Historic Phillies have come a long way
Club becomes first pro sports franchise to reach 10,000 losses
PHILADELPHIA -- If only Alfred Reach knew what he had bestowed upon this proud city, a former nation's capital.But Reach, a former player and local sporting goods founder, wanted professional baseball back in Philadelphia -- the A's had come and gone in 1876 before returning in 1901 -- so he and Col. John Rogers bought the Worchester Brown Stockings and relocated them. With an inaugural roster made up of ex-Minor Leaguers and castoffs from other teams, this new team, the Phillies, went 17-81-1 under two managers, and unceremoniously began a long relationship with the residents of a blue-collar Eastern Pennsylvania city. In their 125th eventful season, the enduring franchise reached a milestone in a similarly unceremonius manner, becoming the first major professional sports franchise to lose 10,000 games. That unprecedented event occurred with a 10-2 defeat to the Cardinals on Sunday. "It's mind-boggling," said Larry Shenk, the team's vice president, public relations since the 1964 season. "But it is what it is. We'll move on. I think the Washington Generals lost more games, but I can't prove that one." The Harlem Globetrotters' favorite opponent aside, the Phillies win points for longevity, as the one of baseball's oldest franchises. Just four franchises (Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Reds) have played in one city longer. "That's how you get to 10,000," Shenk said. That, and some unfortunate circumstances led the Phillies down the wrong path to first in something. They've out-lossed the Braves by nearly 300 games, and the Braves are seven years older. The Braves should stave off 10,000 through at least 2010. History says the Phillies lost their first game, on May 1, 1883, to the Providence Grays, and it took two managers -- Bob Ferguson and Blondie Purcell -- to guide an inept squad through 80 more defeats. John Coleman went 12-48 for that club with a 4.87 ERA. He started 65 games and logged 538 1/3 innings, allowing 772 hits. Art Hagan didn't help much, going 1-14 in 17 games, with 5.45 ERA. Hitters? Well, that club might not have won 17 games had it not been for the .307 hitting catcher, Emil Gross. Asked what either manager may have said to motivate his players, pitcher Jamie Moyer said, "What can you say? Go home and water your plants, till your crops and feed your cows, because you're not making it here." But the Phillies did make it here, and that's the point. The A's, though more successful in terms of championships, left for Kansas City, then for Oakland. The Braves couldn't survive in Boston or Milwaukee before landing safely in Atlanta. The Phillies endured, and so have their fans. "My father was a Phillies fan and so was his father," said Rich Westcott, co-author of "The Phillies Encyclopedia," who said he went to his first Phillies game in 1947. "Since I was a kid, I heard Phillies stories." Hall of Famer Harry Wright brought credibility and moderate success during his 10 1/2 seasons as manager. Pat Moran brought the first 90-win season and World Series appearance in 1915, where the Phillies took the first game from the Red Sox, then lost four straight. The majority of Philadelphia's futility happened in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, under a seemingly constant stream of frugality and dishonesty. Reach sold the team to James Potter for $170,000 in 1903, beginning a 40-year stretch in which the franchise had 10 owners. The team lost 186 games in 1903-04, including their first 100-loss season in 1904 under first-year player manager Hugh Duffy. William Baker arrived later, renamed Philadelphia Park the Baker Bowl, and in 1917 would start the organization's darkest period by trading Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander and Bill Killefer for pitcher Mike Prendergast, catcher Pickles Dillhoefer and $60,000, because, he said at the time, "I needed the money." Other cash incentive deals included sending right fielder Irish Meusel to the Giants in 1918 for three players and $30,000; Meusel collected 470 RBIs over the next four seasons. In 1923, he shipped Lee Meadows to Pittsburgh for two players and $50,000. Meadows logged 87 wins over the next five seasons. Doing Baker a few better is Gerry Nugent, largely regarded as the cheapest of Phillies owners. Always strapped for funds, Nugent sold players to keep the team solvent. One was Bucky Walters, who became the National League MVP in 1939. Another was Dolph Camilli, the 1941 NL MVP. Then there's Chuck Klein, who was sold twice. "One year, they had to sell office furniture to finance the Spring Training trip," Westcott said. "They were always one step ahead of the bill collectors. They'd make trades, but they always had to get cash, and they often had to sell their best players. Bucky Walters and Dolph Camilli are examples of the caliber of players they had. They might have had different teams, if they were able to keep those guys together. It's a miracle they were able to stay in business." They didn't win very often. During Nugent's 11-year run from 1933-43, the Phillies went 598-1,076. William Cox owned the Phillies for the 1943 season, but was banned from baseball after less than a year for allegedly betting on Phillies games. Through that dark period came positive change, when Du Pont heir Bob Carpenter bought the team for an estimated $400,000. Stability and progression followed. From 1918-48 -- the last five which came under Carpenter's watch -- the Phillies had one winning season and never finished higher than fourth place in the NL. En route to a 42-109 finish and a fifth straight 100-loss campaign, second baseman Danny Murtaugh famously remarked, "If the Phillies ever win two games in a row, it would be grounds for a Congressional investigation." "They were often last, but seldom dull," Westcott said. "They've done a lot of funny things and had a lot of colorful characters." Things picked up for the Carpenter family in year seven of their ownership, when the Phillies made the World Series for the second time. For 38 mostly prosperous seasons (1944-81), Philadelphia compiled 15 winning seasons against 23 losing ones (2,873-3,074). The Phillies made six of their nine postseason appearances and won their only World Series championship, in 1980, with Bob, then son Ruly running the show. The organization also secured two Hall of Famers, drafting Mike Schmidt in 1971 and acquiring Steve Carlton in '72. Carpenter's Phillies also squandered a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to play to lose the pennant in a catastrophic 1964 collapse, and dealt Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, but the World Series trophy in the lobby trumps those indiscretions. Bob Carpenter passed the team onto his son, Ruly, who sold the team in 1981 for $30 million to the present ownership group. Under the stewardship of Bill Giles and now David Montgomery, the team is 1,987-2,085, the most successful won-lost record of a leadership. Since 2000, with Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel running things, the Phillies have one losing season, at 80-81 in 2002 -- or five winning seasons, with 2007 another possibility. Still, at 8,810-10,000 overall -- the Phillies also have the 10th most wins in history -- Philadelphia would need 32 straight 100-win seasons to pass the .500 mark as a franchise. "Wow, we won't see it," Moyer said. "We'll be dead and gone. But things happen for a reason, good or bad. You may not understand it as it's happening, but maybe after the fact, maybe you say, maybe it made me a better person, or a better organization, or it made more loyal fans -- whatever it is." Some might say loyal to a fault. "I'd say there's room for improvement," bullpen catcher Mick Billmeyer said. "You don't want to peak too soon. It can only get better from here."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.