No one could have realized it at the time, but when the Phillies were formed in 1883, history was in the making. Now, in the 21st century, the Phillies are the oldest, continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional sports.
The original Phillies began when the Worcester Ruby Legs were disbanded and the franchise was moved by the National League to Philadelphia. Al Reach, who in 1866 had become the first professional baseball player and was later a successful sporting goods dealer, became the Phillies first owner along with attorney John Rogers. Reach named the team the Phillies, a take-off on the team's geographic roots, "Philly."
The first Phillies game was played May 1, 1883 at Recreation Park on the corner of 24th Street and Ridge Avenue with the club losing 4-3 to the Providence Grays. The club would go on to win just 17 of 98 games that season, pitcher John Coleman losing 48 of them.
The Phillies fortunes changed in 1884 with the naming of the widely-known Harry Wright (photo at left) as manager. Wright, a future Hall of Famer, would lead the Phillies to respectability during the next decade, with the team finishing out of the first division only once during his reign.
Great players also began dotting the landscape. Charlie Ferguson, the first Phillies star, pitched the club's first no-hitter in 1885 and won 99 games in four seasons before dying of typhoid fever at the age of 25. Ed Delahanty (photo below) joined the team in 1888. The first of the Phillies' great hitters, he hit over .400 three times, winning a batting title with a .410 average in 1899, and finishing his career with a .346 mark, fourth highest in big league history.
Delahanty was also the first Phillies player to hit four home runs in one game when he slammed four round-trippers in 1896. Jack Boyle in 1893 and Delahanty in 1894 also had the Phillies' first six-hit games.
In 1894, the Phillies had three future Hall of Famers in the outfield, and each of them--Delahanty, Billy Hamilton and Sam Thompson--hit over .400. Hamilton won batting titles in 1891 and 1893, the same year Delahanty led the league in home runs with 19 and in RBI with 146. Thompson was the Phils' first home run king, twice leading the league, including in 1889 when he hit the unheard of total of 20. Hamilton also led the league four times in stolen bases, pilfering 111 in 1891. In 1894 he set a still-standing Major League record by scoring 192 runs and a club record by hitting in 36 straight games.
The Phils also had their share of good pitching, Camden's Kid Gleason set a club record with 38 wins in 1890. Gus Weyhing won 32 in 1892, Charlie Buffinton and Brewery Jack Taylor each had three straight 20-plus win seasons, and Red Donahue hurled a no-hitter in 1898.
For more than a decade, the Phils had a lefthanded catcher named Jack Clements (photo at left). They also had a lefthanded shortstop, Bill Hulen. Billy Sunday played briefly for the Phillies before becoming a world-famous evangelist. Until his death in 1943, pitcher Dan Casey claimed that he was the subject of the legendary poem, "Casey at the Bat." And long-time first baseman Sid Farrar had a daughter Geraldine who became a famous opera star.
The Phillies played at Recreation Park until moving in 1887 into a new stadium called Philadelphia Park at Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue. Built at a cost of $101,000, the park originally held 12,500 and was regarded as the finest baseball arena in the nation. A fire destroyed much of the park in 1894, but while the Phillies moved to a field at the University of Pennsylvania, it was rebuilt, using mostly steel and brick. The park, with a new seating capacity of 18,800, featured a cantilever pavilion, a radical new technique in stadium construction.