Happy birthday to the Philadelphia Phillies!

Today, May 1, is the anniversary of the first game ever played by the Phillies franchise. On what was a Thursday afternoon, the team dropped a 4-3 decision to the Providence Grays at Recreation Park in North Philadelphia.

The ballpark was located between 24th & 25th Streets, Ridge to Columbia Avenues. It was the Phillies first home and would remain so for their first four seasons. Somewhat incredibly, despite their being historical markers placed by the city of Philadelphia at the former sites of Baker Bowl, Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium, and Veterans Stadium, you will find none anywhere around this historic location.

An interesting and informative write-up on the history of the franchise at SABR by Rich Westcott describes the first experiences of the Phillies at the park (picture below):

Although it had been used by numerous Philadelphia baseball teams and served as an encampment for Union soldiers during the Civil War, it had become neglected and rundown, with overgrown weeds and deteriorating grandstands blighting the landscape. Some of the park had even been used as a horse market. The new owner had to restore the ballpark, leveling and re-sodding the playing surface, building wooden grandstands, and generally rebuilding the ballpark into a 6,500-capacity stadium with up-to-date accouterments. The Phillies held their first spring training at Recreation Park. In their first game there, they beat a semipro team from Manayunk called the Ashland Club with John Coleman pitching a no-hitter.

Embed from Getty Images

This Philadelphia franchise was an expansion team granted to co-owners Al Reach, a former player who had become a sporting goods magnate, and John Rogers, who was a prominent attorney and politician from the area. Their new team was a replacement in the National League for the Worcester, Massachusetts club which had been dropped due to an inability to support a major league team.

For the first seven seasons the team name was largely informal and would be referred to simply by the geographical designation of the “Philadelphias” or by the nickname “Quakers”, with “Phillies” also being used on occasion. That name of “Phillies” became a formal part of the club’s identity in 1890 and remains the longest continuous, one-city nickname in professional sports history.

This wasn’t the first Philadelphia team to participate in the National League. A team known as the Philadelphia Athletics (no relation to the later American League franchise) played as part of the NL during the 1876 season. However, that team was suspended during the season and the league would not return to Philadelphia until the Phillies were born nearly seven years later.

The Providence Grays who visited Philly for that first 1883 game were a strong ball club. They would finish 58-40 and in third place managed by a former great player, Harry Wright, who had previously skippered the Boston Red Stockings to six pennants. Known to many as the father of professional baseball, Wright would switch teams the following year and manage the Phillies for a decade from 1884-93.

The Grays big star was pitcher Charles Old Hoss Radbourn who would go on to win 48 games that year at age 28 in what was his third of 11 big-league seasons. He would eventually land a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In that 1883 season Radbourne was the starting pitcher for 68 of the Grays 98 games.

The Phillies who stepped on to the field at Recreation Park on that first day would play well under manager Bob Ferguson. That would not continue, unfortunately, as the club would go on to finish their first season in last place. Ferguson (photo below) wouldn’t last the year, replaced after just 17 games and a 4-13 start by Blondie Purcell. It would get no better, with the club going 13-68 under Purcell.

Embed from Getty Images

The 17-81 final record left the Phillies in at the bottom of the eight-team National League. Not only were they 46 games out of first place, they were also a distant 23 behind the next-lowest club, the seventh-place Detroit Wolverines.

It all started 137 years ago today. Ferguson was a player-manager who was the starting second baseman. At third base was Purcell. Rounding out the first Phillies infield were first baseman Sid Farrar and shortstop Bill McClellan. Across the outfield were Jack Manning, Fred Lewis, and Bill Harbridge.

The starting catcher was a 22-year-old rookie, Frank Ringo. He would tragically take his own life six years later with an intentional morphine overdose. As a teenager in 1878-79, Ringo had caught pitcher John Coleman. The two would reunite as the first-ever battery for that first Phillies game.

Behind starting pitcher Coleman the Phillies got to Radbourne for three runs and built an early 3-0 lead. That lead would hold into the top of the 8th inning when Providence exploded for the first ‘crooked inning’ ever recorded against the Phillies, scoring four times to take the lead and provide the final margin of victory.

The loss on May 1, 1883 would be the first of many. As of the conclusion of the 2019 Major League Baseball season the Phillies have now lost exactly 11,000 games, more than any team in baseball history.

One thought on “First game in Philadelphia Phillies franchise history

  1. Great piece. But the ballpark in the Getty Image is Philadelphia Ball Park (Baker Bowl ) That photo appeared in Athletic Sports in America, England and Australia page 147 (Hubbard Bros. 1889) Recreation Park did not have a slope or “terrace” for standing room in left field.

Leave a Reply