Chronological Tour: Stop 15

The Vet

Exterior of Veterans Stadium from Pattison Avenue, Sep-2001.

Looking in from center field toward the press box.

A mockup of the Liberty Bell sits atop the outfield bleachers.

Quick Facts: Rating: 1 baseball
It was 4:28 pm, Sunday 28-Sep-2003.

The batter was Chase Utley, who was playing second base for the Phillies. He fouled off a few offerings from the Braves’ Jason Marquis before grounding sharply to short. Rafael Furcal made the stab and flipped the ball to Marcus Giles, retiring Pat Burrell at second. Giles then turned and fired to first, where Robert Fick caught the ball a step ahead of Utley’s arrival at the bag. The Braves had spoiled the Phillies’ party, winning 5-2. The game took 2 hours 51 minutes before 58,554 at Philadelphia Veterans Stadium.

Savor those words ... “at Philadelphia Veterans Stadium”. They will no longer be heard to describe a sporting event. On 21-Mar-2004, after certain of its accoutrements were saved for posterity, the Vet met the wrecking ball. Home plate and the pitcher’s rubber were removed, to be ceremonially installed at the Phillies’ new facility right next door, Citizens Bank Park, which opened Monday 12-Apr-2004 with an afternoon game against the Cincinnati Reds.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the last play to occur in a sporting event at Veterans Stadium was the Phillies hitting into a game-ending double play.

Larry Bowa, who got the first hit at the Vet 10-Apr-1971 in a Phillies victory over the Montreal Expos, managed the Phils in 2003 and guided them to a rare winning season (86-76), but they still finished third in the NL East behind the Braves and the Florida Marlins, who earned the wild card.

Not that there weren’t any highlights in the stadium’s 33-year life. The Phillies won the NL East three years running, 1976-78, falling in the playoffs to the last year of the Big Red Machine and then twice to the Dodgers. Then in 1980, the Phils went all the way, capturing their first NL pennant since the 1950 “Whiz Kids” and their first World Series crown ever. A strange 1993 season – which saw a twi-night doubleheader 2-Jul end at 4:40 in the morning – ended with the Phils again winning the National League title but falling to Toronto in the World Series. But more seasons than not ended in losing records. Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton won 27 games in 1972, a strike-shortened season in which the Phillies finished 59-92.

And then there was the stadium. Architecturally, it didn’t look that bad. It sat on the corner of Broad Street and Pattison Avenue, dwarfing the Spectrum, the basketball and hockey arena on the other side of Pattison. And if it had only been built for the Phillies, it would probably have survived – because it would have been a little smaller. The stadium was always maintained fairly well. The seats were always in good condition, and for the most part the place was kept clean.

The trouble was that the NFL Eagles wanted in on the deal. They and their fans demanded a larger facility, and they got it. The Vet could hold 67,000 for football (less for baseball because some 100- and 200-level seats retracted to make room for a symmetrical outfield), and you could almost touch the moon from the 700-level seats. And then there was the artificial turf. With the old AstroTurf, the on-field temperature on a sunny summer Sunday would often exceed 140°F (60°C). (NexTurf, a better playing surface, replaced the AstroTurf in 2001. The AstroTurf itself had been replaced several times.)

By 2000, it was agreed (by state and city officials, if not necessarily the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) that the Phillies and Eagles should play in separate new facilities. After much discussion, it was decided to put the new Phillies’ stadium in the existing sports complex, along with the Eagles’ new home, Lincoln Financial Field, which opened earlier in 2003. The sports complex also includes the Spectrum, since demolished, as well as a newer, larger indoor multi-purpose arena, generally referred to as “The Center” to avoid having to remember the name of the bank that sponsors it this week.

The closing ceremony, hosted by long-time broadcast announcer Harry Kalas, was moving for a lot of Phillies fans. About 100 current and former Phillies – players, managers, and coaches – participated, each being introduced and walking out to a position. After the “starting lineup”, Sunday’s lineup accompanied by two former Phillies stars at each position, was introduced, all the players got to touch home plate one last time. The ceremony included Phillies icons like Carlton and Mike Schmidt, as well as fan favorites like Mickey Morandini and Jim Eisenreich. The final act at the park, not counting a brief fireworks display, featured relief pitcher Tug McGraw (in one of his last public appearances prior to his untimely death early in 2004) arriving from the bullpen in a limousine and recreating his final pitch that won the 1980 World Series.

