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Chester County Press

Phillies minor league history featured in new book

03/15/2021 04:53PM ● By Steven Hoffman

When the pandemic halted the 2020 minor league baseball season before it began, Steve Potter missed the games as much as anyone. Potter is an avid baseball fan who has made writing about the sport—and specifically his beloved Philadelphia Phillies—his main hobby in retirement. 

During a typical year, baseball would provide the rhythms of summer—he would watch as many games as possible and talk to the players, coaches, and scouts. He would take notes and chart data. He would write regular updates about the future Phillies that he was watching. And at the end of the year, he would compile all that information into his Phillies Minor League Digest, a must-read book filled with notes, nuggets, statistics, photos, and Potter’s insights into the season.

Each year between 2016 and 2020, the book arrived in the off-season. And then 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit, and suddenly there was no minor league season for Potter to follow or write about. 

He explained, “When play halted due to the pandemic and it was determined that there would be no minor league season, I decided to write a series of articles on my webpage on Phillies minor league history instead.”

He received a call from Larry Shenk, the retired, longtime Phillies executive, who enjoyed reading the articles. Shenk suggested that the history of the Phillies minor league teams through the years might be a good subject for a book.

“We chatted and decided to collaborate on writing the first and only Phillies minor league history book,” Potter explained. “He arranged to interview multiple former Phillies big leaguers and I reached out to current Phillies minor leaguers, coaches and administrators.  We composed the entire book over a course of seven months.”

The result of Potter’s collaboration with Shenk is Life in the Minors, 5th Annual Phillies Minor League Digest, an historical book that details the franchise’s minor leagues from the first affiliate in Hazleton, Pa., to the current structure of minor league franchises that help develop the next generation of Phillies players. The book details the history of 115 Phillies minor league affiliates—from Appleton (WI) and Huron (SD) to Magic Valley (ID) and Walla Walla (WA), and of course the longtime association with Reading (PA).

Among the many minor league team names featured in the book are the Mountaineers, Peaches, Manufacturers, Muckdogs, Papermakers, Johnnies, Red Barons, Threshers, Blue Jays, Marlins, and Padres. The most prominent, obviously, is the Phillies.

Life in the Minors, 5th Annual Phillies Minor League Digest features interviews with Phillies legends about their time spent in the minors, including stories from Dick Allen, Larry Andersen, Bob Boone, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, Charlie Manuel, Mickey Morandini, Jimmy Rollins, Mike Schmidt, Bobby Wine and Rick Wise. Adam Haseley and multiple current Phillies minor league players also share their experiences in the game.

Additional stories are included from other minor league personnel, including managers, coaches, executives and broadcasters.

“The highlights of the book are each of the stories we were able to tell, the cities where the Phillies played, how minor league baseball evolved and all of the people it touches,” Potter explained. “The true story though is always the people. One that shouldn’t go overlooked is Allen Greenwood’s story. He’s a Unionville resident who played briefly in the Phillies system, and his story is a very real testament to the majority of the players who were minor leaguers, yet never made it to the big leagues.”

Phillies fans will love some of the memories and insights that are included in the book. Dick Allen, one of the top hitters in franchise history, recalled playing shortstop during his first year in the minors when he played alongside his brother Hank, who was also part of the Phillies’ organization. Hank recalled seeing Dick get hit by a pitch that caused him to miss several weeks. Hank and Dick would both go on to make it to the big leagues.

Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt was sent to play for the Reading Phillies six days after the organization signed him. He made quite an impression early on by homering in an exhibition game between the Reading Phillies and the big league club. Schmidt is quoted as saying that starting his career at the Double-A level challenged him to work harder and helped him reach the majors a year earlier than he would have.

As any Phillies fan knows, Larry Andersen’s unique insights into the game of baseball are priceless. Andersen enjoyed a 17-year pitching career and is now a color analyst for Phillies’ radio broadcasts. He described his experiences in baseball this way:

“I was traded, released, loaned out, sent down, optioned out, purchased and a free agent six times. When you figure the buses, the flights, apartments, hotels and motels, small locker rooms including trailers, fast food restaurants and dive bars due to our $5.00 a day meal money allowance…well, that’s life in pro baseball.”

Andersen joked that the highlight of his minor league career was being called “ace” for a Williamsport Tomahawks team that went 48-91 in 1976. He also noted that he led the team in hitting by going 1-2—a robust .500 batting average—plus a walk.

Shenk joined the Phillies organization in 1963 as the director of public relations and was named the vice president of public relations in 1981. He remained in that role until he took on an advisory role in 2008. He writes his own Phillies insider blog.

Potter, a retired Pfizer executive who previously lived in Chester County, first published an annual Minor League Digest following the 2016 season. He is the site owner and the writer of the baseball blog

Life in the Minors, 5th Annual Phillies Minor League Digest has a fan in Pat Gillick, a Hall of Fame executive who was general manager when the Phillies won the 2008 World Series. Gillick’s playing career is featured in the book.

“This is really a unique book,” Gillick said in a press release. “No other book to my knowledge covers the minor league history of any team. My career concluded with the Phillies, but I intermingled with many of their legends when I was a minor leaguer. My first manager was Billy DeMars. In every league I played, the Phillies had a team. I played against guys like Pat Corrales, Lee Elia, Norm Gigon, Ray Culp, John Herrnstein, Dick Allen, Dennis Bennett, Danny Cater.”

The foreword for the book is written by lead broadcaster Tom McCarthy, who began his broadcasting career as the voice of the Trenton Thunder. He shares some memories of his own experiences in the minor leagues.

Jim Peyton is the editor. Photo contributions to the annual digests have been made by Cheryl Pursell (Lehigh Valley), George Youngs Jr. (Reading), Michael Dill (Jersey Shore) and Mark Wylie (Clearwater).

The 355-page book is now on sale on Amazon, and it is available in color and black and white editions. A portion of the proceeds will go to Phillies Charities, Inc.