The End of Connie Mack Stadium

With Veterans Stadium facing its final hours, memories turn to another Phillies home that gave way to progress not really all that long ago. Connie Mack Stadium, which had been home to the Phillies for 33 years – the same amount of time that the Phillies spent at Veterans Stadium – had outlived its usefulness as the Phillies and their fans moved to South Philly and a new Phillies home. From its earlier days as Shibe Park, the stadium at 21st and Lehigh was home to baseball in Philadelphia.

"I'm sure the Phillies will play better at Shibe Park." Those words were uttered by none other than Connie Mack, who would later become the namesake of what was known as Shibe Park in 1938.

Times had been tough for the Phillies and they were about to get tougher. Mack proved to be nothing near a prophet. The Phillies would have five straight last place finished and would finish at the bottom of the standings in seven of their first eight seasons in their new home. In fact, five of the Phillies seven worst seasons came in the early years at Shibe Park.

Unlike Veterans Stadium, Shibe Park – the name was changed to Connie Mack Stadium in 1953 – wasn't a brand new stadium when the Phillies moved in. The park had been built in 1909 and saw the Philadelphia Athletics battle the Boston Red Sox in the first contest on April 12, 1909. Ironically, exactly 95 years later, the Phillies would open their new Citizens Bank Park.

While the early Phillies teams weren't successful, Shibe Park was home to many great Phillies and the teams that they played on. The 1950 Phillies brought the World Series to Shibe Park and fans watched as the 1964 Phillies let the World Series slip away from Philadelphia.

Finally, as the Sixties wound down, the Phillies plans for a new home were getting closer. Those plans had begun in 1953 when Mayor Richardson Dilworth started the drive for a new sports stadium. Veterans Stadium had gone from an idea to a blueprint to a reality and 1970 would be the Phillies last in Shibe Park.

On a cool October 1, 1970, the fledgling Montreal Expos were in town to close out baseball history at Shibe Park. By then, Shibe Park was the oldest stadium in major league baseball and had hosted over 6,000 games in its long history. The numbers were shown in detail by the deteriorating condition of Shibe Park. Actually, the stadium had become a symbol of the neighborhood that surrounded it. Vandalism and crime around the stadium, combined with the scarcity of parking – especially safe parking – made fans stay away. The Phillies, who drew over 1.4 million fans in 1964 saw just over half-a-million fans turn out in 1969. Somewhat fittingly, the Expos and Phillies battled for last place in front of over 31,000 fans on the final day of the 1969 season. The Phillies would win 2-1 in 10 innings as Tim McCarver scored on an Oscar Gamble single.

Fans had interrupted the game throughout the afternoon by running onto the field to scoop up dirt or grab any part of the field that they possibly could. The Phillies had planned to have a helicopter lift homeplate out of the stadium and deliver it at The Vet. Those plans were abandoned when a throng of fans took over the field as McCarver crossed homeplate.

A year after the Phillies left Connie Mack Stadium, much of the building was destroyed by a fire. Eventually, the site was sold to a developer and the remains of Connie Mack Stadium were demolished in 1976. Commercial plans for the site fizzled and weeds took over the once beloved ballpark area. Finally, residents complained loudly enough to get the city involved in developing the area and in 1990 the Deliverance Evangelistic Church was built at 21st Street and Lehigh Avenue. Where once crowds of 30,000 came to practice the religion of baseball, now a sanctuary seating over 5,000 stands for people to practice their religion.

Veterans Stadium will have a more dignified end. It won't be allowed to fall shamelessly piece by piece and it won't become a weed garden. Instead, The Vet will be put out of its misery as strategically placed dynomite will drop the stadium in just 62 seconds. And, as the dust clears, the view of Citizens Bank Park will be given to a new area of the city formerly reserved for Veterans Stadium.

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