05/17/2003 3:27 PM ET
Marker honors first Phils owner
Historical plaque placed at Reach's store site
PHILADELPHIA -- Alfred James Reach, the man who brought the Phillies to Philadelphia and served as the team's owner and president for 20 years, has been honored with a historical marker by the State of Pennsylvania.
He is the first Phillies official honored with a marker by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. It has been installed at 1820 Chestnut Street, the former site of Reach's sporting goods store.
A second baseman, Reach became a professional when he joined the Philadelphia Athletics in 1865. Six years later, the Athletics were part of the newly formed National Association. He played through 1875 and added the managerial duties for the 1874 and 1875 seasons. The Association folded after the 1875 season and was replaced by the National League in 1876.
Reach was no longer active in the game, but his career as a businessman had already begun. While still playing for the Athletics, he owned a cigar store at 404 Chestnut Street. As the game of baseball began to grow in popularity, he noticed the increasing demand for baseballs.
In 1874, he opened a sporting goods store at 6 South Eighth Street. As the business prospered, he relocated to a larger store at 23 South Eighth Street in 1881. Reach also took on a partner, Benjamin F. Shibe, an expert on leather who had gone from the manufacture of whips to producing baseballs and gloves. Their first manufacturing plant was at Palmer and Tulip Streets.
The Athletics were expelled from the National League when they failed to make the final western trip of the 1876 season because of financial losses. Philadelphia was absent from National League baseball through 1882.
NL President A.G. Mills knew Philadelphia should be represented in the league. Mills was anxious to move the ailing Worcester, Mass., franchise to Philadelphia and asked Reach to take over as the owner and president.
Reach eagerly agreed to head the new Philadelphia franchise. The team was christened the "Phillies" because, Reach said, "It tells you who we are and where we're from."
The Phillies' first game was played 120 years ago, May 1, 1883, a 4-3 loss to the Providence Grays at Recreation Park at 24th and Columbia Avenues. The crowd was estimated at 1,200.
In his 20 years as owner and president, Reach built two ballparks, Recreation Park (1883-1886) and Philadelphia Base Ball Park (1887-1938). That park was later renamed Philadelphia Park and Baker Bowl.
The Phillies finished in the first division 14 times during Reach's 20-year tenure.
The A.J. Reach Company continued to flourish during the 1890s. The company opened another plant in Canada and moved its store to a large building at 1820 Chestnut Street, where the historical marker is located.
Reach's partner, Ben Shibe, became president of the Philadelphia Athletics in the newly formed American League in 1901.
After the next season, Reach sold the Phillies for $170,000. Later, he sold his sporting goods store. Reach's plant continued to produce baseballs, gloves and other sporting goods equipment and for a number of decades, published the official American League Reach Baseball Guide. In the early 1920s, Reach sold his plant to the rival A.G. Spaulding Company. He retired to Atlantic City, N.J., and died there on January 14, 1928.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.