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A Trip (or Pratfall) Down
2003-01-21 10:23
by Mike Carminati

A Trip (or Pratfall) Down Memory Lane

The Phillies report that they will be constructing a memorial to the old Negro League Philadelphia Stars on the site of their old stadium. Coincidentally, the announcement came on Martin Luther King Day

"Any way that we can aid in everybody permanently remembering that important era in baseball is great," said Phillies team president Dave Montgomery.

The centerpiece of the memorial will be a seven-foot bronze statue of a Negro League player, sculpted by Phil Sumpter, who also designed a statue of Roberto Clemente. The Phillies will maintain the statue for 10 years, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins will serve as the project's spokesperson.

The BAWP hopes to have the $65,000 statue completed by the first week of April, and display it for 30 days at Veterans Stadium. From there, it will head to Kansas City and stay at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum for another month. During this time, construction around the area of the statue's final resting place will be completed.

I wonder if anywhere amid the hoopla the Phillies will mention that they did not field a black player until 1957, the year after Jackie Robinson retired. They actually had two black players in 1957: John Kennedy and Chico Fernandez. The Phils were the last team n the NL to integrate. On April 22, 1957 that honor fell to John Kennedy, who was used as a pinchrunner.

The 30-year-old Kennedy got only two at-bats to prove himself even though he was a third baseman and starting Phillie third sacker Willie "Puddin' Head" Jones would bat only .218 in 1957 (with a .641 that was only 75% of the adjusted league average). Chico Fernandez was a young shortstop from Havana that the Phils acquired from the Dodgers prior to the season for five players. He was a pretty good shortstop but had a bushelful of errors and couldn't hit a lick. He would only last three years for the Phils.

Rob Neyer has some other memorable moments in Phils' proud history:

In The Lords of Baseball (which has just been reprinted; more on that some other time), Harold Parrott wrote about [Phils' director of baseball operations Herb] Pennock's reaction to Jackie Robinson in 1947. Parrott was working for the Dodgers, and shortly before Brooklyn's first trip to Philadelphia, Pennock called Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey. With Parrott listening on another extension, Pennock told Rickey, "[You] just can't bring the nigger here with the rest of your team, Branch. We're just not ready for that sort of thing yet. We won't be able to take the field against your Brooklyn team if that boy Robinson is in uniform."

Pennock died shortly after the '47 season, but nothing changed with regard to black players. According to The Phillies Encyclopedia (Frank Bilovsky and Rich Westcott, 1984), [owner Robert] Carpenter said at one point in the 1950s, "I'm not opposed to Negro players. But I'm not going to hire a player of any color or nationality just to have him on the team."

Maybe that can be engraved on the statue.

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