04/08/2003 1:17 AM ET
Giles and the Vet go hand in hand
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- As constant as each new season at Veterans Stadium, so has been the presence of Bill Giles. From helping unpack dishes the night before the first Opening Day on April 10, 1971 to welcoming slugging first baseman Jim Thome, Giles has rarely been seen away from the corner of Broad and Pattison.
Giles has meant so much to the Phillies during each year of Veterans Stadium, which ends its 33-year run after the season. He came to the Phillies as Vice President, Business Operations after the 1969 season. His first full year was the last for Connie Mack Stadium. Before rising to his current title of Chairman in 1997, Giles served as Executive Vice President and President. During his early years, he spent a lot of time coming up with ways of trying to bring as many fans as possible into The Vet and keep them coming.
Baseball and Giles have rarely been apart. His father, Warren G. Giles, was President and General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1940s and spent 18 years as the president of the National League. Bill's mother died when he was nine, so he literally grew up in a baseball stadium. He started his career as an errand boy with the Reds as a teenager and, other than three years of service in the U.S. Air Force, has never had a job outside of baseball.
"I am the luckiest man in the world because to be part owner of a team was not the goal that I set out for myself," said Giles, 68. "I always wanted to be in charge of a Major League baseball team -- president or general manager from the time I was 15. I've had a wonderful life and with the Phillies I've had a lot of ups and downs. One of the good things about having some downs is the ups feel better."
Without hesitation, Giles' said his greatest up came Oct. 21, 1980, when Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson then leaped in the arms of third baseman Mike Schmidt.
There were countless other memories in his Veterans Stadium life -- some of them failed promotions that he can laugh about now.
But first, more on the World Series. What about the dogs and horses?
"I served as referee for the dogs and the horses on the field. (Mayor) Wilson Goode was then managing director of the city and was standing with me in my box in the seventh inning. He said 'I'm going to bring out the horses and dogs in the top of the ninth.' I said bring out the horses, but not the dogs. He said, 'I'm bringing out both. (The Vet) is city property and I don't want this place torn up.' So they all came out"
As for promotional highlights, there's Kiteman, who was supposed to smoothly glide into Veterans Stadium, then crashed in his first two attempts before landing safely on April 12, 1973.
"That's probably the one I like talking about the most," he said. "It was the most fun failure I ever had. Took him three times before he finally made it. The Kiteman was a success in that people got such a kick out of it.
Second to Kiteman was Aug. 13, 1972, when Karl Wallenda walked a tightrope across the top of the Vet between games of a double-header. Wallenda, who performed a hand stand midway across, repeated the stunt six years later.
Now here are some of the "horrible mistakes" as Giles calls them and all involved animals and all occurred in the mid-'70s -- no one is sure when.
"One of the worst was the ostrich race. Some guy convinced me that these ostriches could run around the perimeter of the ballpark (with a harness) attached. So I told Harry Kalas and Richie Asburn that there's no fear. They started to go wild and Richie and Harry were scared to death. So was I. They jumped off very quickly. One of the ostriches jumped into the stands. It was awful. Harry and Richie were going to have a race, but it never happened because the ostriches couldn't behave.
"Then I had the highest jumping Easter bunny planned for an Easter Sunday. I put my sales guy in a bunny outfit and got a hot-air balloon. The theory was that the hot air would take the rabbit and would end up somewhere in New Jersey. The balloon would get up about 10 feet and crash down. Finally my bunny told the balloon operator that he wasn't going to do it because he was scared.
"We had a duck race where about 20 ducks were supposed to race from second and third. The usherettes were supposed to coax them with little crumbs. As soon as we got the ducks out there, they all ran into the dugout."
"When I first came to Philadelphia, they were only drawing 400,000 people (a season) and it was my goal to get people accustomed to going to the ballpark because people had gotten out of the habit of going to the game. So we did all these crazy things with the theory that if they came just to see the Kiteman or a Ronnie Milsap concert, that they would like the happening and enjoy the game to the point where they would come back to regular games."
"I'll miss the memories. For years I thought the Vet was a wonderful place. I would get excited driving to work. I think (the new ballpark) is going to be the best ballpark ever built. I say a prayer every night before going to bed that this new ballpark is accepted as one of the great cathedrals for baseballs. Of course winning helps a lot. The hot dogs taste better when you're winning."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for
MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball
or its clubs.