Brewerytown: Where Champions Were Brewed

Painting of Connie Mack, Manager and Owner of the Philadelphia Athletics for over 50 years.

Dave Jordan went to 47 baseball games when he was a young boy between 1948 and 1952. His team lost 41 of them.

On Wednesday the Philadelphia Phillies lost game six of the World Series to American League foes, the New York Yankees. Though the fall of the beloved and dynamic Phillies will be one the city will come to terms with and accept in the next few ways and weeks, Jordan, a lifelong baseball fan, knows one pain that is much harder to get over.

“You get used to losing ballgames,” Jordan said, “but losing your whole team is something that is very hard to swallow.”

Jimmy Foxx's "White Elephant" uniform.
Jimmy Foxx's "White Elephant" uniform

The success and joy of championship baseball is a virtue engraved deep in the heart of the city, but so too is heartbreak and loss.

Jordan remembers it all. To Jordan, the best team of all time played in this city, but they did not sport red pinstripes. They played in Philadelphia, but not on South Broad Street. In 1901, between Oxford and Columbia Avenue, and 29th and 30th streets a wooden ballpark with a capacity of around 9,000 stood for just eight short years. Columbia Park, as it was called, hosted the city’s first favorite baseball team, the Athletics.

“Some of the players commented from time to time that the air smelled like hops, and beer,” Jordan said. “The players did not mind it that much.”

Brewerytown was a booming bustle of activity, with beer makers sprinkled around the Schuylkill River, most of them consolidated in northwest Philadelphia. This proved a perfect place for a ballpark.

“After organizing the team in 1901, (Connie) Mack bought a vacant lot at 29th and Oxford streets, and put up wooden grandstands,” Jordan said. “It was a working-class neighborhood.”

Painting of Connie Mack, Manager and Owner of the Philadelphia Athletics for over 50 years.
A painting of Connie Mack, manager and owner of the Philadelphia Athletics for over 50 years

The Athletics played in Brewerytown for eight fairly successful seasons, and even hosted two World Series games, but by 1909, they had outgrown their small ballpark.

“Ben Shibe [the Athletics’ majority owner] was forced to put in additional seating throughout the latter half of the 1910s because they were clearly out-drawing the Phillies, who were the established team,” Jordan said. “The Athletics were young and exciting.”

Moving to Lehigh Avenue, west of Broad Street and blocks from the Baker Bowl, home of the Phillies, Shibe Park replaced Columbia Park. Since then, several houses have stood on the four-block area, without so much as a plaque to commemorate its historical place in Philadelphia history.

Today, Brewerytown is a shadow of its former self. The once industrial center of the Philadelphia metropolis, is now a disheveled neighborhood, home to a large impoverished population and site to numerous vacant lots, vacated homes and businesses.

The economic hardships in the inner city today are much like those faced by the Athletics baseball team that, by 1954, was continually falling behind the once-second-fiddle Phillies and becoming victim to plummeting attendance.

In their heyday in Northwest Philadelphia, the Athletics sported many Hall of Fame players, such as Eddie Collins, Mickey Cocherine, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, Eddie Plank and Lefty Grove. They also saw the emergence of superstars who would find all-star careers elsewhere like Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

The Athletics even passed up on a young left-handed pitcher from Baltimore, Babe Ruth, who would go on to become the greatest baseball player of all time.

“Jack Dunn, Connie Mack’s friend from Baltimore told Mack he had a left-handed pitcher who deserves to be in the major league,” Jordan said. “His name was George Herman Ruth. Mack was short on cash and suggested he approach the Boston Red Sox instead. Of course, the rest is history.

“I have thought from time to time what might have happened had the Athletics had Babe Ruth all those seasons.”

Not only that, but the Philadelphia A’s won five World Series and nine pennants, while the Phillies have won two and seven respectively in twice the time.

“The 1929 Philadelphia Athletics might have been the greatest team of all time,” Jordan said. “They beat the Yankees, essentially the same team from 1927, by 18 games.”

The A’s were nicknamed the “White Elephants” by Giants manager John McGraw, as the team always faced financial troubles and was forced to spend a lot of money to keep good players coming to the ball club.

“Instead of taking this as an insult,” Jordan said, “Mack and Shibe decided to seize the occasion and made the white elephant the mascot of the Philadelphia Athletics.”

A yellow-and-green elephant is still visible on the Oakland Athletics uniforms, and their mascot is still an elephant.

“When both teams were last-place teams, the Athletics was always more popular,” Jordan said. “When the Phillies ‘Whiz Kids’ team of the early fifties won the pennant in 1950, the Athletics fell on very hard times.”

This was the era of western expansion in Major League Baseball. In 1954 the A’s would, as the Giants and Dodgers before them, pack up and move west to Kansas City, and then to Oakland where they play today. For Jordan, this is a sore subject.

“Many years later,” Jordan said, “A couple of old A’s fans organized the Philadelphia Athletics Society, and we’ve been surviving in Hatboro for about 11 years now.”

The outside of the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society and Museum in Hatboro, Pa.
The outside of the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society and Museum in Hatboro, Pa.

Many Philadelphia sports fans know little or nothing of the storied past of Philadelphia’s old favorite baseball team, but the extensive wealth of knowledge exists in both Jordan’s nostalgic mind, and in the museum in downtown Hatboro, Pa.

Jordan serves as the chairman for the foundation. Every year, living Athletic players, Phillies players, managers, and their relatives and fans unite for a banquet. Members of the organization also receive monthly newsletters.

Brewerytown was not only host to many historic businesses, but also to one of the most successful baseball teams of all time.

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