learn the sweep tag, or "next time you'll really get hurt." It was a classic example of Negro League behavior-play hard and aggressively, but be sure to mentor the younger generation so they will improve and, if they have the opportunity to crack the color barrier, do the race proud.
Within five years Glenn found himself calling pitches for one of the greatest-and most colorful-hurlers in the history of the game: Satchel Paige. "I caught Satchel when he pitched for the Stars in 1949," Glenn recalled.
Excerpted from SEPTEMBER SWOON by William C. Kashatus Copyright © 2004 by The Pennsylvania State University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of ContentsContents
Foreword by Gerald Early
1. A Shameful Past
2. Integrating the Phillies
3. The Spring of '64
4. On Top of the National League
5. September Swoon
6. Seasons of Frustration
A. What Happened to the 1964 Phillies
B. Individual Statistics for the 1964 Phillies
C. The 1964 National League Race