For Love of the Game

Posted in Crosswalk, Fall 2013, Rad Grad

With his 25th book, Drexel alumnus Rich Westcott takes on the unenviable task of ranking Philadelphia’s Top 50 baseball players.

As repositories of Philadelphia sports knowledge go, it’s hard to compete with Rich Westcott.

The Drexel alum (class of ’60) is the author of 24 books on sports — most notably baseball — and had a long career as a sports journalist for area newspapers, national magazines and his own Phillies-centric newspaper, Phillies Report.
So it’s somewhat fitting that in this 130th year of Major League Baseball in Philadelphia, the prolific author has presented this sports-hungry town with his 25th book, “Philadelphia’s Top 50 Baseball Players” (University of Nebraska Press).

But with 1883 as a start date, how in the world does one go about narrowing down the city’s greatest players to a nice round number like 50?

“From the beginning, I had a pretty good idea in my head about who I was going to go with,” he says, emphasizing that he did have to pare his initial list from 60. “What I did was present my thoughts to some fellow experts, about five other guys who are familiar with Philadelphia baseball history, and they all agreed with my choices.”

The pool from which Westcott drew was broader than just the Phillies. His list includes hometown heroes — those born in Philadelphia but who played elsewhere — players for the Athletics (on the field in Philadelphia from 1901 to 1954) and the Stars, the city’s Negro League team, who played from 1933 through 1952.

“The Negro Leagues weren’t considered majors, but they had some extremely good players who would have played for the majors had things been different,” he says. “And Philadelphia has quite a few that were in the Hall of Fame.”

Westcott’s career as an author began as a side job in 1983 when he co-wrote The Phillies Encyclopedia, weighing in at 800 pages, with former Philadelphia Bulletin reporter Frank Bilovsky. Since he retired from full-time sports journalism with the sale in 1997 of Phillies Report, which he published for 14 years, he’s turned to writing books full time.

But he didn’t start out dreaming of sportswriting. As a marketing major at Drexel, he’d never even considered it until his season as a pitcher for the Dragons’ baseball team (“not a very good one,” he notes) was cut short by a career-ending shoulder injury.

It was then that one of his brothers in the Alpha Pi Lambda fraternity, who was also editor of The Triangle, suggested he start covering the baseball team for the campus newspaper. With no experience, he considered the offer ridiculous, but his friend wouldn’t let it drop. Westcott’s resolve, meanwhile, gradually lessened.

“I finally did it and fell in love,” he says.

His girlfriend at the time, Lois Cherry (now his wife), was also a Drexel student, and “was really, really good at grammar and sentence structure and she really helped me,” he says. “I did it all season and hoped to make it a career.”
After four co-ops — none of which spurred an interest in a career — he graduated with a stack of baseball clips, took a job with a small city weekly and never looked back.

“I tell people that along the way as a pitcher I decided my fingers were more useful on a keyboard than throwing a baseball,” he says.