The Phillies’ Connections to George H. W. Bush and Government

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate author Rich Westcott’s recent column from the Delaware County Daily Times about the connection between George H. W. Bush and the Philadelphia Phillies. 

The recent passing of George H. W. Bush brings to mind a Phillies connection with the 41st president of the United States. It is a particularly intriguing connection that went unnoticed in this week’s multitude of reactions.

Bush attended Yale University. While there, he played on the baseball team and was captain in his senior year. His coach was former Phillies outfielder Ethan Allen.

Allen, who coached at Yale from 1946 through 1968, spent three seasons with the Phillies, playing as a starting outfielder in 1934 and 1935 before getting traded during the 1936 campaign. He hit .330 in his first year in Philadelphia and .307 in his second. Altogether, Allen spent 13 years in the majors, retiring in 1938 with a lifetime batting average of .300.

After serving overseas on a special-services assignment for the federal government during World War II, Allen became the baseball coach at Yale. There he led his team to the first two College World Series, where they were finalists both times. In each case, his first baseman was a former Navy pilot named George Bush.

5c0e3ea71ac2f.imageWhat kind of player was Bush? “George was an excellent fielder,” Allen told the author during an interview some years ago at his home in North Carolina. “But he was not such a good hitter. He was a very likeable guy, though, and a fine leader.”

Allen, who had an undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati, a master’s from Columbia and was eventually inducted into the College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, said that Bush always sent him a Christmas card, even after he became president. “Once, he even called me from Air Force One,” Allen recalled. “Earlier, when he was being considered as head of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), I was called for a recommendation. I said, ‘If he can understand the sequence of signals we had at Yale, he is certainly qualified for the CIA.’”

Interestingly, over the years, the Phillies have had many other connections with government and politics. These probably outnumber most, if not all, of those of other professional sports teams.

The Phillies had another player who had connections with two U.S. presidents. That would be Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, whose first two names were those of the country’s only president who served two terms that were not consecutive. In the movie about his life called “The Winning Team,” produced in 1953, Alexander’s role was played by future president and then-actor Ronald Reagan.

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning, who spent six seasons with the Phillies, winning 19 games three straight times and hurling the team’s first perfect game in 1964, served for the state of Kentucky in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1988 to 1998, and the next 12 years as a U.S senator. He also ran unsuccessfully for governor of Kentucky.

Larry Jackson, another pitcher, spent 1966 through 1968 with the Phillies during a 14-year big league career. He was a four-term member of the state House of Representatives in Idaho while also once running a losing campaign for governor.

Still another pitcher with perhaps the most interesting career in government was Pete Sivess, a little know Phillies pitcher in the late-1930s. A high-ranking Naval officer during World War II, Sivess, who spoke Russian because his parents had immigrated from there, helped to train the Russian navy while stationed in the Aleutian Islands. After the war, he became one of the American government representatives who ran Rumania for two years while the war-torn country recovered. Next, Sivess became a member of the CIA, and from 1948 until his retirement in 1972 was in charge of a covert operation in St. Michael’s, Md., that indoctrinated defectors and refugees from battered areas of Europe into the ways of American life while helping them to get jobs, places to live, and in some cases, new identities.

Although no story is more intriguing than Sivess’, the Phillies have had many other connections with the government and military. Hugh Mulcahy, a Phillies pitcher from 1935 to 1946, was the first major league player drafted into military service in World War II. Inducted in 1941, he spent most of the next five years in the army.

Third baseman Ed Grant, who played with the Phillies from 1907 to 1910, was the first major league player killed in World War I. As a captain and the commander of Army troops searching for the “Lost Battalion” after the battle in 1918 in the Argonne Forest in France, Grant was killed by an exploding shell.

Of course, many other former Phillies served their country in the military. One in particular was pitcher Curt Simmons, who in the midst of his best season in 1950 when he compiled a 17-8 record, was twice pulled from the team that season to serve in the National Guard at the start of the Korean War. The second time, Simmons’ superb season was cut short and he was unable build upon his record or to experience that rare opportunity of pitching in the World Series.

A man who was for the most part the hidden owner of the Phillies from 1909, when he put up $350,000 to buy the team, until 1913, carried the name of Charles O. Taft. He was the older brother of U.S. president William H. Taft, the nation’s first leader ever to throw out the first pitch on opening day. The Taft family also owned the Phillies ballpark called Baker Bowl for many years, and later owned a piece of the team from 1981 to 1987 as part of a group headed by Bill Giles.

Another former Phillies chief, William Baker (1913-30) was the police commissioner of New York City before taking over the team. Outfielders Gavvy Cravath (Long Beach, Calif.) and Curt Walker (Beeville, Texas) were justices of the peace after their playing careers ended.

In addition to all these people, the Phillies had two others who should be mentioned. Former Philadelphia Stars outfielder Ted Washington, who in 1952 became the first African-American player ever signed by the Phillies, had his chance to join the team, but was denied that opportunity when he was drafted into the Korean War and subsequently suffered an injury that kept him from ever playing again.

And Philadelphian Edith Houghton, who was the first woman full-time scout in major league history when she joined the Phillies in 1946, previously served for 28 years as first a reserve and then an officer in the Navy during World War II.

As all these names ably demonstrate, many people from the Phillies had important connections with the country’s federal or local government, either politically, militarily, or in some other way. Ethan Allen’s association with former President Bush served as a significant reminder of these many connections.

Rich Westcott is a writer and historian and the author of 26 sports books, his most recent being Biz Mackey – A Giant Behind the Plate.’ Westcott was once a sports writer for the Daily Times.

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Temple University Press’s annual holiday sale

This week in North Philly Notes, we encourage you to attend our annual holiday sale from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm December 5-7 in the Diamond Club lobby, 1913 N. Broad Street, at Temple University.

Ray Didinger will sign copies of The Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition, at 12:00 pm December 7. 

And if you can’t make it, our books are always available for purchase on our website.

Happy Holidays–and Happy Reading–from Temple University Press!

Holiday Sale Flyer

 

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