George (Stud) Myatt, the Phillies' venerable third-base coach, stood in brand-new Philadelphia Veterans Stadium last Saturday, resplendent in his innovative red shoes with white stripes and his bright red-and-white uniform with a mod small "p" on the shirt. He shifted his venerable chaw and spat liberally on the latest-model wall-to-wall AstroTurf. Was there anything, he was asked, to the rumor that Phillies who chew had been urged to avoid getting tobacco juice on the artificial surface?
"If they don't want me to spit on it," Myatt replied, "they're going to have to give me a spittoon. My wife gives me one so I don't spit on the carpet when I'm home."
More generally, how did Myatt feel about plying his trade against the backdrop of the new $50-some-odd million facility—with its usherettes in mini-culottes and hot pants, its $15,000 "super boxes," its gaudy scoreboard and its other extravagant features? For instance, the "dancing waters" behind the centerfield wall, which were just then coming up green. "How would you like to have green spots on you?" he was asked.
"I've had those," he said.
Whatever obscure condition the old coach may have been recollecting, the drift of his remarks was reasonably clear. Baseball has broken out in a rash of new looks this spring—from the red socks currently being affected by the White Sox to the new uniforms and home of the "Thoroughly Modern Phillies" (as they have been called). But that doesn't mean that there is anything profoundly new under the tentative early-season sun.
The point was made more specifically a few minutes later by Gene Mauch, who used to manage the Phillies and now manages the Expos. (Montreal, incidentally, started the current fad of using all lower-case letters in its logo; the Phillies and the California Angels have taken up such trendy typography this year.) Mauch had brought his Expos into town for the new stadium's inaugural game, and his attention was directed to Philadelphia Phil and Philadelphia Phillis, the mammoth kewpie dolls in Colonial garb whose function has been described by Phillies special-effects executive Bill Giles as follows:
"They are part of my home run spectacular. When a Phillie hits a homer, Philadelphia Phil will appear between the boards in center field and hit a baseball. It will travel toward the message board in right center and strike a Liberty Bell. The bell will glow and its crack will light up. The ball will continue and hit little Philadelphia Phillis in the fanny and she will fall down. As she falls, she will pull a lanyard on a cannon and the cannon will explode. After smoke and sound effects, a Colonial American flag will drop down. Then my dancing waters will come into play to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever."
As it happened, when Third Baseman Don Money produced a Phillie homer against Mauch's Expos, "the ball" (a light running unobtrusively along a track between Phil and Phillis) was barely visible, the bell failed to glow, Phillis struck a thoroughly warranted blow for Women's Liberation by declining to fall down and the cannon smoke and the cannon noise went off independently of one another. The assumption before the game, however, was that the home run spectacular would captivate the sellout crowd. How did Mauch feel about baseball's greater and greater reliance upon such gimmickery?
"It's here," said Mauch resignedly. He sounded like Ethyl Barrymore at a performance of Oh! Calcutta!
"It's here," he said, "and just like in the Astrodome, the fans will come to see it at first, but after a while they will come to see a ball game."
Fortunately, not to say surprisingly, a ball game is what the Expos and the Phillies gave the spectators on Holy Saturday. It was a competent 4-1 victory by the Phils—featuring a triple over the drawn-in outfield and three fine fielding plays by wispy young Shortstop Larry Bowa (who isn't called Bowa Constrictor because he doesn't choke); an over-the-shoulder catch in left field by John Briggs; a 220th lifetime win by 39-year-old Jim Bunning (the oldest starting pitcher in baseball, performing in the youngest park); and an inning and two-thuds of hitless relief by whippy Joe Hoerner.
And glory be. The 55,352 fans in paying attendance (all 56,371 seats were sold in advance, but nippy weather caused a few no-shows) did not boo. Well, they did boo Phillies General Manager John Quinn, Phillies President Bob Carpenter, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and even, to some extent, national anthem singer Mike Douglas in the pregame ceremonies, but they did not boo the ball game. They did not even boo Philadelphia Phil and Phillis or the Liberty Bell. They acted as though they could take Philadelphia Phil and Phillis and the Liberty Bell or leave them alone. They cheered the ball game.
This from a constituency that traditionally boos everything for miles around. "When there was an Easter egg hunt before a game in Connie Mack Stadium," claims former Phillie Catcher Bob Uecker, now a member of the Braves' speakers bureau, "there would be a few kids who wouldn't get any eggs. The crowd would boo them. I've seen people in Philadelphia standing on street corners booing each other."
Mauch was asked whether lie thought the new stadium itself would stop the booing.
"Hell, no," he said.
But the stadium's architects, he was told, had implied that a classy new stadium would inject class into the fans.
"They've already got class," said Mauch. "We went two whole years [that would be 1963 and '64, when the Phils finished a strong fourth and a fading second] without a boo. They want good baseball."
