Bert Adams: Sporting Circles
From 1942 to 1946 The Monthly News (TMN) sought to cover the world and the community of Wayne, Pennsylvania – a town of 3000 people, 14 miles west of Philadelphia. I, as Sports Editor, wrote about four concentric circles of sporting activity: professional, college, high school, and the north Wayne neighborhood. Most of my pro, college, and high school information came from the Philadelphia daily newspapers: the Philadelphia Inquirer and Evening Bulletin. However, neighborhood news was, to begin with, my own activities. Later, as The Monthly News’ reputation spread, I got calls from residents of Wayne about local sports events. Here’s what I wrote about.
The Pros: Perhaps the most unusual aspect of a newspaper put out by two boys, ages 15 and 12, was that our Features included interviews with some important professional sports figures of Philadelphia. In May, 1944, two years into the history of TMN, Will called the Phillies baseball office just before a home game, and asked to speak to Byrum Saam, the announcer for the Phils and Athletics. Will asked if we could come and interview him before a future game, and “By” (Mr. Saam) said yes, and set a date. Dad bought us tickets, and took us to the game, but left us alone to do the interview. For the interview we had to walk up the narrow catwalk to the press box, high above Shibe Park. My job was to prepare a list of interview questions to ask Mr. Saam. I don’t remember Will and me being nervous at all.
“By” told us he started announcing at a small station in Fort Worth, Texas, which had a Texas League team in the minors. He got the Philadelphia job, he said, because he could announce both baseball and football games. He also said that he and Ted Husing were the only announcers at that time who could watch a game, announce it, and write down what was happening – all at the same time. We asked him what it would take to make the Phils and A’s into winners: some good pitchers? some good hitters? Mr. Saam treated us in a very friendly way, so we finished by asking him how we should go about getting an interview with Connie Mack, the Manager of the A’s. Mr. Saam helped set it up, and before a later game we were allowed to go onto the field to interview Mr. Mack in the dugout, where he sat in a black suit holding a scorecard during each game. Connie Mack (born Cornelius McGillicuddy) was 82 years old, and had been Manager for 50 years.
We asked Mr. Mack if he had always been interested in baseball, and he said “yes.” Mr. Mack stood 6’ 2” tall, was white-haired, very thin, erect, and made Will and me feel very much at ease. He said he had worked since the age of nine, but on his lunch hour he played catcher for the workers’ team. In 1883 he organized the Central Massachusetts League, which played only on Saturday, a non-work day. “Our team, East Brookfield, won the championship the first year and received a silver bat, which is still in the firehouse at East Brookfield.” We asked him about Dick Siebert, Sam Chapman, and other players on the current team, though we did not ask him why he had sold all his star players – Lefty Grove, Al Simmons (nee Aloysius Simanski), and Jimmy Foxx – in the early 1930s. We, of course, knew the answer was $$$. These two interviews appeared in the June and September, 1944, editions of TMN.
My sports pages covered pro baseball, but today a question might be: why no professional football or basketball? And the answer is that few people paid much attention to the former, and they paid even less to the latter. In fact, I knew more about the Homewood Grays and Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro League than I did about pro football and basketball. I even knew that Jackie Robinson and Josh Gibson were amazing hitters for the Kansas City Monarchs. Pro football and basketball were on the back pages of the sports sections. And television had not yet appeared, to help football surpass baseball in “watch-ability.”
So each summer I reported the major league baseball standings at the end of the month. Our first edition (September, 1942) noted the standings, and by October the Philadelphia Phillies and Athletics had finished with a total of 97 wins combined for the season – fewer than the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Yankees had separately. Thus began – at the age of 10 – my lifelong hatred of the New York teams, especially the Yankees.
The following April (1943) I began an article with “Spring again! Time for spring training baseball, which begins on March 27th.” At the end of the brief note, I predicted the finish of the teams, commenting that the Phils and A’s “have been busy obtaining new players,” and “look promising this year.” And how good were my prognostications? The Phils and the A’s had a few more total wins than in 1942, but it was a genuinely painful time to root for, and write about, Philadelphia baseball.
Besides the interviews with By Saam and Connie Mack, another unusual aspect of my sports reporting was that I paid some attention to minor league baseball. For example, in June and July of 1943, I reported the standings for the International League, Southern Association, Pacific Coast League, and American Association. At that time, the “majors” had no teams west of St. Louis or south of Washington and Cincinnati. So cities like Kansas City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Denver, Atlanta, and Toronto were all minor league cities.
