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"Putting lights in Wrigley Field is like putting aluminum siding on the Sistine Chapel."
--Roger Simon, writer (1988)

 

Philadelphia Athletics History

The Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia ("Athletic" or the "Philadelphia Athletics") was one of the first organized baseball clubs and managed to survive all the way through to the birth of the National League.

At a glance...
PHILADELPHIA ATHLETICS
Franchise Facts
Established 1860
Disbanded  1876
Located Philadelphia
Executives James Kerns (1871)
E. Hicks Hayhurst (1872-1873)
D.F. Houston (1874)
George Thompson (1875)
C. Spering (1875)
Thomas J. Smith (1876)
Year by Year Results
W L %
1871  21 7 .750
1872  30 14 .682
1873 28 23 .549
1874 33 22 .682
1875 53 20 .726
1876 14 45 .237
Affiliations
NABBP (1860-1870)
National Association (1871-1875)
National League (1876)
Postseason/Titles
NABBP Titles (1) 1868
NA Titles (1) 1871
Nicknames
Athletic of Philadelphia (1860-1876)
Ballparks
Jefferson Street Grounds (1871-1876)
Top Performances
Single-Season
Career

Established in 1860, the team may well have been the first professional team three years ahead of the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) investigated the team in 1866 for paying at least three of its players, though it was not disciplined. It was this kind of "under the table" paying of players that led to a decision by the NABBP in December of 1868 to form a new alliance for legitimate professional teams. The National Association (NA) was the legacy of that meeting.

While the team never held the season-ending title of champion in the NABBP, it did hold the best record from 1866 to 1868, going 23-2, 44-3, and 47-3 those three years. The team was widely seen as among the finest in the country when they entered the NA during its first season in 1871.

Indeed, the Athletic won the first NA whip pennant and were among the best teams for most of their existence, which ended when they were kicked out the National League for failing to make a required "western" trip to finish out their schedule in 1876. (The Mutuals were also kicked. Read more here.)

The Athletic won the first NA pennant on the last day of the season by beating the Atlantics of Brooklyn 4-1. Either a loss or a postponement of the game beyond November 1st would have given the title to the Boston Red Stockings. 

Cap Anson hit .415 - which was only good enough for third in the NA - in 1872. Hall of Famer Anson finished in the top 10 in batting an amazing 18 times (in 27 seasons), leading the league at age 42 with a .388 mark in 1894.

Dick McBride was both the manager and the star pitcher for the team, winning 149 and losing only 74 in five NA seasons for the Athletic. His best season was perhaps 1875, when he scattered 602 hits over 538 innings to finish with a 1.97 ERA and a 44-14 record!

George Hall won the home run crown during the first season of the National League and is thus considered by Major League Baseball the first single-season home run record holder.

At the team's annual meeting following the 1873 season, a dividend of $25 per share was ordered to be paid to the shareholders. Obviously the team was profitable at this stage.

The team made the transition from the National Association to the National League in 1876. However, they made the fatal mistake of not completing their schedule (they had lost money and tried to prevent losing more by not making the required return trip west to repay the western teams that had traveled to Philadelphia). This might have been merely frowned upon in the old National Association, but it got them (and the Mutuals) kicked out of the league never to be heard from again.


National Association sources/bibliography:
Baseball: The Early Years by Harold Seymour.
Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search For The Roots Of The Game by David Block.
Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War by George B. Kirsch.
Blackguards and Red Stockings by William J. Ryczek
The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 by Marshall D. Wright.
Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball by Warren Goldstein.
When Johnny Came Sliding Home: The Post-Civil War Baseball Boom, 1865-1870 by William J. Ryczek

David Nemec, the tireless 19th Century Baseball researcher, has also written a novel called Early Dreams, which takes place during this era and features real-life characters such as Cap Anson, George Wright, and Henry Lucas.

General Baseball History sources/bibliography:
Baseball: A History of America's Game
by Benjamin G. Rader.
Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns (PBS DVD)
The Formation, Sometimes Absorption and Mostly Inevitable Demise of 18 Professional Baseball Organizations, 1871 to Present by David Pietrusza.
The Great 19th Century Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, 2nd Edition by David Nemec.
Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 by Dean A. Sullivan.
Middle Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1900-1948 by Dean A. Sullivan.
Late Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball 1945-1972 by Dean A. Sullivan
Past Time: Baseball as History by Jules Tygiel
America's National Game: Historic Facts Concerning the Beginning, Evolution, Development and Popularity of Baseball by Albert Spalding
Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia by John Thorn, et al.

 



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