I remember my first Phillies game.
Mom and dad took me to Connie Mack Stadium in the early fifties. I believe I was somewhere between 4 and 6 (hell, I could hit at 3). Everything was going as planned until Del Ennis came to bat.
Ennis — through folklore or fact, I think it was more folklore — was thought to be our cousin. Somewhere deep in my maternal grandmother’s side. So everybody in my household loved him. Naturally, I did too. I later learned he was a hardscrabble kid from the streets of Olney and was treated terribly by the fans of Philadelphia for reasons no one could figure out, except my mother.
Back at my first game, when Ennis came up, a strange and horrible noise filled the ballpark. It scared me. I stood up on my seat and grabbed my mother’s dress collar. I must’ve looked petrified. I never heard booing before. Nobody booed in our backyard games.
My mother laughed and said, “That’s all right, Ronnie, everybody expects Del to hit a homer and when he doesn’t, they boo him.”
Ennis played 11 seasons with the Phillies and had good numbers: a .288 lifetime batting average, 288 home runs and 1,284 RBIs.
In my teenage years, they booed my all time favorite Phillies’ player, Dick Allen — as badly as they booed Ennis. Maybe worse.
He was the first black superstar in Philadelphia (arguably Wilt Chamberlain was.) Let’s face it, Philly didn’t have a positive history with black athletes. I remember reading later that Allen was Dick from the day he was born — in Wampum, PA. By the time he got to Little Rock, the Phillies’ Triple A stop, the Philly papers changed his name to Ritchie.
Later, Allen changed his name back to Dick. It was at a time when Muhammud Ali and Malxom X changed names. I don’t think it sat well with the Philly fans, or maybe, like my mother said about Ennis, they just expected him to hit one over the Coca-Cola sign on the left field roof — every damn time up. Allen finished his career with a .292 lifetime batting average, 351 home runs, and 1,119 RBIs
Even Mike Schmidt, who spent his entire career with the Phillies and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame — possibly the best third baseman ever — got booed. Schmidt finished with .267 lifetime batting average, 548 home runs, and 1,159 RBIs. (Notice that Ennis had more lifetime RBIs than both Allen and Schmidt.)
Said Mrs. Del Ennis, at the time Schmidt was getting booed: “When there was a lot written about Mike Schmidt being booed, Del couldn’t believe it,” Liz Ennis said. “He’d say, ‘They think that’s booing? That’s nothing.’ He didn’t think that was anything compared to what he got, every game, every at-bat, every move he made.”
There were others who brought out the best of the Philly boo birds: Lance Parish, Scott Rolen, Rod Barajas, Adam Eaton, Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Freddy Garcia, Danny Tartabull, and Jayson Werth, just to name a few. I’m sure if I spent some time I could triple the list.
The number one boo bird target ever in Philadlephia? No doubt about it: JD Drew. Even Stephen Drew, the current Yankees’ second baseman, got booed at Citizens Bank Park, and Stephen had nothing to do with the Phillies— except that he was JD’s brother.
When JD came into Philly with the Red Sox, the boo birds — and extra police and security — came out in force. Even before Drew came out to the on-deck circle, the deep rumble I remember hearing at my first Phillies game, started.
But here’s the thing that surprises me today.
Where did the Philly boo birds go? If anybody deserved to get booed, it might be several of the current Phillies’ players: Ryan Howard. Domonic Brown. Kyle Kendrick. Jonathon Papelbon. Ruben Amaro, Jr., doesn’t take the field. Lucky for him.
Sure, sometimes there is a smattering of boos directed at all of the above, but surely, nothing like Ennis and Allen endured.
Smattering. I remember at Connie Mack Stadium, when Allen popped out of the dugout and stopped at the on-deck circle. That deep rumble — started slowly then picked up volume. It got louder as Allen tossed the donut and walked to the plate, carrying that stick of lumber he used.
He settled in, with his short, quick strokes, the stadium lights glaring off his helmet, holding that 40-ouncer close to his chest, staring out at the pitcher.
The booing continued as he first took a pitch, fouled one off, then grounded out to short.
As Allen trotted back to the dugout, the entire stadium exploded in boos, raining down on him like confetti at a New York parade, and it didn’t stop until he disappeared into the dugout.
At 16-17 years old, that wasn’t nice to see. I hope I never see it again!