London Series 2024 Primer: Low down on the Philadelphia Phillies

Did you know that the Phillies are the oldest, continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of US professional sports?

Formed in 1883, the first Phillies game was at Recreation Park on the corner of 24th Street and Ridge Avenue, now home to Dragon Express Chinese restaurant. That season, the club won just 17 of 98 games.

From the outset, the Phillies were owned by attorney John Rogers and London-born baseball player/entrepreneur Al Reach. The latter’s father had been a prominent cricketer back in England.

Recreation Park was home for four years until a move to a new stadium called Philadelphia Park at Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue. The state-of-the-art arena was built at a cost of over $100,000.

The relationship between the two owners became acrimonious, mainly as Reach was devoting his time to his sports equipment venture, so they sold the team to the Potter Group. Reach would later sell his other interests to Spalding.

One of the darkest days of Philadelphia’s history came in 1903 when a balcony at Philadelphia Park collapsed, resulting in 12 fatalities and over 200 other injuries.

Years of haphazard ownership, with mediocrity being a high point, were finally brought to an end by the “Carpenter Era”. Bob Carpenter was one of the few baseball presidents who devoted his life to the team rather than just being a part-time plaything. He brought much-needed stability during his record-breaking 28-year reign in charge of Phillies.

On the field, success did not come easily, and it took 33 years since their inception before the Phillies finally reached the World Series. They lost in a best-of-seven to the Boston Red Sox, but first baseman Fred Luderus was the star, with the team’s only home run and a .438 batting average. The rest of the roster combined for a miserable .152 AVG.

It wasn’t until 1950 that the Phillies made their second World Series appearance – this time a 4-0 loss to the New York Yankees. A crowd of 68,000 watched the final game of the series, which could be one of the only times in history that the Phillies have played in front of a crowd bigger than they will experience in London.

With the introduction of the two-division National League in 1969, the Phillies now found themselves as the bottom dwellers in the newly formed NL East, finishing fifth or sixth out of six teams in its first five seasons.

Even the move to Veterans Stadium in 1971 – the largest in the National League at the time – didn’t change the fortunes of the team. However, driven by future Hall-of-Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, 1976 was the start of an amazing, franchise-defining run, which saw the Phillies reach the playoffs in six out of eight years, including two World Series appearances.

And so, after 97 years of trying, the Phillies finally clinched their first World Championship in 1980 in a seven-game thriller against the Kansa City Royals.

The very next year, the Phillies were sold to the Giles Family. If nothing else, William Giles is remembered for initiating the formation of Phillie Phanatic.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – APRIL 20: The Philly Phanatic prior to the Major League Baseball game against the Chicago White Sox on April 20, 2024 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The soon-to-be disgraced Pete Rose broke the National League hits record in 1981 and retired from baseball in 1986 with the MLB record of 4,256 hits. By comparison, only three active players have reached 2,000 hits: Freddie Freeman, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Altuve.

In their 100th season as a franchise, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Phillies were attempting to assemble the oldest roster in history. Rose (aged 41) was joined by former Reds teammates Joe Morgan (39) and Tony Perez (40). In fact, more than half of the 40-man roster were over 30 years old. The team failed to thrive with its new nickname of “The Wheeze Kids”, a lighthearted nod to a previous, more youthful roster of the 1950s known as “The Whizz Kids.”

The move to Citizens Bank Park in 2004 ushered in a new era of Phillies baseball, which has seen the team rack up the fourth-most wins in the National League over the last twenty years.

Fueled by the dynamic Chase Utley, MLB’s Ambassador in Europe, the Phillies reached five consecutive playoffs, winning the World Series in 2008 in the “Cole Hamels Postseason”, in which the left-hander pitcher dominated in four starts of at least six innings and finished with a 1.80 ERA.

And finally, we have arrived in 2024, with the Phillies having reached the postseason in the last two years, including the heartbreaking 2022 World Series loss, by establishing a successful brand that focuses on elite starting pitching and power hitting, with less importance given to defence or relief pitching.

Today, the club is majority-owned by John Middleton, along with the Buck Family and Stanley C. Middleman, and according to Forbes, it is the seventh-most valuable franchise in MLB, worth a little under £3 billion.

Featured image of Kyle Schwarber by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Make sure you check out the rest of our London Series 2024 primers

Article by @GavTramps. Look out for the Bat Flips & Nerds crew in London. We have Tom and Darius backstage getting content you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Puppet master John will pull the strings with incisive interviews and bamboozling vocabulary. Russell will bring world-class analysis into the discussion, Rachel (#properjournalist) is providing coverage for nationwide outlets, while Rob, Ben and the rest of us will be mingling with the crowds in Stratford and Trafalgar Square. Come and say “hi”.

One comment

  1. Great insight into an historic franchise Gav. I caught the Phillies at the cookie cutter Veterans Stadium in 1993, in a loss to the Atlanta Braves. At the time, mid summer, the Phillies were languishing in the old NL East and the Braves were one of the best teams in baseball. Curiously though, I looked back at the record of the game and guess who was on the mound for the Phillies? None other than a young Curt Schilling! Incredibly, later in the season the Phillies rallied and actually made the playoffs, beating the Braves in the NLCS and reaching the World Series. Unfortunately, they lost the Fall Classic to a Joe Carter inspired Blue Jays team. I have a couple of photos of the game I went to somewhere and, for a while, the Phillies almost supplanted the Red Sox in my baseball fandom! I will certainly be supporting the Phillies at the Sunday game in London next month.

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