College Football: A little more fun to report was college football. One reason was that the University of Pennsylvania was very good, with the big, season-ending game being Penn versus Cornell. A side note is that one of my mother’s sisters was Perry Lynn, who was called Penn. She was married to Lawrence Cornell, so about the time of the big game she would go into a store, buy something, and when she wrote the check it would say: “Penn Cornell.” They would assume she was joking, until she showed her ID.
Starting with the October edition, I would report college scores, most of which were low. While there were a few lopsided scores, the losing team almost never scored more than one touchdown.
In 1942 I began to write down the play-by-play of the various bowl games, while listening to the radio. This made it possible to write a column in February on each bowl. There were only five bowl games. The NCAA had not yet figured out how to make big money with 30+ bowls, sponsored by and named for various companies and corporations.
In 1943 I reported the final vote for the college rankings. Notre Dame was first, and I wrote an article extolling their prowess. The next month I received a letter to the editor from one of my Dad’s Baptist Minister friends, berating me for writing so enthusiastically about and glorifying the Catholic school, Notre Dame. I was hurt deeply, but my parents helped me understand that if you publish your opinions, you must be ready to take criticism. It was a hard lesson to learn and accept at my age.
Several changes took place by the time the final copy of TMN appeared in January, 1946. First, football scores had begun to increase, and second, there were 13 bowl games, including the Oil, Gator, Raisin, Vulcan, Coconut, Azalea, and Flower. Still, none was as yet named for a corporate sponsor.
March Madness, college basketball’s closing tournament, did not yet exist. There was a national final, with two invited teams, but nothing compared to the month-long frenzy we have today. However, in January, 1946, I reported that DePaul, led by 6’ 9” George Mikan, had lost three straight, and Kentucky, an early favorite, had lost its opening game “to Temple, 53 to 45, on December 29.” Eventually, TMN reported that Mikan’s DePaul had played 7’ Bob Kurland’s Oklahoma Aggies for the championship. However, Mikan fouled out early, and A & M planted Kurland under the basket, where he swatted away most of DePaul’s shots. It was soon after this that “goal-tending,” – or knocking the ball away when it was headed toward the basket (also known as the “Kurland rule”) - was made illegal.
High School Sports: The focus of our attention was Radnor, the local high school. Starting with the November, 1942, edition, I reported on two of Radnor’s football losses, and gave a detailed account of its 21-0 loss to Berwyn, closing with the following: “Radnor was on Berwyn’s 15, as the game ended.” The next month I wrote this over-sympathetic coverage: “Lower Merion trounced a hard fighting but powerless Radnor eleven 56-0! The Raiders, even so, were giving all they had up to the last minute.” In the same December, 1942, edition I listed the top 20 teams from South Jersey and the Philadelphia area. Radnor, of course, was not among them.
By the January, 1943, edition, the basketball season was in full swing. Radnor was doing better than in football, but was still less than outstanding. My school friends and I spent halftime of the home basketball games under the stands, collecting change that had fallen out of men’s pants pockets. My closing TMN comment on one Radnor game was that “Radnor should have and would have won, but they scored only one point in the last period.” In April, 1943, I completed the coverage of high school basketball by reporting that Chester beat Radnor 19-17. Then I listed the final standings of the various Suburban Leagues.
The next year Radnor won the Suburban 2 league, but lost out in the state tournament. I reported that Al Domenick led the team in scoring with 87 points. This doesn’t seem like many points until you remember that team totals, such as the Chester-Radnor game noted above, were quite low.
In the same edition (March, 1944) I described other noteworthy high school basketball happenings, such as a four overtime game between North Catholic and West Catholic of Philadelphia, with West winning 45-43. I also wrote about Newbold Smith, Episcopal Academy’s all-around athlete, who “has participated in baseball, basketball, football, shot-put, discus throwing, and wrestling.”
The final edition of TMN, January, 1946, spoke at some length about undefeated Radnor basketball, led by Stu Adams, the 5’11” center and the only holdover from the previous year’s team that had made it to the state tournament, defeating a team from the coal fields of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, headed by Polish players Boguski and Narlesky. Both years – 1945 and 1946 – Radnor lost in the Eastern finals to Allentown. Though not in TMN, two years later, after our family moved to Kansas City, Allentown was found to have used an ineligible player during both title years, and had to forfeit the state title to the Western Pennsylvania champion. No one knows how Radnor would have fared had they played for the championship.
