Spring 1915 the start of special season for Phillies

Spring 1915 the start of special season for Phillies

"This is your bread and butter, as well as mine," declared Phillies manager Pat Moran in a pep talk to his players at Spring Training 1915. A lot was new about the club that year. A reserve catcher with the team since 1910, Moran had become manager after a disappointing sixth-place showing in 1914. Restructuring of the roster was needed, and some Phils had been jettisoned -- including former manager Red Dooin -- while others were brought into the fold.

Even the location of Spring Training had changed. The Phillies practiced at Coffee Pot Park in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the first time. Located at First North Street and 22nd Avenue, the ballpark -- located in what is now a residential community -- was the home of the St. Louis Browns the previous preseason, but a dispute over who should pay certain bills ended that relationship. St. Petersburg Mayor Al Lang enticed Phils president William F. Baker to train at Coffee Pot Park by, among other inducements, supplying the baseballs used at Spring Training and providing a discounted room rate for players at the Fifth Avenue Hotel.

The Phillies' stay at Coffee Pot Park ran from March 1-25, 1915, but even getting to Spring Training proved something of an adventure. The Phils, along with players from the Philadelphia Athletics and Brooklyn Dodgers, boarded the steamer Apache in New York harbor for a trip down the Eastern Seaboard to Jacksonville, Fla.

After a few hours at sea, the British cruiser Essex approached and hovered around the Apache as it proceeded on its journey. World War I was raging in Europe in 1915, and the Essex was patrolling along America's East Coast, intercepting merchant ships attempting to smuggle war goods from the United States -- still a neutral country -- to Germany. Initially suspicious of the Apache, the Essex eventually became satisfied the steamer carried ballplayers -- not military supplies -- and pulled away to resume its patrol duties.

A stern disciplinarian with a canny baseball mind, Moran was relentless in drilling his players on the fundamentals of the game, or what he called "inside baseball." Bunting, fielding, cutoffs, hit-and-run plays, signaling, double steals and double plays were part of the daily practice routine. Pitchers spent entire sessions learning how to hold a runner close to the bag through deceptive moves and quick deliveries. Moran also had his men walk the two miles from their hotel to the ballpark and back again every day as part of their conditioning. He jokingly called them "tipperary hikes," after a popular World War I British Army marching song, "It's a Long Way to Tipperary."

Training and exhibition games were held Monday through Saturday, but never on Sunday. Laws and cultural mores prohibited professional sports on a day that was then regarded as reserved for religious worship, family togetherness and meditation. With no practice on Sunday, March 21, the Phillies decided to go on a fishing excursion, which led to "one of the most eventful days of the training campaign."

The boat Frank E departed at 6 a.m. with manager Moran and all but two Phils players on board for a day of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Once the boat was far beyond the sight of land, however, a stiff wind arose that made fishing all but impossible. Soon, the sea became so rough that the captain ordered all passengers to don life jackets and get below deck.

The situation grew worse when the engine conked out, "leaving the boat and its passengers tossed about in the mad surf." At first amused by their predicament, those on board "soon settled into a silent and serious affair." Some players removed pieces of clothing in case the boat foundered and they had to swim. But conditions never became that dire. The crew restarted the engine and the boat returned to port that afternoon. Passengers disembarked with some bumps, bruises and many cases of seasickness. Only a few Phillies ate in the dining room that evening, but one who did appear was the wife of Phils player Beals Becker. She chose to join her husband and was the only woman on board Frank E. According to one report, she "stood the trip bravely."

There also was time for veteran players to play pranks on newer members of the team. The "second-string squad" of rookies and reservists was scheduled to leave early one morning and travel to play a two-game series against the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League. Several of these players left their suitcases in the hotel's front office the night before. Learning of this, some veterans put paving blocks taken from the street in the suitcases. When the players picked them up the next morning, they were bewildered as to why they were so heavy.

Spring Training today bears little resemblance to 100 years ago. Conditions then were primitive. There was one shower at the ballpark, and it spouted only cold water. The grandstand was made of wood and seated a mere 500 fans. Players were responsible for washing their uniforms. Lunch often consisted of a fried fish -- typically with the head still on -- between two pieces of bread. Players would raid nearby orange groves to supplement their meager meals. There was one trainer whose main job was to rub down players after practice.

Less than half of the Phillies' 30-game exhibition schedule was against other big league clubs. Opponents in most games were Minor League teams, including seven games against a roster of picked stars from the Cuban League called the Havana Reds. There also were a number of intrasquad games in which the regulars faced the "Yanigans"-- a term used during the period to refer to a team comprised of rookie and reserve players. The regulars had to play hard to avoid the risk of losing their roster spots to ambitious "Yanigans," who were eager to move up and become regulars themselves.

Once the Phillies broke camp on March 25, the team migrated north, playing additional exhibition games until the regular season started on April 14. This included two games against the Philadelphia Athletics in Jacksonville, and then a series of games against the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern League, the Norfolk Tars of the Virginia League, the Washington Senators, and then a four-game "City Series" in Philadelphia with the A's, which the clubs split 2-2. Preseason wound up with three games against the Providence Grays of the International League. By the time the Phils finished their last preseason game on April 13, they had compiled a record of 18 wins, seven losses, two ties and three rainouts.

Near the end of Spring Training, a perceptive reporter who had followed the Phillies predicted, "Boss Moran's team will be one of the surprises of the National League season."

With a strong pitching staff led by the brilliant Grover Cleveland Alexander, a potent offense spearheaded by home run king Gavvy Cravath, and talented new players including future Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft, the club was skilled in and ready to play "inside baseball." The 1915 Phils would indeed be "one of the surprises" of the season, winning the NL pennant for the first time in franchise history.

Bob Warrington is a native Philadelphian who writes about the city's baseball history. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.