Most fans would die to be a fly on the wall of their favorite sports teams. Well, for more than 40 years, Larry Shenk was that proverbial fly, and the way it turns out, he just so happens to be an excellent communicator.
And boy, could Shenk tell some stories about the Philadelphia Phillies.
Shenk, a native of Myerstown, recently penned a book entitled If These Walls Could Talk: Stores from the Phillies’ Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box. It is information and insight about the Phillies that one simply couldn’t find anywhere else, and related by a person who is uniquely qualified to do so.
You see from 1964 until his retirement in 2007, Shenk was employed in Philadelphia’s front office as, among other things, the franchise’s vice president of public relations. Let’s just put it this way: Shenk has forgotten more about the Phillies than you and I will ever know.
“Being familiar with your subject material is very important to an author,” said Shenk. “I try to write with the philosophy, ‘be brief, but be descriptive.’ I always try to include short anecdotes in my writing. The book is designed so you can read one chapter, put it down and pick it up again six months later. People have told me it’s an easy read, which is a compliment. The subject material is the Phillies, and my life with the Phillies.”
During Shenk’s tenure in Philadelphia, the Phillies experienced just about all the highs and all the lows a major league baseball franchise can experience. The Phillies had a great run of success in the 1970s, won the World Series in 1980, lost it in 1983 and 1993 and fielded such colorful personalities as Jim Bunning, Richie Ashburn, Dick Allen, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Tug McGraw, even current players like Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels.
For ‘The Baron’, there was plenty to write about.
“I tried to talk about players,” said Shenk, a graduate of Myerstown High School and a former reporter at The Lebanon Daily News. “Managers were a separate chapter. And general managers were a separate chapter. One chapter was about a parade of players to Cooperstown. One of the things the publishers wanted was stories about Howard, Hamels and Rollins, but I hadn’t been around them in a while. So what I did was used scouting reports on those guys as a reference. I had to make sure my stories were right and my dates were right. I read some excerpts of other books for facts. And there was stuff I had that they (the publishers) didn’t want to use, which was fine.
“I did a lot of banquet speaking for the Phillies,” added Shenk, “and I told a lot of stories. It was a great experience. And this time, I wasn’t in charge.”
The 208-page If These Walls Could Take: Stories from the Phillies’ Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box is available on www.amazon.com for $10.97. It can also be purchased for kindles.
“I can’t write for numbers,” said Shenk, whose book was composed with about 72,000 words. “But I had a lot of quotes. It was a challenge. There were times when I said, ‘What am I doing?’ But I was giving (former Phillies’ announcer) Chris Wheeler chapters of the book to read. The thing I realized is that the Phillies are a regional sports story. We aren’t doing as well as we once were, so interest is down. I also realized my name isn’t out there like it used to be.
“I look at myself as a club historian,” continued Shenk. “This is my hobby. Writing is my hobby. I don’t fish. I don’t hunt. I don’t play golf.”
To promote the book, Shenk has embarked on a regional book-signing tour. It is a tour which will visit his hometown of Myerstown on Thursday, August 28, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the Myerstown Community Library.
“When I stepped down, friends and family said, ‘you should write a book’,” said Shenk, who currently holds the part-time position of vice president of alumni relations with the Phillies. “I didn’t think too much of it at the time. But in 2012, I started thinking about the chapters and what they should be. I sent the manuscript around to five different publishers, and Triumph came back to me and said they were interested. But they asked me to add some chapters. I like challenges, so I said, ‘Yes, I will get it done.’
“The title came from the publishing company,” Shenk added. “It’s not the name I wanted. I wanted to have a series of bobbleheads and the title to be ‘If These Bobbleheads Could Talk’. I thought it was going to be more of an autobiography. But it’s less of me and more of the team.”
“People were curious about doing this,” said Shenk. “But I like writing. I have the time right now. I’m planning on a second book in 2016, about the Phillies’ history. I’m not in it to make money, although the publishing company is. I love writing and I love the Phillies.
“It was a lot of work,” added Shenk. “I had nine chapters done and they (the publishers) wanted more. The publishers were difficult. They are besieged by requests. When you win, you can sell anything. I pride myself on being organized, but with this it was hard to be organized.”
What follows is an excerpt from Larry Shenk’s book: If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Phillies’ Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box:
Growing up in Myerstown, a small town in Lebanon County in Central Pennsylvania, the baseball bug bit me. Not sure about a specific date, time or event but watching the Phillies in the 1950 World Series on a small, black-and-white Motorola TV does provide some vague memories.
WLBR AM (Lebanon) carried Phillies games and I became a die-hard fan. Rarely missed a game on radio with Gene Kelly, By Saam and Claude Haring. To this day, still prefer radio vs. TV. Radio allows you to imagine “there’s a deep fly ball to left.”
My resume features Little League, American Legion and High school baseball was my resume. I knew how to play but didn’t have the skills. While in college one summer, though, I was the groundskeeper of the Myerstown Legion field. If I couldn’t play well on the grass, I could at least mow it.
Every town had a baseball team. We were the Myerstown Patriots. As a youngster, I was the bat boy, home games and trips to nearby towns. Eventually, I moved up to a bench player. I looked good in a uniform and on the bench. I also invented my own baseball game using dice. Full 154-game season. Kept stats and the Phillies lost very few games. Honestly. Mom used to say, “Wish you’d spend as much time with your studies.”
At one point, WLBR stopped carrying Phillies games. The only place I could hear games was faintly on WIP AM out of Philadelphia. Atlantic Richfield Refining Company was a major sponsor of Phillies broadcasts. For a few years, they conducted a Junior Phillies Broadcasters Contest. I sent my letter (1957) and lo and behold, WIP called to say I was their finalist.
Mom, dad and I made a trip to Philadelphia for a pre-game dinner with Gene Kelly, By Saam and Claude Haring at the Drake Hotel before going to Shibe Park. Eight contestants taped one inning. One would be selected to broadcast one inning live later in the season. My Pennsylvania Dutch accent didn’t help but neither did my blown call of a fly ball that turned out to be a mere pop-up in the infield. But, what a thrill, sitting in the Press Box pretending to broadcast a Phillies game.