A certain Phillies’ Hall of Fame third baseman once referred to Philadelphia as "the only city where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day."
One man who understands that statement perhaps more than anyone in Phillies history is Larry Shenk. For the former director of PR, last October marked 51 years with the Phils.
He was here for the Phillies’ collapse in 1964 and he was here when the Phillies forced a Mets collapse in 2007. He was here for Dick Allen's first season and for Jimmy Rollins' final season. He was here for Jim Bunning’s perfect game and he was here when Doc threw his.
Some numbers since “The Baron” joined the Phillies:
8,131 games (4,088-4,043)
94 playoff games (48-46)
2 World Championships
6 general managers
When David Montgomery once jokingly referred to him as “the Phillies fossil,” you know Larry Shenk has been with the Phillies for a very long time. He even has his own bobble head.
Shenk retired as the director of PR in 2008 after 44 years and now is the vice president of alumni relations. His new role allows him to work at home, “but I go to the office one day a week to give my wife a break,” Shenk said.
As if PR wasn’t tough enough, try managing thousands of Phillies alumni.
“I just got an email from the owner of a liquor store,” Shenk said. “He would like to put up a display of Hank Mason and he asked if I could give him the address. Alumni don’t answer emails like you and I do, so finding the information can be a challenge.”
He also tries to find information for donations and funeral services. “The Phillies believe you should be remembered even if you played for just for one day,” he said.
Shenk manages an alumni newsletter and runs the alumni page on the Phillies' website along with Paul Hagan in which he posts old stories and vintage photos. He also writes for the Phillies Insider blog.
The Baron decided to share his five decades with the Phillies in a book he published last year titled, “If These Walls Could Talk.” Friends of his wife sparked the idea when he first stepped down from PR. “I’m not a golfer, I don’t swim, and I don’t whittle, so I wrote a book.”
He wrote the book while also in the process of moving with his wife, giving him from April to September to complete the move and the book.
"There were times when I thought, 'What in the world did I get myself into?'" Shenk recalls. “But I had interviewed a lot of alumni about their favorite memories, so I had a lot to work with.”
Of course, there might not be a book if not for a leap of faith he made 51 years ago. Shenk was working for The Wilmington News-Journal when the opportunity came to work for the Phillies. “As a kid I always wanted to work for the Phillies,” Shenk said. “I was a little hesitant since I was the fourth person to take the job in four years, but I knew I couldn’t pass it up.”
Shenk is like a living Phillies encyclopedia, having experienced first-hand several very different clubhouses. “1964 was totally different from what we see today,” said Shenk. “Back then they just wrote game stories. Media didn’t come around the clubhouse and we didn’t have Comcast Sportsnet or anything like that. Totally different atmosphere.”
“In 1964 we were all the same age,” he said. “I was 25, Bobby Wine was 25, Cookie Rojas was 25, and so was Johnny Callison.”
“Players are different but they are all athletes. The 1983 team was a bunch of guys we picked up. The ’93 team was the wackiest bunch.”
“The players from this recent run were all home grown,” Shenk noted. “It was fun to watch Howard, Utley, and Rollins come up as kids and become the best first baseman, second baseman, and shortstop in Phillies history. It will be a long time before we have better players at those positions.”
He also offers the unique perspective of watching them grow as players and mature as human beings. “John Kruk was the biggest pain ever as a player and here he is now doing a great job with ESPN,” Shenk said.
“I saw Schmidt as a shy young man,” he said. “He wasn’t always accepted, but Cooperstown changed the picture. I was there with Luzinski when we drafted him and I was there when we signed Larry [Bowa].”
Shenk also earned the trust of the players. Bowa wrote in the forward to Shenk’s book, “Trust is a hard thing to come by in baseball, but the ‘Baron’ had ours.”
He recalls in his book how Steve Carlton specifically asked Shenk to join him for his 1994 Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown. “I guess I was his security blanket,” Shenk wrote. “Lefty is a great guy and he decided not to talk to the media, but he was consistent with it,” he explains. “When you are around Lefty you laugh a lot.”
It isn’t often you find a PR director fondly remember a player who didn’t speak to the media.
Shenk also shared a mutual trust with Darren Daulton. “Dutch was a skinny catcher, 25th rounder, and he understood the media and so forth,” said Shenk. “In 1993, the players were always in the training room talking about the game and I’m standing in the clubhouse with nobody. It was one against 25, but Dutch would always say, ‘I’ve got 5 more minutes of ice on my knee’ and he would come out. My wife actually did most of his fan mail. He’s just a solid person.”
Daulton is just one in a long list of Phillies spanning several generations who formed close bonds with Shenk.
“You have friendships with all of them,” Shenk said. “I wasn’t around the Whiz Kids, but I see them at the alumni weekends. Curt Simmons is one of the few remaining Whiz Kids. He lives in Ambler, PA, and I call him once a month. He is now 85 and just went through multiple surgeries.”
Another Whiz Kid was Robin Roberts. “Boy did Robin Roberts love the 2008 team,” Shenk remembers. “He would call me several times a week saying something like, ‘If I had Hamels’ change up I would still be pitching.’ He would tell me, ‘I want to talk to Brad Lidge to learn how he throws that slider.’”
Shenk recalls when he decided to set up an alumni lunch for seniors in Spring Training. “Robin Roberts said he would be first person there, but he died in May of that year. He had such a memory. Baseball players can remember things that would blow your mind.”
“I’m a little concerned people aren’t as much interested in history anymore,” Shenk admits. “People don’t remember some of those players.”
He gives the impression that maintaining the Phillies rich history is something he wants to be a part of his legacy.
“I’m working on a new book, “Faces and Places in Phillies history.” I want to chart every no-hitter and find every player who played just one game and had one at-bat or outing. Bob Warrington wrote a story about the Phils’ 1915 Spring training in St. Petersburg which I will also include.”
“This year is the 100 year anniversary since the first pennant in 1915,” he noted. “That team had 23 players all season."
Moving to the present, this will be the first season in over a decade where the Phillies are picked by many to finish in the basement. While this creates its own challenges for the PR department, Shenk does not think it is necessarily harder than when the team is good. “I always said when you are lousy you have to work twice as hard for media exposure; when you are good, it is twice as hard to keep up with the demand exposure.”
This current downturn is just the nature of sports according to Shenk. “Baseball goes through cycles,” he said. “It also takes time for a team to learn how to win. I saw the 1976 and 2007 teams reach the playoffs and get swept in the first round. And each team thinks they will win more than the last era, but it is a learning process.”
Now “The Baron” is ready to move down to Clearwater for 3 months. “There’s nothing like Spring Training. The players aren’t grumpy, the coaches aren’t grumpy, and the writers aren’t grumpy.”
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