Philadelphia might have had the historic Tea Party instead of Boston, but failed. In 1773, when Great Britain tried to impose tea and taxes, the ship Polly, with one Captain Ayres at the helm, was en route to Philadelphia with a cargo of tea, news of which reached the city in ample time for preparations. On Oct. 18, 1773, weeks before the Bostonians had readied their Tea Party plans, the Philadelphians held a meeting. The Committee for Tarring and Feathering was appointed—Philadelphia obviously was already in trouble. True to the civic pattern, the committee got off to a dynamic start and penned this warning to Captain Ayres: "What think you, Captain, of a halter around your neck, 10 gallons of tar decanted on your pate, with the feathers of a dozen wild geese laid over that to enliven your appearance? Only think seriously of this and fly to the place from whence you came. Fly without hesitation, without the formality of a protest, and above all, dear Captain Ayres, let us advise you to fly without the wild goose feathers."
Captain Ayres refused to turn back. He arrived in Philadelphia on Dec. 26, 1773 and was confronted by the largest gathering in the history of the city, 8,000 angry, booing Philadelphians. The tar and feathering committee then took over. When the committee finished its deliberations Captain Ayres was allowed to depart without a drop of tar or a single feather. In short, they blew the whole affair.
Grandiose planning and mild execution have been hallmarks of Philadelphia ever since. The city was the capital during the Revolutionary War, only to be shunted aside for New York. It then appeared that Philadelphia would regain the honor, being a more centrally located site. It was chosen once more, but only until a new capital could be built on the Potomac. At least it can be said that for seven years, while he was President, George Washington slept in Philadelphia. But then, what else could he do?
Baseball had an early but uninspired start in the city. In 1860 the local team lost to the mighty Excelsiors of New York 15-4, and Philadelphia sports fans were reported to be delighted because the team had not lost by a larger score. Three years later the city acquired the first professional baseball player, Al Reach, who signed with the Athletics with the understanding that he be allowed to commute between Philadelphia and New York, where he worked as a silversmith.
In 1869 three different Philadelphia teams lost to the Cincinnati Reds—the Olympias 22-11, the Athletics 27-18, the Keystones 45-30—and the local rooters were quite enthused about "the splendid showing of the home teams." Still, there were glorious moments. In 1871 the Philadelphia Athletics won the first pennant in the earliest known pro league, the National Association. (Because of assorted irregularities the National Association has been ruled not to have been a major league.) Two years later Philadelphia became the first city to have two teams in a league when the Quakers joined the Athletics in representing the town. The Quakers wore gray shirts and pants, white stockings and low-crowned hats, and fans in other towns greeted them with remarks like, "Didst thee score a run in thee's last game?"
The National League, the modern organization, commenced play on April 22, 1876, with all games weathered out except the one in Philadelphia, where Boston beat the Athletics 6-5. It is not exactly clear when the original Athletics were replaced by a new team called the Phillies, but it may have been in 1883. Thirty-two years passed before they won a National League pennant. But they did have some fine individual players. Billy Hamilton twice stole an alltime high of 111 bases. On July 13,1896 Ed Delahanty put on one of baseball's most prodigious hitting exhibitions by slugging home runs to left, right and center, over a fence 35 feet high, and adding an inside-the-park home run. As a reward Delahanty was given four sticks of chewing gum. There were, however, some awkward moments. One came in 1898 when Tommy Corcoran of the Cincinnati Reds was coaching at third base during a game in Philadelphia. While scuffing around in the dirt Corcoran's spikes caught on what he thought was a vine. He tugged on it, and found it to be wire. He kept tugging on it and followed its path until it led him across the field into the Phillie clubhouse. There he found Morgan Murphy, a Phil-lie catcher, with a pair of opera glasses and a telegraph buzzer, devices he used to steal and relay signs to the Phillie coach at third base.
The new Philadelphia Athletics were charter members of the American League, but when Connie Mack arrived as manager in 1901 he had no players, no ball park and no encouragement. John McGraw called the Athletics "a white elephant," a symbol the Athletics wore on their uniforms for years. But Mack got Ben Shibe to put up money for a park and raided National League teams, plucking such standouts as Nap Lajoie and Lave Cross. Managing the team from the first American League season through 1950, Mack ran the gamut from eighth place to world championships.
But in their first World Series in 1905 the Athletics faced none other than McGraw's Giants. With Christy Mathewson pitching three shutouts and Joe McGinnity a fourth, the A's lost, but with no loss of esteem in Philadelphia. They had their revenge when they defeated the Giants in both the 1911 and 1913 World Series, the latter marking the fourth time the Athletics had won the pennant. But the local resistance to being first was at work, and with hard times Mack had no choice but to sell a number of his stars. The remains of the 1913 World Champions wound up in eighth place in 1915, the first of seven consecutive Such finishes.
Until the Mets in 1962—and a longer schedule—the Athletics of 1916 lost more games in one season than any club in this century: 117. They did this with the help of 314 errors, 78 of them by Shortstop Whitey Witt. "You never saw a club like that one," said Tom Sheehan, a pitcher whose record was 1-16 for the Athletics that season. But Jack Nabors outdid Sheehan with a 1-19 record, all his losses coming in a row to establish a mark that still stands.
Joe Bush (15-22 that year) has a tale to tell about that 1916 team. "We had lost 20 straight, tying the league record," he said. "Then I beat Detroit. When I came into the clubhouse, instead of congratulating me, the team was furious and gave me hell because I'd ruined its chance of setting a record."