- Philadelphia’s Top 50 Baseball Players by Wescott, Rich
Philadelphia is not a bad sports town and certainly not when it comes to baseball. Not only does the “City of Brotherly Love” boast a strong history in terms of the teams it has harbored within its confines, but it has also produced a talented group of native sons who have found their fame beyond it. This rich tradition forms the foundation of Rich Westcott’s book, Philadelphia’s Top 50 Baseball Players.
The book is a solid overview of the history of the sport in Philadelphia from the point of view of the men who played it. The fifty character sketches—usually about five pages in length—provide an unconventional perspective to baseball in the city and its evolution over the past 125 years or so. The great (and not-so-great) eras take on a dramatic relevance when seen in the context of the best players in the game who lived through them.
The sampling of standout players ranges from the earliest pioneers to the city’s Negro League stars to the ore familiar modern-day names. The book includes Phillies greats such as Steve Carlton as well as Philadelphia Athletics standouts such as Lefty Grove. Also included are Philadelphia natives Reggie Jackson and Mike Piazza who became famous on teams outside of their hometown. The well-known names are placed amid an assortment of lesser-known or often overlooked players who had key roles in the history of baseball in Philadelphia.
As a longtime Philadelphia sportswriter who published the now-defunct Phillies Report newspaper that covered the major league team for fourteen years, Wescott has an archival understanding of the subject. He has produced twenty-two books on Philadelphia sports including seven on the Phillies. His grasp of the minutiae of the players and the teams is superb. Each entry in the book is well balanced between salient statistics, contemporary recollection and historical context.
Wescott has an eye for engaging anecdotes, and his subjects have a surfeit for him from which to choose. A good example is delightfully eccentric Athletics’ pitcher Rube Waddell who wrestled alligators and tried to teach geese to skip rope. There are also fascinating details about the evolution of the game such as how the Phillies’ Roy Thomas’ ability to hit foul balls led to the change in the rules in 1901 to make the first two fouls strikes.
The players selected are either those who played on Philadelphia teams or standout Philly natives who went on to careers elsewhere. While Wescott explains there was considerable consultation with other Philadelphia baseball experts to compile the list there is not [End Page 536] much explanation for the underlying methodology other than the rough outline. That makes understanding some of eyebrow-raising decisions through inclusion or omission difficult to understand.
Pete Rose is a good example. Wescott does not include him although Rose would seem to fit the general criteria for the book: easily one of the game’s top players and served five years on the Phillies roster (1979–1983). This is acerbated by the fact Rose is mentioned in passing in the accounts of several players included in the book. Of course Rose is a highly polarizing figure whose controversial history makes skipping him the safest course.
Another glaring omission is the lack of any reference to the Phillies infamous conduct in 1947 when playing the Dodgers with Jackie Robinson in the lineup. This is more noticeable when Wescott describing the loss of Philadelphia native Roy Campanella to the Dodgers due to the Phillies refusal to even give him a tryout because of his race.
Still, Wescott does not dodge the troubling issues of race noting the Phillies organization was one of the last in the league to integrate, and it was Cuban-born Tony Taylor who joined the team in 1960 who became its first black star. He also notes how Athletics’ pitcher Charlie “Chief” Bender who dealt with fan bigotry in the first...