One of the greatest joys of having a birthday in late March, as I do, is the start of baseball’s new season. Every team is tied, and your team is still in the race. I turned 10 years old when the 1975 Phillies managed by Danny Ozark played some very exciting, memorable ball, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates a true run for their money. This was my first Phillies team.
In that era, at least for the Phillies, it was simple for a kid my age to recite a starting lineup, as it rarely changed. Dave Cash, Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, etc. I knew uniform numbers better than any digits being taught in school.
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The Bull was my absolute favorite. Any Phillies shirt I wore had to bare his uniform number 19. No player since has looked right donning those numerals. No disrespect, but an absolute aberration was to see Kevin Stocker at shortstop wearing a number once worn by the Bull.
My absolute favorite day of the week was Sunday. My parents usually prepared a special breakfast, after which my brothers, Mark and Joe, and I would watch “The Three Stooges”while our folks readied themselves for Church.
We frequently attended 12:15 Mass, getting home in time to watch “my team” on channel 17. It was a true family event: 3 young boys, ages 10, 9, and 7 (until August) and Dad watching the game. The unity that the game bought to our family filled my mom with joy.
As my enjoyment of following the Phils grew, I also began to look forward to road games played at Wrigley Field. The time difference was perfect, as it allowed me to tune into the game on radio upon arriving home from school.
The 1975 Phillies official year book.
Wonderful memories still surface of me sitting in the kitchen listening to Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn on the radio. My dad had presented the radio to my mom as a wedding gift in 1964, a radio that she still owns and is still functional to this present day. Even though I only listen to games on the radio when in my car now, I can still easily associate Phillies baseball to this radio.
Beyond the greats on the Phillies Wall of Fame: Schmidt, Bowa, Steve Carlton, Garry Maddox & Bob Boone, this team fielded a great supporting cast. Jay Johnstone played the game the way it was meant to be played, you could see he was having great fun out there. Mike Anderson, Jerry Martin and Tom Hutton were always reliable bench players.
It was also during this season I got a sense of the business side of the sport. How could my Phillies trade a player as popular as Willie Montanez? I was so sorry to see him go. But in May of 1975, “Willie the Phillie” was one no more, traded to the San Francisco Giants for Maddox, who would soon endear himself to me, as he was arguably the best centerfielder in team history.
While I attended games before 1975, it was in this year I can actually recall attending games at the Vet. I always dreaded the hike up those long, ascending ramps to the 700 level. I always wished to sit down in those 300 level seats, the ones right there as you enter the glorious concourse. All was forgotten at the end of the game when racing my brothers down the seemingly endless declining exit ramps, hearing our parents cry of “wait for us at the bottom.”
Baseball became more than a segment on the evening news that summer, it became something as necessary to me as opposable thumbs. 1975 was a great year to begin my fascination, as this was the year my team would finally become legitimate contenders.
Back then I couldn’t name the five Great Lakes, but I could tell you what a “Magic Number” was, and how to figure it. The season may have ended in disappointment as the team finished second in the division, but it taught me an important baseball truth: there is always next year. There would be plenty of excitement in coming years. For me, it all started with those 1975 Philadelphia Phillies.