Picnics, “Super Steve” and whacky promotions
By Larry Shenk
Veterans Stadium was one year old. Fans could have a picnic along the left and right field areas.
Not much of birthday party for the Vet, however, as 1972 wasn’t a very good season on the field. Yet, there some interesting moments and some crazy ones, too.
So, let’s rewind……
Steve Carlton was acquired from St. Louis for Rick Wise, not a popular spring training trade. After a 5–1 start, Lefty lost 5 straight. On June 7 he began a club-record 15-game winning streak. “Super Steve” was electrifying. Larry Bowa proclaimed the days Lefty pitched as “Winday.” In the end, Carlton won 27 games; the Phillies only 59. Lefty set a major league record for most wins on a last-place team and percentage of his team’s wins (48.5%).
Keep in mind the season started late because of a player’s strike. The Phillies missed six games which means Lefty probably missed two starts.
Got a call from owner Bob Carpenter requesting I come to his Wilmington home on a Saturday morning (June 3). As I was pulling in the long driveway, a car was going the other way. Mr. Carpenter said he was replacing John Quinn as general manager with Paul Owens, the Director of Scouting and the Minor Leagues. Announcement in his office following an afternoon game. The driver of that exiting car? Mr. Quinn.
Bill Giles was the executive vice president in charge of the business end of the organization. Bill had weekly staff meetings every Tuesday morning in his office, located on ground level just inside the office entrance of the Vet. Promotions, PR, marketing and sales were there, somewhere around 10 people. Chris Wheeler and I were in PR and usually sat in the back of the room.
Bill was a promoter who understood that we were in the entertainment business. Goal was to entertain the fans regardless of the wins or losses. Some of the promotions were hatched in the off-season, some in-season. Well, 1972 wasn’t so good so we were challenged during the season.
April 17 home opener: Bill wanted to make opening day was memorable. We came up with whacky idea for delivering the first ball. For the stadium opener the year before, catcher Mike Ryan caught a ball from a helicopter. This year, Kiteman would sail in from the upper deck and deliver the first ball. After a long delay, he finally started running down a long ramp in the 700 level in centerfield, never got air borne and crashed into the 600 level seats. He gamely tried to toss the ball to the field, but it didn’t make it. Amazingly, he wasn’t seriously injured. He officially became Kiteman I with II, III, IV, V to follow over the years.
June 6: In the midst of a streak of 18 losses in 19 games, we tried to change our luck with “Turn it Around Day.” The lineup was announced in reverse order, last names first. The seventh inning stretch took place in the third inning. The scoreboard welcomed groups not in attendance. Ushers wore their hats backwards with their nametags on their backs. It didn’t help, a 3–4 loss to Houston.
June 10: The Phillies powder blue road uniforms were popular. So, let’s wear them at home. Atlanta won, 15–3. End of the road uniforms at home.
August 13: Between games of a Sunday double-header with Montreal, 67-year-old Karl Walenda would walk on a high wire, 640 feet across the top of the stadium. Wheels and I cringed in the staff meeting when the act was proposed. Neither of us watched.
Back to the playing field. Owens, who had managed in the minors, decided to replace manager Frank Lucchesi with himself in earl July. The Pope wanted to find out first-hand which players could be part of the future. He felt the best way was to live with them on the road, in the clubhouse and in the dugout.
October 4: Best day of the season. The last game.