With 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.