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PHILADELPHIAS’S PHILLIES – The First 127 Years
The Early Years, and a Pennant to Grow On
First, The Worcester No Names
When only 18 paying customers showed up for the September 29, 1882 National League baseball game between the Troy Trojans and the Worcester Ruby Legs (aka, Brown Stockings, and aka, No Names), league officials took note and made plans to shift the franchises to New York and Philadelphia, respectively, for the 1883 season. The woeful 1882 Worcester No Names won 18 and lost 66, 18 games out of 7th place in an 8-team league.
But as bad as the 1882 No Names were, the new Philadelphia National League team, pawing the turf on opening day, May 1, 1883, at Recreation Park, on the corner of 24th street and Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia, were worse. The new team, known alternately as the Phillies, and more often the Quakers, officially became the Phillies in 1889. In 1883, the first year of National League baseball in Philadelphia, the team won 17, lost 81, and finished 46 games behind the champion Boston Beaneaters.
The Quakers/Phillies began their existence with an eight-game losing streak before recording the first win in franchise history, a 12-1 romp in Chicago on May 14, 1883 against the defending champion White Stockings. Who knew that 124 years later, in July of 2007, the Phillies would become the first team in professional sports history to rack up 10,000 losses?
Not a single member of the Worcester No Names found his way to the new Quakers/Phillies roster. It didn’t matter, bad is bad, and the logical conclusion from all the shifting around was that if these guys were getting paid to play baseball, they were taking money under false pretenses. Third baseman and manager Blondie Purcell was charged with 49 errors though he did lead the team in hits (114), and runs (70). Second baseman, Bob Ferguson, replaced as manager after a 4-13 start to the season (not so bad as later events would show), contributed 88 errors in the 86 games in which he played.
Baseball in those early years must have been painful to watch with its total lack of defense. To put it simply, a batted ball had a more than even chance of being fumbled, booted, dropped, or thrown away in some manner. Especially the quaking Quakers. The team was dead last in team fielding with a .858 percentage, forged on the back of 639 errors and 125 passed balls. It must have been brutal.
And then there was John Francis Coleman. Take a moment, fans, to think about this 20-year old youngster from Saratoga Springs, New York, born in 1862, smack in the middle of the War between the States. A shade over 5 feet, 9 inches tall; 170 pounds? Perhaps. A right-handed ball slinger with the grit of a lion, ready at all times to take one for the team. This kid pitched, and pitched, and then pitched some more for the fumbling Quakers/Phillies in the first season of their hope-filled existence, and boy, did he take his lumps. Coleman was the starting pitcher in 61 of the team’s 98 games, winning 12 and losing 48 with 59 complete games, and 539 innings pitched. The team lost eight games where the opposition scored 20 or more runs, Coleman took the hit in just four of those games, but not the brutal 28-0 loss to the Providence Grays that stands as the largest winning shutout margin in Major League history. The kid was tagged for 510 runs in those 539 innings, but only 291 were earned, and his earned run average was a reasonable 4.87.
And perhaps we should place a large asterisk beside those pitching numbers because the 1883 season was the last where pitching rules required that the ball be delivered from a point below the hip; basically, underhanded.
A case can be made that John Francis Coleman deserves his own niche in the baseball Hall of Fame considering that he holds at least five major league pitching records.
1. Most losses- season (48).
2. Most hits allowed – season (772).
3. Most runs allowed – season (510)
4. Most earned runs allowed – season (291)
5. Largest pitcher won-loss difference – season (36).
And when he wasn’t pitching, the gritty Coleman was in left field for 19 games, centerfield for 12, and second base for one. A right-handed pitcher, he was a left-handed hitter. He made a modest, by 19th century standards, 18 errors.
In a touch of irony, mostly lost by Phillies’ followers over the long, losing, years, Coleman died at 59 in 1922 when hit by a truck in Detroit.
John Francis Coleman was one of us, he was a Phillie. His contribution to Phillies’ lore deserves recognition. A statue at Citizens Bank Park would be nice, or at least a plaque on the Phillies’ Wall of Fame.
JOHN FRANCIS COLEMAN - 1863-1922
A PHILLIES ICON – HE NEVER STOPPED TRYING
828 wordsBy max blue