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Review – To Every Thing A Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia by Bruce Kuklick

Bruce Kuklick’s 1991 book To Every Thing A Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia is about one of the most famous ballparks in sports history and goes in-depth on the beginning of professional baseball in Philadelphia.

Shibe Park was located at Twenty-First and Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia. The ballpark was the home of the Philadelphia Athletics, who played in the American League. The doors of the park first opened in April of 1909, when the A’s began their first season in their new home. Shibe Park created a positive buzz in the area where the stadium was located. When the stadium first opened, fans lined up hours before games started at an attempt to get a ticket for the A’s game that day. When tickets sold out, fans resorted to going to homes on Lehigh Avenue and asking to watch games from their roofs to see into the ballpark. This became a longtime tradition of Shibe Park.

Ban Johnson, the president of the American League at the time, named Connie Mack to be the manager of the Athletics. Mack would go on to become one of the most famous managers of all time. In the early years of his time running the A’s, Mack met Ben Shibe, who ran a business with his brother John producing baseballs. Mack got Shibe to invest in the Athletics and the two became long-time business partners.

In the early parts of the 1900’s, the Athletics played at Twenty-Ninth and Columbia Avenue at what they called Columbia park. At the time, a flurry of ballpark fires began to become an issue in professional baseball. This led Ben Shibe to take a gamble and invest in a stadium that would be the first of its kind. He invested in the building of the first steel and concrete stadium that would be Shibe Park.

The A’s saw great success in the early years at their new home. In their inaugural season at the stadium, the 1909 A’s finished in second place. They went on to win the pennant in four straight seasons from 1910 to 1914. Along with the four pennants, the A’s won the World Series in 1910, 1911 and 1913. This group became one of the many dynasties that Connie Mack would build in Philadelphia. The second dynasty came in the mid-1920’s, when Mack brought in Paul Strand, Max Bishop, Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx. Although this group only won two World Series in their time together – they went back-to-back in 1929-1930 – they provided great baseball in Philadelphia through the years.

During the 1940’s, Shibe began to open his doors to more events then just Athletics games. Shibe would rent out the stadium for events like political speeches, jazz concerts, rodeos and the circus. Since at the time baseball was still segregated, Shibe Park also hosted multiple Negro League games. Also, Ben Shibe’s son Jack used the park to host some organized fights. When Philadelphia obtained its own NFL franchise, the Eagles, Shibe Park would be the home of professional football during the baseball offseason.

Shibe Park was home to both the Philadelphia A’s and Philadelphia Phillies.
(Nathan Hughes Hamilton/Wikimedia Commons)

From the 1940’s on, Connie Mack became a very polarizing figure in Philadelphia sports. After breaking up the group that carried the A’s through the mid-20’s and early-30’s, Mack put poor teams together in an attempt to save money. Fans did not appreciate Mack trying lower his bottom line by paying for cheap players, as opposed to establishing good talent like he had done in the past. But in 1941, Mack received a great honor when the city named a day in May “Connie Mack Day,” in honor of Mack reaching 40 years with the club. Mack stayed with the A’s until 1950, retiring in what was his 50th season as manager of the Athletics.

Deeply in debt after years of poor baseball and attendance, the debt racked up for the Mack’s, who were the majority shareholders of the A’s and Shibe Park. The Phillies had been playing in the stadium for years as well, but even the great play by the Phillies through the late 40’s and early 50’s could not save the debt that had racked up. In a final attempt to keep the A’s in Philadelphia and both teams in Shibe Park, Arnold Johnson stepped in and bought the Athletics and Bob Carpenter, who was the owner of the Phillies at the time, bought Shibe Park. Carpenter later renamed the park Connie Mack stadium, but most old-timers never adjusted to the new name.

By the mid 60’s, the A’s had been sold and moved out of Philadelphia. It then became time for the Phillies to move out of Connie Mack stadium. After multiple different ideas of new locations for the Phillies to play, the team decided to build a new stadium at Broad and Pattison Avenue. It would be called Veterans Stadium and would be the new home of the Phillies and the Eagles. The Phillies would play their final season in Connie Mack Stadium in 1970.

What was once one of the most prestigious locations in Philadelphia and home to many good memories was reduced to an abandoned park that became and eyesore to the city. Connie Mack stadium stood tall at Twenty-First and Lehigh after the departure of the Phillies, until a fire broke out in the abandoned park damaging a large amount of what was left. Finally, in 1976 the city ordered to have the park demolished. Throughout the 1900s, Shibe Park was a home to Philadelphia sports fans who shared many great memories. Poor management and large amounts of debt led to its demise. 

The book was very enjoyable and fun to read. Bruce Kuklick did an amazing job setting the scene for the reader to create a good picture of what times were like back then. Along with the in-depth history of the park, he also went big-picture and provided great detail in the breakdown of the area around the park through its rise and fall. I thought the book was very informative and gave good insight on what professional baseball was like in its early stages. I would highly recommend this book to any Philadelphia baseball fan who enjoys reading about the sports history of this city.

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