Neighborhood Sports: The high fence at the northeast corner of the North Wayne Field was at the back of Dad’s large vegetable garden. Since it was two blocks to the field’s gate, Will and I dug a hole under the fence. Our entire neighborhood used the hole to get into the field to play baseball on the well laid out diamond nearly every Saturday morning during baseball season. Also, I would sometimes go under by myself to shoot on the metal basketball baskets.
In April of 1943, The Monthly News published the following notice: “The ‘Saturday Baseball Games’ are going to try to continue this year. They are played in the North Wayne Avenue field . . . practice time 10:00, game-time 10:30. Anyone may come, and bring any baseball equipment you have, with you.” Two years earlier, when the games began, my Dad pitched for both teams. But by 1943 we were old enough and big enough to pitch for ourselves. If there were too few kids to make two teams, we played “movied up,” where each player started in right field and moved to the next position when a batter went out: Center field, left field, 3rd base, short stop, 2nd base, 1st base, pitcher (except when Dad was pitching), catcher, then better!
The next month we reported that the first game was played on April 10. Then there was a rainout, and the next week a cancellation “because the following day was Easter.” Another game was played on May 1, and I advertised the next game for May 8, saying: “There haven’t been enough people out there, so let’s all come next Saturday morning; . . .” Incidentally, I began to get up at 8:00 on Saturdays and ride my bike around Wayne to wake up friends, such as Ed Beadle, Dezzy Long, and Ted Detwiler.
Then in the June, 1943, TMN I reported that the “’Saturday Games’ have taken an unexpected turn. The ‘Wildcats,’ a team . . . already in existence, has challenged” us, and we accepted. We will play them on two Saturdays, and then have our own private games the rest of the month. “The Tigers (that’s us) will need a lot more good players in order to beat the Wildcats.”
A month later it was reported that the Wildcats had beaten the Tigers 14-0. Homsher, our left-handed pitcher, struck out 11 batters, but walked 14. Next time the Wildcats didn’t show up, so the Tigers won 1-0. It was decided that the final game between the two teams would not be until August 28, since too many players had gone on vacation.
The next happening I reported was that the Radnor gym teacher, Mr. Forrest, established two leagues, with two teams in each league. The ages were 9-12 and 13-16. The teams played each other across age categories, and finally there was an all-star game between the winner of the older league and the best players of the younger league, selected by Mr. Forrest. Hardly surprisingly, the older team won, 9-5!
So what else did TMN keep track of besides North Wayne baseball? In December, 1943, we gave a lengthy – almost play-by-play - account of a football game between Cub Scout Den 1 and Den 4. They played on a 70-yard field, with Den 4 winning 18 to 6.
In February of 1944, TMN published two interesting local sports notes. The first says that in a county basketball tournament, after four teammates had fouled out, Leo Cockrell played the final two minutes alone “and battled the Liberty Center five to a standstill while scoring one point on a foul shot himself.” The second notes that Herman Ingerman, 14, “was virtually a one-man basketball team last night as he chalked up 55 in a game in which the Hurricanes triumphed over Boy Scout Troop #34 by a score of 59 to 27.” By this time, TMN was well-known enough that I was receiving calls from the community with news about local sports.
The Second Anniversary edition - September. 1944 – noted the opening of Victory Field, a new playground, in the eastern part of Wayne, on Radnor Road. In addition, Sue Eakins, a girl in Will’s class and a “guest reporter,” told of the Colonial Village Club swimming races. Dana Lamb, a girl in my class, did well in the younger group, and Don Baker won the senior diving and 25-yard freestyle. Sue also gave accounts of softball, golf, and tennis tournaments. One other local sports happening, reported by TMN in 1944, was that Ellis Dwyer, the Radnor basketball coach, helped to start a church league. with teams from Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, and other churches.
Thus, for 3 ½ years The Monthly News included accounts of U.S. sports at all levels. TMN subscribers seemed to enjoy both the local and the national sports news, and from time to time wrote letters of appreciation – or criticism, as my Dad’s minister friend did. All this took place during World War II, between the time I was 10 and my 14th birthday. It never took me more than three days to gather the information and write the month’s sports news. Besides putting out TMN, and playing all sports, I played my “All-Star Baseball” board game most days, and even went to school. As you can imagine, reading was not high on my agenda of things to do during those years.