Veterans Stadium memories

December 13th, 2023

As the days of 2023 tick off the calendar, we close out a year of remembering Veterans Stadium that closed 20 years ago. Yes, the Vet’s end came on Sept. 28, 2003. It was imploded on March 21, 2004. Memories are plentiful and will never implode. What follows are a few that come to mind ...

Easily No. 1, winning the first World Series in franchise history (1980) and the millions of happy, smiling fans who lined the parade a few days later. Those images are implanted forever.

Clinching the National League pennant at home against the Dodgers (1983) who dominated Philadelphia during the season, 11-1. Plus, it's payback for losing to them in 1977 and '78. How sweet it was.

Ten years later the Vet rocked when we eliminated the favorite Braves in the NLCS to advance to the World Series. Misfits, rejects, outcasts, whatever you want to call that club (1993,) they captured the hearts of Phillly. No Hall of Famers on that team. A Beer Drinkers Hall of Fame? Different story.

We hosted 16 Old-Timers' games, sadly a promotion that has vanished. Heroes of many generations included the Whiz Kids, 1964 Phillies, A’s icons such as Eddie Joost, Elmer Valo, Gus Zernial, Bobby Shantz, plus the likes of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Monte Irvin and Bobby Thomson.

Being on the ground level when we started the Phillies Baseball Hall of Fame (1978), honoring great Phillies and A’s players. Robin Roberts was the first inductee.

Ceremonies to retire uniform numbers of Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt and Jim Bunning. All special events that had never taken place in franchise history.

Pete Rose breaking Stan Musial’s NL record for career hits, having Stan the Man there for the moment and the hilarious postgame news conference phone call with President Ronald Reagan. A memorable night (1981).

Steve Carlton’s unbelievable 1972 season, the big scoreboard flashing “Super Steve." Larry Bowa proclaiming days when Lefty pitched as “Windays.” Years later (1986), aware it was his last game as a Phillie, watching him walk off the mound for the final time. We’ve seen nothing like him since.

Bill Giles’ philosophy was work hard and have fun. We did. His Opening Day acts were both entertaining and frightening. Then, there was the great Karl Wallenda walking across the Vet, twice. Didn’t see either one. Must confess Wheels and I didn’t have the guts to watch. We took haven in our office.

Walking into Paul Owens; office after he traded Willie Montanez to S.F. for Garry Maddox (1975). Willie and the Pope were crying.

Darren Daulton was the greatest leader I’ve ever seen. Again, knowing we were trading him after the game (1997), I watched intently as he walked off the turf for the last time in the seventh inning. He played right field that night for the 71st and final time.

The inaugural game (1971), a win over Gene Mauch’s Expos. Remember leaving late at night before the opener. There was Giles, cleaning the glass doors to the Phillies' offices.

The last game (2003), 11,859 days after it opened. With more than 120 Phillies players past and present on the field for the last time, fans witnessed one final memory during an emotional closing ceremony. The Pope and Tug McGraw, both very ill, were able to be at the Vet one more time.

Owens died on Dec. 26, three months after the closing ceremonies. When I got the call from Ed Wade, I went to the office around 4 p.m. to write the obituary and notify the media. More than four hours later, the job was done. I was the only person in the place. It was eerie, because the Vet was empty in more ways than one. In preparation for implosion, there were no more blue seats, no green turf, some concrete was missing. Now, there was no Paul Owens. Then, I thought of Oct. 21, 1980, our first World Series championship. Veterans Stadium will forever be remembered as the home of those champions, a team built by the Pope.

Ah, the Vet ... great performances by great players, electrifying walk-off wins, gut-wrenching losses, a game that joyously ended at 4:40 a.m., the arrival of the Phillie Phanatic, wacky promotions, organist Paul Richardson, dancing waters, All-Star Games. More than 66 million fans attended Phillies games -- groups, families, father-sons, mother-daughters, senior citizens, little ones seeing their first game. Found memories for generations to cherish.