Musings: The Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society

By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author

THE PHILADELPHIA ATHLETICS HISORICAL SOCIETY
Sixteen years ago I set out on the road trip of a lifetime for any Red Sox fan. I drove by
automobile from Massachusetts to Florida with Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky to visit
their ailing teammate, Ted Williams. Our adventure was later chronicled by the late
David Halberstam in his book, The Teammates.
This is the story of the first stop on that trip.
On late Saturday afternoon, October 20, 2001, we pulled up to a hotel in the suburbs of
Philadelphia where a reunion of the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society was being
held. The society had for years been inviting Dom to its annual meeting but it had never
worked out. This year, however, it coincided with our road trip, so Dom had accepted the
invitation and told the sponsors he’d have Johnny Pesky with him.
The hotel was crawling with old fans of the A’s, who had left town back in 1955. They
immediately engulfed Dom and Johnny who got down to the business of signing
autographs. I went to my room to think of what I would do when we got to Ted’s house
to justify my presence there. I had been reciting “Casey at the Bat” for years and decided
to convert the poem to “Teddy at the Bat,” a tale of the great Red Sox teams when Dom
batted leadoff, Johnny hit second and Ted had batted third. At dinner I ran it by Dom and
Johnny and Dom said, “That’s perfect. We’ll have you do it tomorrow at the breakfast.”
The breakfast was the highlight of the reunion. On Sunday morning more than five
hundred people jammed into the hotel ballroom. One old fan came over to our table and
said, “If we’d had this many people at the games the A’s woud still be in Philadelphia.”
I recited “Teddy at the Bat” for the first time. This was the out-of- town tryout before its
official debut at Ted’s house in two days. It went well with one small hiccup. As I was
going through the histrionics of Teddy’s coming up to the plate I became aware that I was
holding the imaginary bat in a right-handed grip. Nobody will notice, I said to myself,
and went on with the poem.
There were old Athletics players in the crowd, such as Eddie Joost, a highly ranked
shorstop, and Bobby Shantz, an all-star pitcher. Mickey Vernon, who never played for
the Athletics but who lived in the area, was an honored guest. As Dom surveyed the crowd he said to me, “My God, there’s Billy Werber. We almost got into a fight one
day.”
Werber was a well-travelled infielder in the nineteen-thirties and early forties who served
hitches with both the Red Sox and Athletics. In 1940, when Dom was a rookie in his first
spring training, the Red Sox had an exhibition game with the Cincinnatti Reds, for whom
Werber was playing third base. Dom came up to bat, noticed that Werber was playing
deep, and dropped down a bunt which he easily beat out for a hit. Werber, convinced that
the rookie was trying to show him up, let loose with a tirade of invective and he wouldn’t
let up. Finally Dom had enough and he had to be held back from belting Werber in the
chops. Dom wondered if Werber, then ninety-three years old, would even remember the
incident.
When Werber, who was quite infirm, was called on to speak he had to be assisted to the
podium, but he showed that he still had his wits about him. He opened by saying, “That
young fellow who recited the poem was pretty good but someone should tell him that
Williams was a left-handed batter.” I never again made the mistake of holding Ted’s
imaginary bat in a right-handed grip
.
As Werber gazed out over the audience, he spotted Dom. “Oh, there’s Dom DiMaggio,”
he said. “He once offered to punch me in the nose. I politely declined.”
His version of the story might have a bit more benign than Dom remembered, but he had
not forgotten.
When Dom got up to speak I realized why the historical society had wanted him there so
much. He had special relationships with two Philadelphia legends who had finished up
their careers in Boston, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove.
Dom had roomed with Foxx during his rookie year and he remembered him as a generous
and warm-hearted person. Grove, on the other hand, was famously short-tempered and
could be hard to get to know. Dom remembered Foxx introducing himself to him on the
first day of spring training. No one introduced him to Grove, though, and for two weeks
the two never spoke. Dom was a painfully shy rookie and Grove a stand-offish future
Hall of Fame member. There would be times the two rode in the same elevator with not a
word passing between them.
One day Dom was heading into the team’s spring training hotel in Sarasota, and, sitting
right by the front door, there was Lefty Grove. There was no avoiding it, Dom’s heart
was pounding. He screwed up his courage and said, “Hello, Lefty.” Grove grabbed him
by the hand and said, “Dom! How are you? Pull up a seat, let’s talk.” The two sat for
hours talking baseball and family and a bond started to grow between them.
Dom said that one of the great thrills of his rookie season was just a routine play. He
made the final putout in Grove’s three hundredth and final career victory and presented

the ball to Lefty after the game. That night Grove celebrated his victory with just two
teammates, Jimmie Foxx and Dom DiMaggio.
When the breakfast was over Dom, Johnny and I piled into Dom’s Jaguar to continue our
road trip to Ted’s house. As we pulled away from the hotel Dom turned to us and said,
“We just took Philadelphia by storm.”