Philadelphia Athletics (1860–76)

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This article is about the first "Philadelphia Athletics" team. See Philadelphia Athletics (American Association) for the 1882–1890 Philadelphia Athletics baseball team, see Philadelphia Quakers/Athletics (PL/AA) for the 1890–1891 team, and see Oakland Athletics for the 1901–1954 Philadelphia Athletics (AL).
Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia
(Philadelphia Athletics)
Years 18601876
Based in Philadelphia
The 1874 Philadelphia Athletics
Major league affiliations

Navy, white

Major league titles
  • National League pennants: 0
  • National Association pennants: 1 (1871)

The Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia (also known as the Philadelphia Athletics) was a prominent National Association, and later National League, professional baseball team that played in the second half of the 19th century.

Forming and success (1860–75)

Early History

The city of Philadelphia "had been a baseball town from the earliest days of the game", fielding amateur teams since at least the early 1830s. In 1860, James N. Kerns formed a club, simply named "Athletic Base Ball Club", that soon dominated amateur play in the area (Jordan 1999). Harper's Weekly chronicled a match between Athletic and Atlantic of Brooklyn for the baseball championship in 1866. A famous Harper's illustration shows the Athletic players in uniforms with the familiar blackletter "A" on front.

When newspapers developed stand-alone game scores and league standings, the club was termed Athletic (Base Ball Club being dropped in any case). In prose the team was commonly called the Athletics, plural, and later generations have usually called both club and team the "Philadelphia Athletics".

National Association

Athletic turned professional in the late 1860s and helped establish the first league, National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NA), which began play in 1871. It played home games at Jefferson Street Grounds until expulsion from the major leagues in 1876.

The Athletics were one of the most successful National Association teams, winning the first pennant with a record of 21 wins and 7 losses (.750), two games ahead of the Boston Red Stockings and Chicago White Stockings. Actually, the race was much closer: the primary official criterion then was neither games nor winning percentage, but wins, and the three clubs finished in the order given with 21, 20, and 19 victories. The final game of the season, played on October 30 in Brooklyn, saw Athletic defeat Chicago, 4–1, clinching the title. (Nate Berkenstock, a 40-year-old amateur who played right field for Philadelphia that day due to injuries, made his only big-league appearance in that game.)

While Boston dominated the NA, winning the other four pennants, the Athletics and New York Mutuals also fielded teams every year, with Philadelphia winning a few more games overall but never challenging Boston.[1]

Dick McBride served as regular pitcher for more than a decade and as captain throughout the NA seasons, which gives him manager credit today. Other star players include Al Reach in the 1860s and Cap Anson who played from 1872 to 1875 (Anson took over as captain near the very end of the 1875 season).

The Athletics also played one game in Dover, Delaware on June 24, 1875. They played at Fairview Park Fair Grounds.[2]

During their five-year existence the Athletics won 165 games and lost only 86 for a winning percentage of .657. Notable players on their roster included Hall of Famer Cap Anson, infielder Ezra Sutton, and pitcher/manager Dick McBride.

National League (1876)

During the summer of 1875, the Chicago White Stockings moved decisively to improve its team by recruiting six stars then playing in Boston and Philadelphia. Four Red Stockings players (catcher Deacon White, infielders Cal McVey and Ross Barnes, and pitcher Al Spalding) and Philadelphia Athletics third baseman Cap Anson would play for Chicago in 1876, with Ezra Sutton remaining in Philadelphia for the Athletics' final season.

Chicago's William Hulbert, assisted by player Albert Spalding and sportswriter Lewis Meacham, moved at the same time to organize a new league. Hulbert recruited first the St. Louis Brown Stockings of the National Association, independent clubs from Louisville and Cincinnati (the Louisville Grays and Cincinnati Reds), and four eastern clubs: the Athletics, the New York Mutuals, the Hartford Dark Blues, and the Boston Red Stockings. Three NA clubs still in business were excluded: the Philadelphia Whites, Brooklyn Atlantics, and the New Haven Elm Citys. The Athletics and Mutuals were selected rather than the Whites and Atlantics, as the new National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs granted exclusive territories to all member clubs. New Haven was too small a city and the club had declined to travel west in 1875, playing only three home games apiece with Chicago and St. Louis. On Saturday, April 22, 1876, the Athletics played in the first game in the history of Major League Baseball, losing to the Boston Red Caps, 6–5.[3][4][5]

After having spent fifteen years as a strong and stable club, the Athletics fared poorly in the new National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, finishing seventh with 14 wins in 60 games, 38 wins behind Chicago. Near the end of the season, the financially troubled team refused to make a western road trip, finishing with 35 games played at home and 25 away.[6] Mutual of New York also refused, owing the western teams nine home games. Both clubs were expelled from the National League, which simply contracted from eight to six for the 1877 season.

The 1876 Athletics were managed by Al Wright and played their home games at the Jefferson Street Grounds. Their top-hitting regular was left fielder George Hall, who batted .366 with a slugging percentage of .545. Another strong batter on the team was third baseman Levi Meyerle, who hit .340. The best pitcher on the team was Lon Knight, who won 10 games, lost 22, and had an ERA of 2.62.


Year W L T Games Rank in games (in wins)
1861 2 2 4 14
1862 1 1 2 non-member
1863 7 5 12 2 (4th in wins)
1864 8 1 9 10 (tie 3rd)
1865 15 3 18 2 (2nd)
1866 23 2 25 2 (2nd)
1867 44 3 47 1 (1st)
1868 47 3 50 2 (tie 1st)
1869 45 8 53 3 (3rd)
1870 65 11 1 77 2 (tie 3rd in wins)

Championship matches with professional teams (1869–1870) and with professional leagues (1871–1876)

Year W L T Games Rank in games (in wins)
1869 15 7 22 3 (tie 2nd in wins)
1870 26 11 1 38 2 (3rd)
1871 21 7 28 6 (1st place)
1872 30 14 3 47 4 (4th place)
1873 28 23 1 52 6 (5th place)
1874 33 22 55 6 (3rd place)
1875 53 20 4 77 3 (3rd place)
1876 14 45 1 60 7 (7th place)

Source for season records: Wright (2000) has published records for dozens of NABBP teams each season, relying on a mix of game and season records in contemporary newspapers and guides. Dozens of leading clubs by number of matches are included, as are many others. The records do not consistently cover either all games played or all championship matches between NABBP members.

Notable alumni

  • Lip Pike, major league baseball 4x home run champion

See also


  1. Except for the Mutuals in 1874, shorter-lived clubs finished second. Judged by winning percentage, a later criterion, Athletic in 1875 achieved the sixth best season in NA history behind only the five pennant winners. But the criterion was wins, an incentive for clubs to complete their series. In the five NA seasons Athletic ranked 6–4–6–6–3 in games played, 1–4–5–3–3 in wins. --And the club ranked terminally 7 in games played for 1876.
  2. Retrosheet
  3. Events of Saturday, April 22, 1876. Retrosheet. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
  4. Noble, Marty (September 23, 2011). "MLB carries on strong, 200,000 games later: Look what they started on a ballfield in Philadelphia in 1876". Retrieved September 30, 2011. [B]aseball is about to celebrate its 200,000th game — [in the division series on] Saturday [October 1, 2011] ....<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. See also: Major League Baseball#Differing definitions of MLB's founding year.
  6. The Athletic "owed" each of the four western teams two games at its home ballpark, having played only three each. It played only three games in New York, and the Mutuals played only four in Philadelphia, another symptom of the Mutual-Athletic decline. But the league would not have expelled two clubs for shirking on their visits to each other.