1929 A’s Fan Talks About Growing Up Next Door to Shibe

rooney-400x392With us in the midst of our Philly Dream Series, I thought it’d be a great time to share an interview I did recently with Philadelphia A’s fan Jack Rooney, part of which originally appeared on Philly Mag‘s blog. Jack was 6 when the A’s won the 1929 World Series, and lived directly behind the right field fence. Those great old photos of fans sitting on the rooftops watching World Series games? One of those rooftops was Jack’s! Last year he wrote a book about the experience called Bleachers in the Bedroom. Here he talks to me about that 1929 team, what it was like having bleachers on his roof, and about his brother’s friendship with Al Simmons. 

Where exactly did you live?
I lived on 2739 20th street. Behind the right field fence. And they had a low right field fence, about 12 feet high, so you had a great view from there. I was interviewed at Citizens Bank Park a few years ago, and I sat in a section there they called rooftop bleachers, and it’s supposed to duplicate the view we had from our rooftop bleachers on 20th Street. So the reporter asked me, “Is it the same?” And of course I could look out and sort of visualize what it was like back then, and I said, “We were a lot closer.”

Some of the A’s players lived right in your neighborhood, right?
The one we really had a relationship with was Al Simmons. He was probably the biggest star on the team. He rented a room from a family that was three doors away from us on 20th Street. We saw him often. My kid brother had the job of waking him up sometimes, because Mrs. Conwell didn’t want to go into his bedroom, so she’d say, “Hey Jerry, would you go in and wake up Al?” And he’d go in, wake him and talk to him. My brother would say, “Come on Al, you’ve got to get up. You’ve got to get your batting practice.”

I’ve always thought that Al Simmons isn’t really appreciated enough in Philadelphia. Do you think that?
I think that’s true. Winning the batting championship, hitting .360 or so, hitting 35 or 36 home runs, and playing excellent outfield. Even at the time, he didn’t get the credit he deserved. You know how Philadelphia fans have a tradition of booing some of their stars. Well, Simmons was no exception. They got on him. He had an unorthodox batting stance. Foot in the bucket type stance, and so they’d yell, “Al get your foot out of the bucket!”

He also looked relaxed when he played.He’d get to fly balls, but it didn’t look like he was exerting that much effort. He’d just lope over. He was fast but smooth. Whereas players like Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Cochrane were real intense. So they got cheered and he got booed. And then there was some ethnic things there. Simmons was Polish, his name was really Szymanski, and people got on that.

I remember Eddie Rommel was a star of the A’s. A star pitcher. A knuckleball pitcher, won 26 games one year. And he was still pitching, though not as effectively, at this time. I remember a game where he was getting hit around, and they started singing Bye Bye Rommel to the tune of Bye Bye Blackbird, and the whole crowd started singing. My father got mad. He said, “What kind of fans are these? The man won 26 games, and now they’re treating him like this.” I learned early that that’s what happens in baseball.

What did your parents charge for the rooftop seats?

They charged 50 cents during the season. Fifty cents was the price of the cheapest seats in the bleachers. For the World Series of course we charged a little bit more. I don’t know what it was, maybe $5, maybe more. The management at Shibe wouldn’t let the newsreel photographers come into the park to take videos. We allowed three of the photographers up on our roof during games. And my father charged them $20 a game. It was kind of a coup.


Was there ever a home run hit over your bleachers?
There was one that Babe Ruth hit that is often claimed to be the longest home run ever hit. It went over the roofs on 20th Street, the roofs on Opal Street, and broke a second-story window.

Did you go to a fair amount of games or mostly just watch from the roof?

Mostly watched from the roof. And of course you’re working too, so for example you parked cars, and if you told that person you’d watch their car, after the game, you want to be there so you can say, “I watched your car, Mister.” And hope you made a little money.

As a 6 year old, I suspect you remember more of the excitement surrounding the Series than you do about the actual games themselves.

Oh absolutely. One of the things I remember, for example, during one of the the Series games, Tommy Leech and his wife came to visit. Tommy Leech is an old time ballplayer who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates and some other teams from about 1901 to about 1918. He was a star player, played in the first World Series. He came up, he regaled us with stories of what it was like in the old days, and he said, “Oh, the modern game isn’t as good as when we played. How many bases have they stolen?” And he criticized the A’s for not stealing many bases and just going for the long ball.

Who was your favorite player on that team?

My favorite player was a guy named Max Bishop, the 2nd baseman, partly because he was small and had a reputation for being a smart ballplayer. He led the league in walks and runs scored.

The Phillies were terrible back then. Did you know any Phillies fans or was most of the city in love with the more successful A’s?

Some of my friends used to tell me that the city used to divide among A’s fans and Phillies fans, and kids who were A’s fans would get in fights and arguments with Phillies fans, but in our neighborhood, they were all A’s fans. But my grandfather was a Phillies fan and that used to annoy my father. Because he…would talk about how much more entertaining the Phillies games were with Chuck Klein and Lefty O’Doull and they were better than Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx. My father used to get irritated. My grandfather used to enjoy doing that.




  1. Ken Bland

    October 29, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    That interview brought a couple things to mind.

    One, I’m not certain of the movie it was that Al (some, few as they are, require no last name for clear identity) was in placed in I think Baltimore where he played a past his prime cop, and interviewed a hotel desk clerk as he looked into a murder case, and made him feel IMPORTANT. Maybe it was “And Justice For All.” As he walked off, Al said to the clerk, “We’ll talk later, Chief,” and you could feel through the cinematic screen that Al had given the gut the feeling of his 15 minutes of fame.

