For many ball players, Philadelphia becomes merely a second home. What we aim to do with the "Philadelphia Baseball Ghosts" series is take a look at those who are born within Philadelphia city limits before they set off on their grand baseball adventure somewhere else in the vast, horrible world.
Check out all the entries in this series in our handy little Philadelphia Baseball Ghost hub.
DOB: December 20, 1922
What was going on in Philadelphia at the time: Big things, this city was taking on in the early twenties. It was the year of Duckett's birth in which food vendors were first required to "cover their wares and store them at proper temperatures." So effective was this new ruling that, a mere five years later, the city's top building inspector could not contain his utter joy at the bustling street-level economy:
"Building Inspection Bureau chief Morris Brooks (1888-1958) described vendors as 'eyesores on our principal streets' and felt they gave Philadelphia a reputation as a city where customers could be easily swindled by larcenous sellers."
You can't blame him for being a little testy. 1922 was also when the Tasty Baking Company moved from Germantown to North Philadelphia, changing the daily routines of anyone looking for their sugar fix. "I don't understand how we are supposed to find them if they keep moving around so much!" the city's pastry-fiends were heard to mutter to each other. Imagine their contempt when Tastykake had the gall to, in 2010, move their location - that time to the Navy Yard - for the second time in 96 years!
But there is one vast, sprawling reason why 1922 is bookmarked in any Philadelphia text book.
Six days into the year, a bold vision to connect two sides of the Delaware River began. The Benjamin Franklin Bridge would require the labor of 1,300 workers, only 15 of whom died, and first opened to traffic four quick years later. It enjoyed being the planet's longest suspension bridge until Detroit's stupid Ambassador Bridge opened in 1929 for dumb people to go to Canada, like that's so hard to do without a bridge.
Baseball career: 1940-48 Philadelphia Stars; 1950 Homestead Greys; 1951 New York Giants
Bio: Mahlon Duckett didn't get the bat on the ball too often, and when he did, he only totaled 15 extra-base hits as a member of the Philadelphia Stars for eight years. The West Philly native was 17 in 1940 and playing in the Main Line League out of Overbrook High School. A manager of the Norristown team recommended him to the Negro League's Philadelphia Stars, and after a tryout, he signed with them and was eventually named Rookie of the Year. When I was 17 I think I was trying to beat all the Mega Man games for the NES. I am almost positive that I failed.
Duckett at least had enough respect for his elders to wait until he was 18 in 1941 to humiliate Satchel Paige. A crowd of about 45-50,000 Yankee Stadium spectators watched the 18-year-old take the immortal Paige deep in the ninth inning to win a game. When I was 18 I yelled "Shit!" as I hit a weak grounder in the student vs. faculty softball game at my high school. The pitcher was a priest who was going out of his way to throw pitches that would have been called "too easy" at a home run derby.
Duckett's naturally blazing speed was put to use when he ran high school track at Overbrook - he actually didn't play baseball in high school - and that asset is what raised the eyebrows of scouts. That he became the every day second baseman for the Stars at 17 was made even more astounding with the lack of a coaching staff; there was just a manager who likely couldn't and/or wouldn't give an adjusting teenager the mentoring he needed at the time. There was also the added bonus of Duckett and the rest of his team traveling through the American south on the road.
"Terrible," Duckett said* of his time playing in places like Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana in the forties. "Terrible with a capital T."
Hitting at the top of the Stars' lineup most days, Duckett was given a license to kill if he got on base, though the stat keeping of the league in those days was shoddy, so actual statistics of his base running accolades are hazy. Through those years, Duckett also provided universally-venerated defense alongside Stars shortstop Frank Austin, whom he played with for five years. Duckett also praised the work of Orioles shortstop Pee Wee Butts, having played with him in All-Star games, as a double play partner, a man whose name I have included here for obvious reasons.
In fact, Duckett made some deep impressions on a lot of people, having praise lavished upon him by former teammate Doc Glenn in his memoirs:
As a second baseman, you won't find a profile of Duckett that doesn't point out his defense as the reason he was around so long. Indeed, his lifetime .205 BA and .470 OPS may not have even gotten scouts to come watch him today, unless his defense was utterly impenetrable and/or supernatural. Which it was. But offense was made all the more difficult by unchecked spitballs, rampaging ball cutters, and merciless headhunters. Batters could complain to the umpires, if they felt like being ignored or insulted was an adequate solution. It almost never was.
In 1947, baseball integrated, and five years later, the Stars folded. Duckett would play with the Homestead Grays and signed a deal with the New York Giants, but got hit with rheumatic fever and wound up on bed rest for a full year. His health forced him to leave baseball at 28 and return home to Philadelphia, where he became a mailman before retiring in 1988 and passing away from heart failure at the age of 92 at Temple University Hospital in July 2015.
Duckett's legacy appears on a plaque in Citizens Bank Park, keeping him a part of Philadelphia baseball forever and making him an unwilling witness to some of the baseball these Phillies have played and are going to play while they find their legs.
"Cool Papas and Double Duties: The All-Time Greats of the Negro Leagues," by William F. McNeil
*"Voices from the Negro Leagues," by Brent Kelley