Could that be? In baseball's first week of 1971 the Orioles and the Cardinals zipped about in vivid new zipperless stretch suits. The Astros showed up in orange hats, socks, sweatshirts, belts and lettering and with their names on their backs. The Senators wore stiff new white shoes with red and blue stripes in pre-game practice (trying to break them in enough so that they could be worn in games). The Orioles wore traditional black shoes with renewed appreciation after trying orange shoes and hating them. With all that going on, could it be that the most notable, the most crowd-pleasing developments of the week were Willie Mays' 629th, 630th, 631st and 632nd career home runs, or Willie Stargell's three homers in one game, to give him four, too, or Nate Colbert's five homers in his first six games. Denny McLain's first victory for Washington, an impressive 10-inning affair, or the three successful sacrifice bunts (including one suicide squeeze) that Pittsburgh's Dock Ellis laid down in one game?
It could be. On the other hand, when teams change long-standing plumage—and especially when a city such as Philadelphia, which Uecker has described as "the East Germany of America," completes a new stadium and inaugurates it with Rube Goldbergian hoopla—it is news, and attention must be paid.
This is especially so considering how much good old-fashioned controversy has surrounded the building of the seven-level stadium, which will also house the National Football League Eagles. At least eight sites were considered and rejected before planners settled upon a 74-acre parcel in South Philadelphia, adjacent to two other well-known arenas—the hockey and basketball Spectrum (which once had its roof blown off by a high wind) and the 102,000-seat college-football J. F. Kennedy Stadium (which has been called the largest white elephant in the country). In November 1964 the electorate approved a $25 million structure.
Then debate raged over the design. To the disappointment of traditionalists who were tired of seeing every new stadium turn up round, the final decision was for an "octorad" shape, which is said to be formed by eight straight lines but which is the spitting image of round. After ground was finally broken in late 1967 there followed labor strikes, bad weather and a grand jury probe, which led to one indictment and seven indictments quashed on technicalities. The stadium's cost, all to be borne by the taxpayer, has risen to $49.5 million, and City Controller Tom Gola says the final figure may reach $100 million. The seats are roomy, they offer excellent visibility, and they are becomingly painted in earth colors—orange, yellow, tan, brown and terra-cotta. There are also 23 super boxes, priced at $12,950 to $15,400 per year, all of which have been snapped up. Yet to be finished is the plush Stadium Club with a 200-foot bar (which is surely longer than most halls hit by the Phillies last year).
The $3 million scoreboard complex is the most expensive ever installed. Aside from the dubious home run spectacular, there are the usual animated cartoons. At least one of them unveiled Saturday was actually funny. It depicted a pitcher being lifted, going to the showers, finding an out of order sign, kicking a pipe and causing a leak that sweeps him out of the ball park to a birdbath far away, where a bathing bird calls the washed-up pitcher safe and shakes onto him an irritating small shower. This cartoon was less funny the second time it was shown within three innings, however, helping the Phillies decide that from now on it will be shown only once a game. When another cartoon came on as Bunning left the mound, it was an uncalled-for distraction. When a Bunning is relieved at home after pitching as well as he did Saturday the focus should be on his walk to the dugout.
Throughout the game considerable fan reaction was focused on the usherettes, known as Fillies. There were 140 of them, recruited from 432 applicants after being advised by letter to wear "your shortest skirt and tightest blouse" to the interviews. The 35 Fillies officially designated best looking were called, collectively, the Mot Pants Patrol and were attired in red hot pants. In 48° inauguration-day weather they were also fitted out in blue cold legs.
But the show went on. No doubt there were those in the stands who had objected to the name Philadelphia Veterans Stadium, which was championed by City Council President Paul D'Ortona. Councilman John B. Kelly Jr., the sculler and new AAU president, had preferred the name Philadium, and fans responding to a newspaper competition had proposed other names—Payola Park, Indictment Bowl, Inflatium, Stench Stadium (in reference to fumes produced by factories, oil refineries and an incinerator in the vicinity) and Tortoise Stadium (in reference to the pace of construction).
By whatever name, however, the new stadium is much more hospitable than its run-down predecessor. In fact, it is a beautiful place. Furthermore, if there had been no new stadium last Saturday there would have been no real reason to drop the home season's first ball out of a helicopter from a height of 150 feet to second-string Catcher Mike Ryan. "Oh, great," objected one man. "Last year they had four catchers out hurt and now they're going to bomb one." Giles, whose idea the helicopter stunt was, used to be in charge of that kind of thing for the Astros. In Houston he had caused a ball to be dropped without spin from the Astrodome roof, and it had behaved like a hundred-mile-an-hour knuckleball, nearly killing Catcher John Bateman. A slight topspin was imparted to Saturday's ball as it left the copter. Ryan handled the chance without losing even a tooth.
It was no real innovation—in 1908 Gabby Street of the Senators caught a ball dropped off the Washington Monument—but the fans approved of it. It was a good little warm-up for a ball game. If the Phillies keep playing good ball games it may be years and years before they are booed out of another stadium.