June 14, 2012
Excited to add a new member to the PSH clan. Michael Collazo and I used to work together for the Camden Riversharks in 2002, and we were pretty good buds, since we were both such sports history buffs. I knew he loved old sports stuff, and I knew he was a pretty good writer, so I recently asked him to join the team. He said he’d love to do an occasional piece. Here’s his first column, about the 1934 Philadelphia Stars. If you’ve got a Philly Sports History piece you’d like to write, please gimme a heads up. If it’s good, I’d be happy to post it on the site.
In 1934, Philly fans followed their teams on an infant medium called radio, not via the Internet or Twitter. In those days, fans flipped through the sports pages of the Bulletin or the Inquirer, not through the channels of the MLB Extra Innings package. And fans then didn’t have cupholders – they sat their brew on bleachers and they liked it!
What fans in 1934 also didn’t do: cheer their sorry teams playing in North Philly.
I mean, the Phillies always sucked. No shocker there. Philly guys my age in the early 1930s longed for the days of Grover Cleveland Alexander…ok more accurately, barely ANY Philly guys my age in the early 1930s cared much for the Fightins. The Phillies sat seventh in the standings and at the bottom of the league in attendance. Ethan Allen – not the department store, the baseball player – led this team in hits and on-base percentage. Dolph Camili led the team in diggers with just 12. One Phils pitcher salvaged a winning record; the team ERA hovered at 4.76.
Meanwhile in the American League, Philly’s love affair with the Athletics was being tested. A’s fans found themselves watching The Titanic after the great A’s championship run of the late 20s and early 30s. By 1934, Connie Mack was slowly dismantling the team to save money. Sure, the A’s still had the great Jimmie Foxx – he blasted 43 HRs in ’34 – but there was no more Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane or Lefty Grove. This pitching staff struggled to a 5.01 ERA.
In West Philly, however, Philly big-league baseball had a winner — Great Depression be-damned. The Philadelphia Stars may have played at smallish Passon Field (48th and Spruce) – it only played on Mondays in North Philly’s Shibe Park — but the Stars indeed were the best team in town in 1934. In its first Negro National League season, the Stars won the second half title (the first and second half champs served as pennant winners).
You think the 2012 Phillies team is aged – the Stars’ two biggest stars were in their late 30s. Hall of Famer Biz Mackey (right), a switch-hitting catcher, was a .300-caliber hitter even at age 36. Mackey, who many historians consider at least Mickey Cochrane’s equal, had his best days in Darby, PA playing for the Hilldales of the 1920s. Another Wheez Kid of West Philly was Jud Wilson, whose .347 average and line drive power led the team, despite being 38 years old. On the mound, a hard-throwing, hard-drinking cat from Baltimore MURR-lyn named Stuart “Slim” Jones enjoyed one of the most impactful career years in Philly baseball history (read Slim’s ultimately tragic story here). A lefty whose fastball was compared to Lefty Grove’s, the 21-year-old Jones served as Philly’s undisputed ace, winning 20 games and keeping his ERA under 2.00.
The 1934 championship series matched the upstart Stars against the Chicago American Giants, which fielded four players now enshrined in Cooperstown: Turkey Stearns, Willie Wells, Mule Suttles and Bill Foster. Considered one of the most fiercely contested series in Black Baseball history, the Stars basically intimidated its way to a title, despite dueling protests and scheduling issues. With Chicago up three games to two, Game 6 saw a fired-up Jud Wilson basically clock umpire Bert Gholston – yet was allowed to stay in the game. Later in the game another fight flared up – again without resulting in an ejection. As Gholston would admit in a meeting later that week, he relented from ejecting anyone in Game 6 because he feared the damage Wilson or a fellow Star might do to him. Chicago protested the game but Philly came away with a 4-1 win. After a game that ended in a 4-4 tie, the Stars won a replayed Game 7 2-0, thanks to a brilliant performance by Slim Jones.
As University of Delaware history professor Nel Lanctot wrote in Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Fall of a Black Institution, more was written in the Black press on the confrontations and the questionable administrative decisions of the NNL than the game results itself.
But the 1934 Phils and A’s wished they were so entertaining. The aptly named Philly Stars were champs.
If only we could have had enjoyed a Jud Wilson Twitter feed…