Philadelphia Baseball History

The Olympic Town Ball Club of Philadelphia is regarded by some historians as the first organized team in baseball history, with roots dating to 1831. The organization played town ball, a variation on the game we recognize as baseball today. By the 1860s, Olympic began playing the New York version of the sport and remained a staple in the baseball scene across the region until the late 1890s. 

Sprinkled amidst the numerous amateur clubs in the Philadelphia area throughout the 1860s were several African American teams, including the Excelsiors and Pythians. The Excelsiors were Philadelphia's first African American baseball team, founded in early 1866. Civil rights leader Octavius Catto founded the Pythians in mid-1866 and led the club until his assassination in 1871.  

Philadelphia & Professional Baseball 
James Kerns formed the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia in 1860. The club was successful and quickly gained a following, dominating amateur clubs in Philadelphia and elsewhere throughout the region. The organization turned professional in the late 1860s and played a pivotal role in forming the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NA) in 1871. The club went on to win the inaugural pennant with a 21-7 record. The NA collapsed following the 1875 season, but Athletic joined forces with seven other clubs to establish the National League. 

Philadelphia and the National Association 
Though Athletic dominated the headlines in the NA, the club had a pair of neighboring rivals. The Philadelphia White Stockings joined the NA in 1873 and played for three seasons. Centennial, a third Philly team, played a partial schedule in the NA in 1875 before disbanding. 

The First Philadelphia Professional Head-to-Head Contest 
The Athletic Base Ball Club faced the Philadelphia White Stockings on April 21, 1873, marking the first time two professional clubs representing Philadelphia played each other. The Whites won the contest at the Jefferson Street Grounds, 11-3. 

Overall Head-to-Head Records 
Athletic: 21-12, .636 
White Stockings: 14-19, .424 
Centennial: 1-5, .166

Philadelphia and the Creation of the National League
Following five successful seasons in the National Association, Athletic struggled in the National League and failed to finish the 1876 season due to financial troubles. The club was contracted following the season and drifted into obscurity as an independent team.

Philadelphia and the Creation of the American Association
Businessman William Sharsig founded a new Philadelphia baseball franchise in September of 1880, carrying the Athletics name to honor the success of the Athletic Base Ball Club that dominated in the defunct National Association. Sharsig's Athletics went on a barnstorming tour in 1881 while playing several home contests at Oakdale Park located at 11th and Huntingdon Streets in West Kensington. The club went on to be one of six charter members for the American Association (AA) when it debuted in 1882. 

The Athletics put up a solid campaign in 1882, finishing 41-34. The club moved their home games to the Jefferson Street Grounds in 1883 and captured the AA pennant with a 66-32 record. Things eventually went sour for Sharsig and his Athletics. Despite solid seasons in 1888 and 1889, the club fell into financial ruin in 1890. By mid-season, Sharsig had to begin using amateurs to fill holes in the lineup. The club limped to a 54-78 record before being expelled from the AA following the season.

Philadelphia and the Union Association
The Philadelphia Keystones represented the Quaker City in the short-lived Union Association. Owned by former player Tom Pratt, the Keystones went 21-46 in 1884 before folding on Aug. 7 with more than a month remaining in the season. The league folded following its inaugural season in 1884. 

The Founding of the Philadelphia Phillies 
Some historical texts make it seem that the creation of the Phillies and their admission to the National League was straightforward, but that isn't the case. Baseball pioneer Al Reach, along with his partner H.B. Phillips, worked to secure a spot for Philadelphia in the League Alliance for the 1882 season. 

Established by the National League in 1877, the League Alliance was a staging area for potential organizations aiming for inclusion in the National League. The Phillies played the 1882 season in the League Alliance with their home contests at Recreation Park (24th & Ridge). 

Their first official League Alliance contest was at home against Providence, a 3-0 loss on April 8, 1882. The National League franchise in Worcester folded following the 1882 season, allowing for Reach and his Phillies to slide into the vacancy. The club made its regular-season National League debut on May 1, 1883, in a 4-3 loss to Providence at Recreation Park. The Phillies finished 17-81-1 in their debut season in the National League. 

The Return of the Pythians and the National Colored Base Ball League
This National Colored Base Ball league lasted for just two weeks in May of 1887. Representing Philadelphia was the Pythians, a different organization than Catto's from two decades prior. Philadelphia finished with four wins in seven contests and used the Athletic Grounds (26th and Jefferson) as their home field. 

The American League to Philadelphia 
Ban Johnson and Connie Mack first worked together in the Western League in the late 1890s before joining forces again in 1900 to lay the foundation for the American League. The league opened in 1901 with Mack as manager of the newly formed Athletics. Columbia Park (29th and Columbia) was home for the Athletics until 1908. The club played its first regular-season game on April 26, 1901, a 5-1 loss to Washington at Columbia Park. The Athletics would have two dynasties under Mack; 1910-1914 and 1929-1931.

Unfortunately, Mack and his Athletics were often besieged by financial issues and forced to move talent. The Athletics won nine American League pennants under Mack but also finished last in the standings 17 times. Mack managed the club for 50 years, retiring after the 1950 season. His five World Series titles are the third most by a manager in baseball history.

The Athletics moved to Kansas City following the 1954 season, leaving the Philadelphia baseball landscape to the Phillies.

The Negro League Boom in Philadelphia
Philadelphia played a significant role in the growth of Negro baseball. The Philadelphia Giants formed in 1902 and quickly became one of baseball's best Black clubs, winning Colored Championships in 1904 and 1905 behind such early Black baseball stars like Rube Foster and Pete Hill. A little more than a decade later, Ed Bolden had his Hilldale club dominating the local Negro Baseball scene. The club was a charter member of the Eastern Colored League and won three consecutive pennants while also knocking off the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1925 Colored World Series.

As Hilldale's success began to fade, the Philadelphia Stars took over, winning the Negro National League pennant in their first official season in 1934. 

Philadelphia Becomes a One Team City
The Phillies won their first National League pennant in 1915 but eventually fell to Boston in the World Series. The organization would have to wait another 35 years for another pennant, advancing to the World Series to face the Yankees in 1950. The result, unfortunately, was the same. The club again had some success in the mid-1970s, but it wasn't until 1980 that the Phillies would secure a World Series title. 

The Phillies won their second World Series title in 2008.

Post a Comment

Philadelphia Baseball Review - Phillies News, Rumors and Analysis