I saw a total of 25 games at the Vet, starting with a 6-2 Phillies victory over the Mets 9-Sep-1990. The Phils went 14-11 with me in the yard – if you can call a coliseum with artificial turf a “yard”.

So why will I miss this park to which I only awarded one baseball on my scale? Probably because it was easy to get into. With so many seats, sellouts were exceedingly rare. At least for the 2004 season, getting into Citizens Bank Park won’t be easy. It won’t be cheap, either, as there won’t be any 700-level seats available for $10. There won’t be a 700-level, period. The new place is supposed to be a lot cozier than the Vet, with only 43,500 seats and a view of the city. I’m sure it’ll be a nice park, but I doubt I’ll run down to two or three games a year there. Maybe I’ll save the toll and watch games in Camden instead. You can see center city Philadelphia from right field there, too.

For the record, Greg Maddux (16-11) got the victory in that last game, going the requisite five innings for a starter. Kevin Millwood (14-12) surrendered 11 hits in four-plus innings for the loss, and, in keeping with tradition, he was roundly booed by the Phillies’ faithful, both when he was pulled from the game and in the post-game ceremony. After all, this was a stadium for which, when one of Philadelphia’s long-gone newspapers looked for reader suggestions for the name of the new place, one of the names that came up was “Boo-Bird Park”.

Also in keeping with tradition for a September Sunday, there were quite a few fans in attendance with small TV sets so they could watch the Eagles game. (The Eagles defeated Buffalo, 23-13.)

I should also note that this is at least the second stadium that Robert Fick helped close. He was a Tiger in 1999, hitting a grand slam in the grand finale of Tiger Stadium.

Game # Date League Level Result
38 Sun 9-Sep-1990 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 6, NY Mets 2
71 Sat 22-Aug-1992 National MLB Houston 14, PHILADELPHIA 9
85 Fri 2-Jul-1993 National MLB San Diego 5, PHILADELPHIA 2, 1st
110 Sun 12-Sep-1993 National MLB Houston 9, PHILADELPHIA 2
131 Fri 22-Jul-1994 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 4, San Diego 3, 1st
132 Fri 22-Jul-1994 National MLB San Diego 7, PHILADELPHIA 4, 2d
190 Sat 23-Sep-1995 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 3, Cincinnati 2, 13 inn
196 Fri 28-Jun-1996 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 7, Montréal 3
240 Sat 21-Sep-1996 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 2, NY Mets 1
292 Mon 15-Sep-1997 National MLB NY Mets 10, PHILADELPHIA 5, 10 inn, 1st
293 Mon 15-Sep-1997 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 2, NY Mets 1, 2d
299 Sat 27-Sep-1997 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 8, Florida 7
302 Sat 11-Apr-1998 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 6, Atlanta 5
345 Sun 13-Sep-1998 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 4, Pittsburgh 1
348 Sun 20-Sep-1998 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 6, Montréal 3
399 Sun 26-Sep-1999 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 3, NY Mets 2
401 Sun 3-Oct-1999 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 6, Montréal 5
443 Mon 11-Sep-2000 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 5, Montréal 2, 1st
444 Mon 11-Sep-2000 National MLB Montréal 7, PHILADELPHIA 6, 2d
448 Sun 24-Sep-2000 National MLB NY Mets 3, PHILADELPHIA 2
503 Mon 3-Sep-2001 National MLB NY Mets 10, PHILADELPHIA 7
567 Sat 7-Sep-2002 National MLB NY Mets 5, PHILADELPHIA 4
609 Sat 2-Aug-2003 National MLB San Diego 6, PHILADELPHIA 4, 1st
610 Sat 2-Aug-2003 National MLB PHILADELPHIA 10, San Diego 4, 2d
654 Sun 28-Sep-2003 National MLB Atlanta 5, PHILADELPHIA 2
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