Matt Schickling, the Wire
Ted Taylor appeared a casual Phillies fan last Tuesday afternoon in his Abington home — relaxing in a comfortable chair, watching the Phillies beat the Braves in a decidedly unimportant spring training game.
He does what all fans do: reminisces, speculates, talks stats, compares players. But not all fans author four books about Philadelphia baseball.
His most recent work is called The 20th Century Phillies By the Numbers (Biblio Publishing Co.) and comes out April 1. It outlines the 100-year period of Philadelphia baseball and includes about 500 thumbnail portraits of players, detailed accounts of each of the five pennant-winning teams, anecdotes, statistics and personal experiences.
“It’s a fan’s book. If you like the Phillies, if you follow the Phillies, if you like baseball history even, it’s for you,” he said.
Taylor recognizes the importance of lineage for baseball fans. They seek precedence, comparability, repetition. The game’s cadence gives fans time to make these associations.
“That’s what sets baseball apart, what makes it different. There are goals to shoot for, plateaus to reach,” Taylor said. “You measure players by what other players have done.”
This is why the By the Numbers part of his book’s title is so important for his analysis of the “oft-maligned, but always loved” Phillies. The first chapter is literally about the numbers certain players wore on the back of their jerseys.
Taylor talks about retired numbers. Hall-of-famer Chuck Klein wore six numbers, and the Phillies could not decide which to retire, so they just put his name in retirement.
”I guess that means no one named Chuck Klein can ever play for them again,” Taylor jokes in the text.
Another chapter evaluates a Phillies trade that Taylor said “changed the way baseball teams were structured.”
The subject is Curt Flood, who, for the 1969 season, played with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was involved in a six-player trade that would send him to the Phillies, but he refused to go — he wanted to be declared a free agent.
He sat out 1970, played a few lackluster games the following year for the Washington Senators and retired.
“If you signed with a team before then, they basically owned you until they didn’t want you anymore,” Taylor said. “Flood said, ‘I should be able to choose my employer. Everyone else does, so why can’t I?’ ”
Flood continued his fight, and Taylor details the battle. The issue is complicated, entertaining, unconventional and not well-known, which is why it fits so well in this book.
Taylor’s credentials as a baseball-lover are worthy for such an undertaking. He started out attending games at Shibe Park with his mother and playing the ball fields of Cheltenham.
His career path includes writing hobbyists columns for Sports Collectors Digest and the Philadelphia Daily News, mainly concerning baseball cards; athletic director at Spring Garden College and Philadelphia Textile School (now Philadelphia University); vice president of the Fleer Corporation, a sports card company; and co-founder and president of the The Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society.
As for the current Phillies team, Taylor says he’s not as much of a doomsayer as most.
“Are they going to win more than they’re going to lose? No,” he said. “We held onto guys for too long.”
Though it’s not the same subject, the statement seems ironic from a man who spent his life collecting. His basement hosts an impressive shrine to baseball’s past.
The walls are covered in pennants, posters and pictures; shelves are full of signed baseballs, player figurines and bobbleheads; and a large bookshelf is stocked with binders full of vintage baseball cards.
“You’ve probably heard of a Mickey Mantle rookie card,” he said, carrying one of the binders over to his desk. He stopped, thumbed a page and leaned it forward to reveal three 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle rookie cards, lined across a row.
One shelf held a baseball signed by both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, another box held his old Ursinus College uniform. He was a coach, not a player there, but he did play during his undergraduate years at Millersville University.
He has no idea what any of it is worth, not that it matters — he has no intention of selling.
“I think collecting is in the DNA of people in the United States,” he said. “The fun is in the chase.”
Taylor will be appearing at the Abington Free Library from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on April 18 and Lee’s Hoagie House in Horsham on April 28 from noon to 2 p.m. The book will also be available on Amazon. For more information, visit www.bibliopublishing.com.