    You can almost feel Jack Rooney’s positive vibes of feeling important as the interviewee of this memorable time nearly washed away by so few alive to remember it.

    Secondly, it reminds of a simple experience I had that reminds of an example of the idiosyncracies we all have as fans. It maybe wasn’t a big deal at the time, but as I check out this article, it brings back memories, and a spark of doing it my way, which has been the source of a tremendous way to go through life, both in and out of sports fandom.

    Former college classmate Ira Silverperson, raised in Valley Stream, NY came down to visit me in Philly one summer. I for damned sure can’t even remember for sure how he travelled to Philly, but I wanna say I picked him up at the 30th Street station. A city of several million, both in people and historic landmarks offers that many first places to take a visitor to get their trip off to a good start. And, hell bent on being a good representative of my city, I felt an obligation to do that. Off we went to North Philly to show off the burned down remnants of where what I proudly knew as Connie Mack Stadium laid in remains of rubble. Little did I know I was in Jack Rooney’s neighborhood. Nor did I have a touch of awareness of what the land we walked on meant to people like Jack.

    I don’t recall anything else about Ira’s visit. I’d like to think he’d remember my name if he heard it all these years later. But that instance, my prioritizing that landmark is as crystally clear in my mind as many baseball memories from my youth are, as I’m 1,000 per cent certain is the case with many of my remaining contemporaries who had the privelege to follow the game when it was a different kind of treasure than today.

    My accent frequently leads folks to ask why I left Philly during initial meetings. It was the right place, the right time for me to be blessed with the privilege of being raised there. If you were raised there when I was, there is no way you have a pulse and a heartbeat and ever leave.

    I would hope its purely academic to thank Johnny for sharing Jack’s experiences. It was a great, great experience digesting it.

  2. Bart Shart

    October 29, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Informative and enjoyable article.

  3. Jerry Eves

    October 29, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    My Grandfather used to climb up on the rooves on 20th Street and called the plays for folks on the street during A’s games after the spite fence was built by Connie Mack. He lived on Garnet St at 2823 for years into the early 60’s.My Dad, Gerald Eves Sr., lived at 1920 Somerset St. After he was married, and he gave me a World Series ball signed by Al Simmons, which I still have. The batboy at the time was supposed to get autographs of the entire team, but when he gave it to my Dad, only Al Simmons had signed it. I am sure mr. Rooney knew the Dad, who passed away a couple years back at 95 years old, and perhaps my grandfather.

    • Johnny Goodtimes

      October 30, 2013 at 9:43 am

      You have an Al Simmons-signed ball? That’s amazing! Any chance you could take a picture of it and send it to me? I’d love to post it with one of our stories.

      • Jerry Eves

        October 30, 2013 at 11:14 pm

        I do indeed have it, and it is stored with its original box in my basement. I’ll see what I can do about a photo of it when I get back home later in the week. I am currently out of state on a salmon fishing trip.

      • Jerry Eves

        November 4, 2013 at 9:26 am

        Please send me your email address or a link so I can forward the photo to you.
        Jerry Eves

  4. bigdaddy

    October 30, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Nice article Johnny
    A, few years back, I ran into Bobby Shantz, the great A’s lefty. We discussed how the game has changed especially the equipment. He told me the team gave him one glove any extras he had to buy. The glove was so small, no wonder there were so many great hitters. He said there were only 2 major bat manufacturers, Louisville sluggers and Adirondeck. Today, over 30 companies back bats for professional and amateur baseball leagues.

    • wbramh

      October 31, 2013 at 12:37 am

      Of course, Bobby did pretty well for himself with that small glove.
      A great pitcher and great natural athlete.
      I had the privilege of working with Bobby Thomson some years back. After we finished the work to be done (Bobby had volunteered for to record radio spots for a charity) the two of us sat with our car doors open and our feet dangling on the macadam.

      I asked Bobby what he perceived the biggest change was in the sport since his playing days. He responded by saying that when a player put on a uniform that had Brooklyn or New York (or other some other city) emblazoned across it, they wore it with pride; pride in the team and pride in the city they represented. They were playing for something much more substantial than money – money being something few of them ever enjoyed in large quantities in the first place.

      It was hard not to root for the Red Sox tonight even though I’m an unapologetic National League guy if only because David Ortiz seems to be among those dying breed of rare throw-back players. Same with Dustin Pedroia. Their loyalties appear to be with the community and their teammates before themselves or their agents. Shades of a Tony Gwynn who stayed in San Diego out of loyalty to his community. As great as he was, had Tony played in New York or Boston his legend and his bank account would have been a factor greater.

  5. Dave

    October 30, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Fun and enjoyable read…thanks for posting!

  6. wbramh

    October 31, 2013 at 5:41 am

    Thanks for this wonderful interview, Johnny and Jack.

    I must admit, I tear up when I read these stories because baseball and Shibe have been so integral in my life. The same is true for my father and grandfather. My grandfather was an immigrant who fast became a die-hard fan. In 1950, he stayed up one night just long enough to hear a game and know the Phils had clinched the pennant – then died in his sleep. My father made it to the next play-off year, 1976, and the day the team clinched the National League East but a massive heart attack took him the morning of the game. I suppose I’m supposed to go out by a similar fashion literally living for, and dying for, my team. I’m looking forward to that day…the sign of yet another die-hard fan that I’d die easy for this team.

    If anyone’s interested in THIS hopeless fan’s Phillies memories, below is a link to my own story about Connie Mack Stadium and attending my first Phillies game. It’s interspersed with a touches of history about the stadium itself, mostly for the sake of out-of-town readers but there are a few tidbits that even I didn’t know until I researched it.


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