Exton Author Recounts the Rise and Fall of the 1964 Phillies

Q&A with the author Andy Olcese.

Measuring Perfection  In the new book Almost Perfect: The ’64 Rise and Fall of the Philadelphia Phillies (Chapel Hill Press, 274 pages), Exton, Pa.’s Andy Olcese and Lansdowne, Pa.’s Steve Stefano tell the story of the historic collapse of the 1964 Phillies from the perspective of two 9-year-old cousins and diehard fans. Olcese has been recognized by the Delco League Hall of Fame as a player on its 1970s Team of the Decade. Stefano was better at basketball.

DT: Tell us about the book.
AO: It’s not just a chronicle of the season. That’s been done so many times, but we had to make some points. It’s about growing up as 9-year-olds and experiencing that season. As 9-year-olds, it was painful. But when you’re 9 you’re not as ingrained (as, say, in ’77 when the Phils blew it again). In ’64, I was a fan, but I was like, ‘Wow, they’re in first place; they’re usually in last place.’ I bought in. When I found out we could go to the World Series, it caught my interest. I probably jinxed them.

DT: What was the genesis of the project?
SS: We were playing a sports trivia game (at a Christmas gathering), laughing, and a light bulb went off: 2014 would be the 50th anniversary of the famous ’64 season. We split the chapters. There are 14, so we each had seven. He enjoyed writing more about (manager) Gene Mauch and the players. I wrote more about the season and weaved in the social and political happenings of that year. The goal was to take readers in and out of ’64 while telling our personal stories (with frequent authorial intrusions). I’m a big believer that people remember stories.
AO: I thought it was all the Christmas cheer talking, but sure enough he knew how to put a book together (Stefano had published a leadership training book). We divided the work and conquered it. It was on my bucket list—why not write a book?

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DT: What was your target audience?
AO: It’s limited. It’s a nice book for anyone our age and up, or any Phillies fan. It’s the type of book you can take to the beach for the weekend and finish in two days, maybe a day. It’s a feel-good book. It was a bad season, but we tried to put a positive spin on it. They got close. That’s what makes it so tough.

DT: What did you enjoy the most about the research and writing?
AO: Telling the stories, stories of my Pop, of trips to Connie Mack Stadium—the stories that added a personal flavor. They were only on television on Saturdays and Sundays, and we’d watch them on a 12-inch Philco with the rabbit ears in black-and-white. My first time at the ballpark—oh the colors of the Ballantine Beer sign, and the grass was the greenest green and the dirt the brownest brown. You would drive through a ghetto to get there, but inside it was a palace. Still, in ’61 they lost 23 straight, and we’d watch them. I’d always ask my Pop why he was a Phillies fan. He’d look at me and say, “I have no idea.” But I became a Phillies fan, too. It was automatic.

DT: What’s the legacy of the ’64 season?
SS: The first is the notion of “Negadelphia.” Ever since the ’64 season, the feeling with Philadelphia teams is that they are going to lose or somehow collapse—but also the affection that Philly fans have for the Phillies. The legacy of the book is that it brings people back to that affection for this team. Of course at signings, people my age or older look at the book, but they say, “I don’t want to read this. I can’t live through it again.” —J.F.P.

Visit www.almostperfect64.com.

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