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Missing a piece of Phillies History

As in some of it is missing and lost, and as a result, I miss it

1950 Philadelphia Phillies

This past September, the Phillies had the delightful - yet unfortunately rare - occurrence of a series against the Oakland Athletics. The weekend’s games brought memories, artifacts, and old fans back to Citizens Bank Park- all revolving around the Philadelphia Athletics team that left the city after the 1954 season.

TGK and I spoke of the revival of the City Series (the term used when both Philadelphia teams used to go up against one another) in a previous article here. Played before & after the regular season, the profits from the games were donated to local charities and on occasion, the winning team was awarded a trophy! Or, as I soon discovered, the teams had been awarded numerous trophies over the course of a few decades.

Two of the City Series trophies won by the Athletics are in the collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. With two accounted for, I thought it wouldn’t be an issue to find the trophy awarded at the final City Series in 1954: the Ellis A. Gimbel trophy. After all, it was awarded to the Phillies, not the Athletics! The Phillies haven’t moved cities twice since 1954. It had to be around here somewhere, right? Spoiler alert for this article: I never found the Gimbel (but I’m still looking). What I did find was that the Phillies (and a few other baseball teams) have a history problem.

Awarded by the head executive of the Gimbels Department Store, the name of the trophy isn’t that uncommon for the Philadelphia area. Ellis A. Gimbel donated a near dozen trophies in his name to various high schools and sporting events in and around the city. Makes it a little difficult (or fun, depending on what kind of historian you are) when dozens of Ellis A. Gimbel trophies start popping up in various databases.

I figured the trophy could be one of a few places:

  • with the Phillies (they were the last team to win it & it was awarded to Eddie Sawyer, their manager at the time)
  • with the Athletics (hey, you never know- they found out soon after the series that they were moving to Kansas City- maybe someone wanted a keepsake)
  • in Cooperstown (nope, not one of their City Series trophies)
  • in a private collection (most likely)
  • destroyed (I don’t want to think about this one)

As a historian, I’m aware of which professionals I need to call if I have to identify cannonball or need information about a certain species of ankylosaurus but the majority of sports historians are hobbyists in the truest sense and sometimes they can be hard to find- particularly if one of the teams hasn’t existed in the city in over half a century. As I scrolled through a flickering Philadelphia Athletics History freeservers page from the year 2000 looking for the webmaster’s outdated contact information, I couldn’t help but think that this could all be easier.

The Phillies, one of the oldest teams in baseball, don’t have a curator or an archivist. For a sport whose commentators consistently spend games spouting off old stats and records, this team is one of many that sure aren’t concerned about the tangible history & archives. During this research quest, almost all of the people recommended to me via the Phillies, Athletics, or my own contacts were passionate amateur or “unofficial” historians. They were full of facts and stories about their favorite baseball team whether that was the Phillies or the Athletics but they were still all hobbyists. These people, although knowledgeable and integral to a team’s history - aren’t employed by the team because rarely does the team want a curator or archivist and that has got to change.

Of course there are exceptions. For instance, the Chicago Cubs has archivists and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have curators. The Pittsburgh Pirates history is mostly chronicled along with other Pittsburgh sports at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center. But for the most part, if a piece of baseball history is not at Cooperstown, accidentally given to an outside archives, or sold to a private collector, chances were that it was destroyed.

Once teams started to go digital, it became a little more obvious that they started to care if only for the purposes of #ThrowbackThursday and similar social media campaigns. But that doesn’t change the fact that records were trashed by the box until the 1980s. The Phillies were no different— between stadium moves and no procedure for disposing of old team documents, some valuable Phillies history was lost.

By some miraculous occurrence, nine boxes of Phillies records from the 1950s to 1970s ended up in the archives at the Hagley Museum & Library down in Delaware. These are the personal papers or the Carpenter family, who had three generations of ownership with the Phillies through the 20th century. Someone thought that they were worth saving and while I just wish that same person had started thinking that a century sooner, it gives me hope that maybe there are more boxes in other archives yet to be found. Although, given the contents of all nine boxes at Hagley, maybe it’s for the best that the Phillies start their own archive along with either a curator or an archivist. Quite a few of the binders were labeled confidential and included Dallas Green’s instructional manuals for scouts & prospects, ideas for the dozens of acres of land they bought in Camden before deciding not to build a stadium there, reports on prospects & draftees of the 1960s & 1970s, and notes about which players’ off-field activities had to be watched & why.

The Phillies & its commentators love to say that they’re the oldest continuous, one-name, one city team in the league but with so much of our history scattered in various museums & private collections or just lost, that sometimes becomes just a phrase as opposed to an accomplishment. The Phillies owe it to themselves & their fans to get themselves a working team archive that can honor the legacy they’ve been building for 135 years.