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Preserving Phillies history is fan's labor of love

CLEARWATER — You could see the controlled excitement in Tony Bacon's face as he explained the rarity of the framed picture of Jack Russell. He said there are not many photos of the man who championed baseball and the arrival of the Phillies spring training camp to Clearwater more than 60 years ago.

Then there are the framed pictures of the Worcester Brownstockings (or Ruby Legs, depending on which historical account you read), the team that became the Philadelphia Phillies in 1883. Or the picture of the tombstone of J. Lee Richard, who, as a Brownstocking, pitched pro baseball's first perfect game on June 12, 1880.

Nearly all of Bacon's life has been consumed with preserving baseball history, especially if it is connected to his beloved Philadelphia Phillies.

Bacon, 71, has a room on the third floor of his Clearwater home dedicated to his memorabilia. There are six lighted display cases chock-full of signed baseballs, pictures, bats, game programs and jerseys from mostly the Phillies players dating as far back as 1898.

There's the baseball he got signed by Connie Mack when Bacon was 11 or 12 years old. There's the baseball he caught at the 1950 World Series when the Phillies lost to the New York Yankees. Manager Eddie Sawyer signed the ball.

Framed pictures of players, the majority of them signed, hang neatly on the walls. There's the specially made case for signed baseballs. There's the specially made bat case that hangs in the hallway at the top of the steps with 18 more signed bats. There's the picture of Jack Russell pitching. The framed newspaper articles dating back to 1905 and scorecards that date back to 1915.

"As a kid, I was always fascinated with scorecards," Bacon said as he stood in his small Phillies museum. "The cards were a dime and postage was 1 cent. I'd send a dime to all the clubs and they would send me the scorecard."

Bacon still has all those scorecards neatly organized in burgundy and black binders.

And though he now resides in Clearwater, Bacon is not conflicted about whom to root for during the World Series.

"This is a dream World Series," said Bacon, who attended Wednesday night's game. "I love the Phillies. Secondly, I love the Rays. But I have to keep my loyalties to the Phillies."

Bacon does have a shelf dedicated to Rays memorabilia.

The love of baseball and the Phillies came early for the south New Jersey native.

When he was a child, Bacon would listen to the games on the radio with his father because there was no television. While dating as a teenager, it was a prerequisite that his girlfriend enjoy watching the Phillies.

And 30 years ago, when Bacon retired from owning a clothing store in Bridgeton, N.J., he moved to Clearwater, the spring training home for the Phillies.

But it is the scribble that players and managers put on the bats, balls, pictures, jerseys and game programs that makes the difference for Bacon.

"I've been autographing since I was 7 or 8 years old, and my biggest thrill even to this day is when I get an autograph," he said.

And Bacon works hard at it.

He sends letters to old-timers asking for autographs. During spring training, his wife of 25 years knows where to find him.

"I didn't know a thing about baseball until I met Tony," Linda Bacon, 67, said. "They call me the March widow because he disappears in March and is at the stadium (Bright House Networks Field) getting autographs."

Linda jokingly said her husband can be aggressive when he's trying to get an autograph and most players give in to him just so he will stop pestering them.

Tony Bacon, wearing a Phillies shirt, chuckled and went into great detail about how he got Frank Thomas' autograph. He said Thomas kept denying him, saying he had already signed something for Bacon.

Bacon continued to wait around, and when Thomas was gathering his belongings to leave the field, a few items fell out of his bag. Bacon yelled to Thomas that the items had fallen.

"He turned and picked the things up and came over and gave me the autograph," Bacon said with a smile. "It was because I told him that the things had fallen out his bag that I got the autograph."

The collection spans Phillies history.

There's the signature of Rick Wise, who pitched a no-hitter and hit two home runs in the same game. There's the ball signed by Bobby Thomson, who on Oct. 3, 1951, hit what is known as the "shot heard around the world." It is said to be the last baseball Thomson autographed.

And there's Ryan Howard's signature on a baseball and a yellow jersey that he wore when he won the home run derby in 2006.

Bacon knows some are skittish about what he's doing with all the autographed memorabilia. He said the "old-timers are wonderful," though.

"A lot of the newer players think I'm selling this stuff on eBay," Bacon said. "I never have sold anything that I have. Never."

Bacon said his collection is like a full-time job now. He doesn't know its value, but it's about his love of baseball, autographing and the Phillies anyway.

"My ultimate dream is to have a Philadelphia player come up here and see this stuff," Bacon said. "That is my ultimate dream."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or [email protected]

His collection includes:

• A ball signed by 1937 Hall of Fame inductee Connie Mack (above).

• A ticket from the 1950 World Series against the Yankees, which he attended (at left).

• A ball signed by Bobby Thomson, who on Oct. 3, 1951, hit what is known as the "shot heard around the world."

• Framed original newspaper articles dating back to 1905.

• Scorecards that date back to 1915.

Preserving Phillies history is fan's labor of love 10/25/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 27, 2008 4:25pm]
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