Phillies trained close to home during WW II

Club held Spring Training in Hershey, Pa., in '43 and Wilimington, Del., in '44-45

Phillies trained close to home during WW II

With the United States at war, the Office of Defense Transportation mandated that baseball teams had to hold Spring Training near their homes from 1943-45. The ODT's travel restrictions limited teams to areas north of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and east of the Mississippi River.

The Phillies held camp in Hershey, Pa., in 1943. That fall, the Carpenter family bought the ballclub, and the club spent the next spring in Wilmington, Del.

"We had planned on returning to Hershey," then-general manager Herb Pennock explained. "The only reason we moved to Wilmington is because Bob Carpenter owns the Blue Rocks [Minor League team] and the ballpark."

Wilmington Park, located at the corner of 30th Street and Governor Printz Boulevard, was where the Phillies held Spring Training. It was home to the University of Delaware football team from 1940-52, and the Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Class B Interstate League for the same period of time. The Blue Rocks were an affiliate of the Philadelphia Athletics from '40-43, and then the Phillies from '44-52.

Newspaper articles differed as to the number of players who were in camp for the March 19 start. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported 22 players, including manager Freddie Fitzsimmons, who was still being carried on the roster as a pitcher. The Philadelphia Record story said 34 players were on hand.

Basketballs replaced baseballs, because the first day was canceled by snow. Fitzsimmons moved the workout indoors at the Delaware State Armory.

According to clippings from the Record, "Freddy Fitzsimmons hustled the team to the armory at 2 o'clock. The previous idea of working out at the rink, a building on the Carpenter estate, was given up because of the lack of transportation.

"Outside of a session of calisthenics and a brief game of catch, the Phillies devoted themselves to shooting basketballs at the netted hoops and heaving the leathered globules at each other in the same sort of pre-game warmups practiced by the court quintets."

The story went on to say the workout was stopped at 4 o'clock. Fitzsimmons then laid out the training rules for the camp, "Midnight curfew, an 8 o'clock rising hour and orders for the players to be in uniform and ready for duty at 10 a.m. each day."

Whatever the number of players in camp, 33 others were serving their country during World War II. Every team experienced the same situation during the war years.

The Hotel Dupont was the Spring Training headquarters. Fourteen exhibition games were listed on the schedule for Wilmington Park. The season opener was April 19 against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Shibe Park.

Rogers McKee, an 87-year-old resident of Shelby, N.C., was a left-handed pitcher in camp with the Phillies. It wasn't a pleasant experience.

"It was cold and there was snow on the ground. We worked out every day in a big field house for a couple of weeks. Finally, [we] got to go outside one day. Something happened and I was never the same.

"My arm didn't hurt and I could throw without pain, but it didn't get to home plate as fast. That made a big difference," McKee added with a laugh. "Back then, you put heat on your arm if something was wrong. Now, it has been proven to use ice on your arm. I knew pitchers that even used butter." McKee, listed as six-foot even and 160 pounds, spent most of the season in Wilmington and pitched in one September game for the Phillies in 1944 -- the final appearance of his Major League career. On the last day of the '43 season, McKee got his only big league win at age 17 years and eleven days. He remains the youngest pitcher win a game since 1900.

The Phillies returned to Wilmington for Spring Training in 1945 and then headed south, settling permanently in Clearwater in '47.

With the Philadelphia A's owning Shibe Park, the Phillies offices were located in the Packard Building in center city Philadelphia, 15th and Chestnut. The front office consisted of eight executives.

Tickets could be purchased at the team's office or Shibe Park. There were two ticket agencies in Wilmington: Adams Clothes (716 Market St.) and Humidor Smoke Shop (702 King St.).

I found an old scorecard from that season, two-color and mostly filled with small ads. The cost of the scorecard was 10 cents, and for five cents you could buy a lead pencil to keep score.

Page 8 listed the concession prices:

"Naturally we have confidence in the honesty and sincerity of our employees, and the following price list is inserted merely for the convenience of our patrons."

• Burke's Frankfurters, cheese sandwiches and fish cakes, 15 cents.
• Orange soda, Coca Cola, ginger ale, root beer, coffee, milk, 10 cents.
• Goldenberg's peanut chews, Wilbur-Suchard chocolate, peanuts, 10 cents.
• Chewing gum, 5 cents.
• Aristocrat ice cream, 15 cents.

Cigars and cigarettes ranged from 10-20 cents.

Oh, the scorecard lucky number was A 37457. Three numbers were chosen each game and posted on the larger right-field scoreboard. Winners got two tickets to a future game.

Larry Shenk is the vice president of alumni relations for the Phillies. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.