Remembering the adventures of Kiteman
The name was synonymous with the Phillies’ 1972 season, along with their 59 wins and Steve Carlton’s phenomenal 27-win campaign.
It was Year 2 at the new Vet, and Phillies’ chairman Bill Giles needed a new opening act aside from catcher Mike Ryan catching a ball dropped from a helicopter from the previous year’s inaugural opener.
Kiteman was one of several Phillies’ peculiar promotions highlighted primarily in 1972 and beyond highlighted in this version of Yesterday - a trip back in time to the late 1960s, 70s and sometimes dipping into the early 80s - is a recollection of some of the more memorable anticipated crowd-luring stunts.
There is a story behind the stunt that most people either forget or didn’t know.
Giles knew he needed a major hook to bring the fans back after the start of the season was delayed by a brief player’s strike. When Giles discovered the original Kiteman wasn’t available, he hired a hardware store owner who was experienced in fixing kites.
Kiteman was scheduled to go down a 140-foot ramp from the 600-level in the outfield to deliver the first pitch to mayor Frank Rizzo at home plate.
After he was announced three times before a frigid crowd of 38,000 by PA announcer Dan Baker, Kiteman finally began his voyage, but it was short lived when he crashed into the stands. He did manage to pull himself up and throw the ball, but it landed in the Phillies’ bullpen.
Giles tried the stunt again the following season, but it didn’t work. Kiteman again crashed into the stands.
The Phillies decided the third time would be the charm and re-enlisted Kiteman again in 1990. This time, the stunt worked.
But in the 70s, it was another reminder of the futility surrounding the franchise in the early years of the decade.
Tow The Line ... It was the same year on a humid August afternoon, and the Phillies had a doubleheader with the Montreal Expos. Carlton had pitched a three-hitter in the opening game and won his 14th consecutive game.
Before the second game, Karl Wallenda - billed as “The Great Wallenda” - was going to walk more than 600 feet across Veterans Stadium. The 67-year-old Wallenda was dressed in a shirt, tie, slacks, ballerina shoes for balance, and wore a Phillies’ cap. Wallenda and his family were well known for their dangerous, high-wire acts.
I remember watching the event on my grandmother’s TV on Channel 17. It was intense watching him carefully taking every step along the wire, and I was thinking what it would be like if he fell. As he inched closer and closer toward the other side of the stadium, I was hoping he would do it. When Wallenda reached the other side, I recall Baker announcing him and the crowd cheering.
When one is 12, they don’t realize when you’re watching history and a death-defying act before their eyes. By the way, the Phillies lost the second game of the doubleheader. Who was the losing pitcher? Does anyone recall Billy Champion?
Try It This Way ... Giles was at it again in 1972 on June 6. He tried “Turn It Around Day” to help curb a losing streak and possibly turn the club’s fortunes.
Ushers wore their hats backward and their name tags on their backs. The seventh-inning stretch happened in the third inning. Baker announced the lineup in reverse order, meaning last names first. However, they didn’t have starting pitcher Woodie Fryman hit lead-off.
It didn’t work, as the Phils dropped a 4-3 decision to the Houston Astros.
Saturday Night Specials ... The 70s saw some of the game’s worst uniforms. There were the Houston Astros’ horizontal orange, red, and yellow stripes. They actually wore them from 1975-93. The Indians donned an all-red uniform that looked more like a pair of tight pajamas with the big white letters, INDIANS, across the front.
The Phillies had their own version of an atrocious uniform in 1979 with a bright-red, monochrome red pajama pants also with large white lettering on the back.
They wore them on Saturday night home games, and were referred to as the “Saturday Night Specials.” The Phillies discarded them after the season.
Pass the Soap ... In terms of peculiarity, does anyone remember the nighttime TV soap opera titled “Soap” that ran from 1977-1981?
Robert Gulliaume, who played the butler Benson, had his own spinoff from the show that dealt with everyday domestic topics, as well as controversial ones such as extra-marital affairs and homosexual lifestyles. The show also had a string of violence laced through its plot.
The show had a unique sense of intellectual humor mixed with slapstick, and usually had a cliffhanger at the end of each episode.
Those Special Restaurants ... Anyone who traveled on Route 22 into Phillipsburg and now where Route 78 begins there, will surely remember the old Howard Johnson’s.
It was renowned for its 28 flavors of ice cream back in the 1960s and 70s, and it was the place to stop. They were also famous for their hamburgers and their “Fried Clam Strips.” Have to admit, I never tried them.
In the 70s, there also was Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips. Long John Silver’s also launched in the 70s, and arose as an ardent competition. Arthur Treacher’s franchise ballooned to more than 800 stores in the 70s, but they were down to one store in 2012. Through the help of Nathan’s Hot Dogs, the franchise is making a comeback.
Remember ChiChi’s? It was known as “The” Mexican restaurant in the Lehigh Valley at the Lehigh Valley Mall. They just didn’t attract crowds with their meal and atmosphere, but also with the fried ice cream.
Do You Remember? ... Every week, I’ll mention a likely forgotten player from Yesterday. Remember Bill Robinson? The outfielder had two brief stints with the Phillies from 1972-74 and also from 1982-83. He also served as a minor league coach in the system. Robinson won three World Series rings, one with the Pirates as a player in 1979, one with the Mets as a coach in 1986, and his final one with the Marlins as a coach in 2003. Robinson passed away in 2007.