Larry Shenk's first season as the public relations director for the Phillies was 1964. He was the third person in as many years to hold the position. That was also the season when Philadelphia saw a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 games to play disappear, a World Series whiff that still lives in franchise infamy.
The Baron, as he is universally known, has more than overcome those inauspicious early omens. Shenk is still going strong as the vice president of alumni relations. Shenk started at Connie Mack Stadium, went to Veterans Stadium and now works out of Citizens Bank Park, where the press box is named after him.
In all those years, Shenk has seen and heard it all. Now, he's sharing some of those tales in a breezy read called "If These Walls Could Talk: Stories From the Philadelphia Phillies Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box."
Shenk was there when Pete Rose surpassed Stan Musial as the National League's all-time hits leader, which led to a hilarious sequence as a White House operator kept Rose on hold for several minutes waiting for President Ronald Reagan's congratulatory phone call. Each time he was asked to wait, Rose had a quip that had the assembled media laughing.
"Tell the President I'll be with him in a minute."
"Good thing there isn't a missile on the way."
"I've waited 19 years for this. I can wait another minute."
"I'll give him my home phone."
And then, when Reagan finally came on the line: "Hey, how ya doing?"
The Baron had a behind-the-scenes view during each Winter Meetings. He saw players, managers and coaches when the clubhouse was closed to outsiders. Shenk was there from the start of Spring Training to Opening Day, through the regular season, the offseason and back to Spring Training again.
The book is conveniently arranged by subject matter. There's a chapter, for example, on Shenk's most memorable players, including Rose, Dick Allen, Tug McGraw, Darren Daulton and Larry Bowa, who wrote the foreword. Count on the Baron to point out that Bowa, Ryne Sandberg, Gavvy Cravath and Hans Lobert are the only men to have played, coached and managed the Phillies. There is also a section on Tommy Lasorda, which notes that he was originally signed by the Phils in 1945.
Similarly, Shenk recalls Hall of Famers Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Richie Ashburn, Jim Bunning, Harry Kalas and Pat Gillick. The chapter on the three most recent ballparks the Phils have called home includes not only his observations but, as a bonus, memories from players who played there.
And so it goes. The chapter on managers begins with the line: "There was seldom a dull moment with (Gene) Mauch." That's followed by several examples of the competitiveness and creativity of the first Phillies manager he worked with. Here's one:
"Another time baseball was trying to speed up the game. Jim Bunning was pitching against the Mets at Shea Stadium and asked for a new baseball. Home-plate umpire Ed Vargo refused. Mauch charged from the dugout, took the ball from Bunning, dropped it on the ground, stepped on it with his spikes, and flipped the damaged ball to Vargo. He did all this without saying one word."
All-Star Games. The World Series. Unfulfilled championship seasons. Shenk was there. Homegrown legends. Scouts. General managers. He's known them all for the last 50 years. Think about this: The current GM is Ruben Amaro Jr. Shenk remembers when he was born, because Ruben Sr. played and coached for the Phils.
The Phillies won five straight division titles beginning in 2007, an unparalleled run of excellence for the organization -- which may help explain the number of recent books by club insiders. "Pouring Six Beers at a Time" by chairman Bill Giles, "The Mouth That Roared" by senior advisor Dallas Green and "View From the Booth" by broadcaster Chris Wheeler.
"If These Walls Could Talk" deserves a spot on any Phils fan's bookshelf right next to them.