A team that had lost over 100 games for five straight seasons, starting in 1938, was about to embark on a bizarre Spring Training and a year that ended in an equally bizarre manner.
The Phillies not only had a new manager, future Hall of Famer Bucky Harris, but a new owner, William Cox. Gerry Nugent, who became the owner in 1932, was so financially unstable that the National League intervened, forcing Nugent to sell the team to Cox, a successful New York lumber company businessman who headed a 30-man syndicate.
Cox, 33, officially assumed control as Spring Training began on March 15. He was known to put on a uniform and work out with the team in Spring Training, and interfere throughout the season. He fired Harris after 95 games (40-53-2). A bitter Harris let it be known that Cox had bet on Phillies games. Following a lengthy investigation by MLB, Cox was banned from baseball. The Carpenter family of Wilmington, Del., purchased the Phillies that November. Spring Training was held in Wilmington in the next two war years, 1944-45.
Hershey In 1943
Trying to find information about Spring Training in Hershey led to stacks of musty, old 18"x18" scrapbooks that somehow survived moves from Connie Mack Stadium to Veterans Stadium to Citizens Bank Park. They were piled on top of files in the photo library. One of the books was labeled "1943."
Newspaper clippings and photos from Philadelphia's three daily newspapers, the Inquirer, Evening Bulletin and Record, had been carefully pasted in the scrapbook.
Browsing through the brittle and yellowed clippings revealed some interesting stories:
• Harris, eight players, the travelling secretary and publicity director boarded a train at the Reading Terminal in Philadelphia at 10:30 a.m. ET on March 14. At 2 p.m., they arrived in Hershey. Other players went to Hershey directly from their homes.
• Hershey had a small, well-kept high school diamond, a training house for use in wet weather and ample club room facilities (Hershey Arena), reported the Inquirer's Stan Baumgartner, a former left-handed pitcher who spent eight years in the Majors with the Phillies and Philadelphia A's. Imagine Cole Hamels someday covering Major League Baseball?
• Housing was split between the Community House and Community Inn.
• Before the first workout, Harris laid out his rules: midnight curfew under penalty of a $25.00 fine, no "horse play," every hitter must sprint to first during batting practice, pitchers must shag fly balls, no card playing for large stakes and, most of all, he counseled the players to cast off the defeatist complex.
• 11 players, including player-coach Chuck Klein, went through the first work out on March 15. Only nine players had signed contracts. Six more players were in uniform two days later.
• Because of WW II, rosters were in flux and the Phillies were a prime example. Of the 42 players that played for the Phillies in 1943, only 12 were in uniform the year before.
• 2B Danny Murtaugh, 3B Pinky May and RF Ron Northey were the only returning regulars. A total of 18 Phillies were in the military in 1943, something all teams experienced.
• In January, Nugent traded 1B Nick Etten to the Yankees for 1B Ed Levy, P Al Gettel and $10,000. Levy joined the Army and Gettel decided to stay on his farm. Cox complained, but the Yankees initially refused to correct the trade. On March 26, they finally sent C Tom Padden and P Al Gearheauser as compensation. Another pitcher, Hilly Flitcraft, also retired to his farm.
• P Johnny Allen, acquired in a December 1942 trade with the Dodgers, held out and was sold back to Brooklyn on April 16. 1B Ed Murphy was also a holdout and never made it back to the Majors. Another rookie, C Bill Anske, was lost to the military.
• Evening Bulletin writer Frank Yeutter: "Bill Webb, a loquacious pitcher, wrote his way into a job with the Phillies." Baumgartner mentioned that George Hennessey "is merely a part-time war pitcher. He will be available only when the Phillies are at home."
• New players arrived almost daily. P Charlie Fuchs was acquired on waivers otwo days before Spring Training began.
• Cox constantly tried to make trades or purchase players. According to one report, Cox talked on the phone with Branch Rickey of the Dodgers for 10 minutes, ringing up a $7.00 phone bill.
• Weather was a constant problem. Rain, hale, snowflakes and the thaw of spring were issues. Because of a muddy diamond, the Phillies were forced to work out on a football field at times. On another occasion, high winds forced the Phillies indoors at the Hershey Arena.
• On March 30, it was noted that the entire team went through a physical exam by a physician, a first in baseball history.
• Exhibition games took place in early April. The first was April 5, a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia A's in Wilmington.
• Two days later, the Phillies beat an Army team at New Cumberland, 5-3. The game was called after six innings because of bitter wind and snowflakes.
• The next day, the Phillies played the Indiantown Gap Army team at the Lebanon High School field. They won a 14-0 no-hitter with the game called after seven innings, again by bad weather.
• April 10, the Phillies beat the A's, 2-0, at Shibe Park before a crowd of 5,000.
• April 12, bad weather cancelled a game in Lancaster. Next day, a game in Hagerstown was rained out.
• April 15 was a 1-1 tie in Trenton, played before 300 shivering fans.
• The final exhibition game was April 20, a 7-0 win over Yale in New Haven.
• Continuing the bad weather of the spring, the first two regular season games in Boston, April 20-21, were rained out.
During the season, the Phillies played split doubleheaders, 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., to accommodate war workers on swing shifts. They wound up playing a club record 43 doubleheaders, fitting for 1943, a bizarre year.
During research, I also reached out to the Hershey-Derry Township Historical Society. Carole Hite Welch, the librarian, checked with some long-time residents and was able to obtain the following first-hand report from Camilio "Mimi" Gasper, an outstanding football player who graduated from Hershey High School in 1947: "I saw the Phillies every day at Spring Training in Hershey and remember seeing Danny Litwhiler hit a long ball over the pine trees in left field, over the parking lot, a long fly that hit the Arena wall. Also remember seeing Schoolboy Preacher Roe throw. Some of the high fly balls went into Spring Creek behind the roller coaster. The young boys retrieved the balls from the creek and then ran so they could keep them."