A day to remember, the opening of Veterans Stadium

By Larry Shenk

At 2:21 on a cloudy, chilly Saturday afternoon 50 years ago today, Jim Bunning threw the first pitch in the inaugural game at Veterans Stadium located in the south Philadelphia Sports Complex.

The multi-purpose stadium with an AstroTurf playing surface was the new home of the Phillies and Eagles for 33 years. The Phillies previous home was Connie Mack Stadium while the Eagles played their NFL games at Franklin Field for years.

The Vet’s design appeared to be circular, but it really was an “octorad”, incorporating four arcs of a large circle and four arcs of a smaller circle to round out the corners. Other “cookie-cutter” stadia of the era were circular or oval.

It would be the site of three World Series (1980, 1983 and 1993); two Major League Baseball All-Star games (1976 and 1996); two National Football Conference Championship games (1981 and 2003) and 17 Army-Navy football games.

Over 66 million fans attended Phillies games. Price for a Box Seat at the opener was $4.25. For the final game in 2003, $24.00.

Phillies Lineup
Bowa, ss

Money, 3b

Montanez, cf

Johnson, 1b

Briggs, lf

Freed, rf

McCarver, c

Doyle, 2b

Firsts
Ceremonial first ball was dropped from a helicopter and caught by bullpen coach Mike Ryan.

Game: April 10, 1971 — Phillies 4, Expos 1; 55,352 fans, largest Pennsylvania baseball crowd ever.

Winning manager: Frank Lucchesi, also winner of final game at Connie Mack Stadium.

Winning pitcher: Bunning, his 220th career victory. At 39 he was the oldest starting pitcher in the majors.

Save: Joe Hoerner.

Batter: Montreal CF Boots Day, grounded back to Bunning.

Hit: Single by SS Larry Bowa, 1st inning.

Run: Montreal 2B Ron Hunt in the 6th inning.

Home run: 3B Don Money in the 6th inning.

The game was also the first for a new Phillies broadcaster, Harry Kalas.

Lasts
Game: Sunday, September 28, 2003, Atlanta 5, Phillies 2, 11,859 days after the first game. 58,554 attendance.

Hit: Single, LF Pat Burrell, 9/28/03, 9th inning.

Home Run: 1B Jim Thome, 9/27/03.

Win: Braves Greg Maddux.

Batter: Chase Utley.

Nuggets
Kiteman had the most opening day acts, five . . . Karl Wallenda twice walked across the Vet on a high wire . . . Phillie Phanatic made his debut (1978) . . . 16 Old-Timers Games were held between 1970–1990.

Phillies record: 1,415–1,199, 3 ties . . . Division Titles: 1976–77–78; 1980–81; 1983; 1993 . . . National League Pennants: 1980, 1983, 1993 . . . World Championship (1980) . . . Most home runs, career, Mike Schmidt, 265 . . . Most wins, career: Steve Carlton, 138–62.

Pete Rose broke Stan Musial’s National League career record for hits (1981) . . . Carlton recorded his 3,000th career strike out (1981) . . . Schmidt held his retirement press conference at home plate (1988) . . . Ceremonies to retire uniform numbers were held for Richie Ashburn (1), Carlton (32), Schmidt (20) and Bunning (14) . . . Closer Mitch Williams got a game-winning hit at 4:40 a.m. (1993) . . . Two Phillies pitchers threw no-hitters, Terry Mulholland (1990) and Kevin Millwood (2003).

The stadium, which took four years to build, was imploded in just 62 seconds on March 21, 2004.

Larry Shenk offers insight into the past, present-day and future of his beloved Phillies.