The Philadelphia Phillies are the longest standing same-named, same-city team in American professional sports, having been born to the National League in 1883. Unfortunately for them, longevity does not constitute greatness. In fact, the Phillies have been dogged by bad management, poor players and general ineptness for almost the entire span of their long history, so much so that they have lost more games than any other American professional sports team.
Their all-time record through 2010 is 9,135 - 10,232, almost 1,100 games under .500. They hold the unenviable records of losing 23 consecutive straight games (1961) and going 92 years (1883-1979) without a championship (a record tied by the Cubs in 2005 and surpassed in 2006).
The Phillies played their first game on May 1, 1883, losing to the Providence Grays 4-3. They would lose 81 of 98 games, a harbinger of things to come. Hall of Famer Harry Wright took over the team in its sophomore season and for the next 10 years they finished out of the first division only once. Wright added great talent, starting with Ed Delahanty. "Big Ed" hit over .400 three times, won a batting title, hit four home runs in a game in 1896 and was the slugging leader in 1893 with 19 home runs and 146 runs batted in.
In 1894 Delahanty was a member of an All-Hall-of-Fame outfield with Sam Thompson and "Sliding" Billy Hamilton. All three hit above .400 that year. Hamilton set a record by scoring 192 runs that year. He won two batting titles and four stolen base crowns (thus his nickname) and Thompson led the league twice in home runs.
The Phillies had a tough time in the first decade of the 20th century after the upstart American League signed away their three biggest stars - Delahanty, Elmer Flick and Nap Lajoie - all future Hall of Famers. Their rebound started when they signed a young Grover Cleveland Alexander. One of the greatest of all pitchers, he won 28 games as a rookie in 1911. He averaged 27 wins in his seven years with Philly, winning 30-plus games three times and 20-plus games each year but 1912 when he won 19.
In 1915, he had one of the all-time great seasons (31-10, 1.22 ERA, 12 shutouts, four one-hitters and 264 strikeouts in sparking the Phillies to the pennant. His battery mate, Gavvy Cravath, was the league's premier slugger, socking a then-record 24 home runs. The Phils lost to the Red Sox in the World Series, winning the first game by two runs before losing four in a row, all by one run.
After two consecutive second place finishes, the Phils collapsed into a dark and dismal period virtually unmatched in the game's history. During the next three decades they would finish last 17 times and next-to-last seven times, losing more than 100 games for five consecutive seasons (1938-1942).
Since the Phils played in the Baker Bowl, an old stadium favorable to power hitters, they had their share of slugging stars, most notably Chuck Klein, who won three home run titles, including a Triple Crown in 1933 (28 home runs, 129 runs batted in, and a .368 average). Klein, like Delahanty, also hit four home runs in one game, accomplishing the feat in 1936. The Phils left the Baker Bowl for Shibe Park in 1938.
The Phils finally emerged from the darkness after World War II, building a team around what the fans came to call the "Whiz Kids" — Richie Ashburn, Curt Simmons, Granny Hamner, Andy Seminick, Robin Roberts and veterans Dick Sisler and Jim Konstanty.
The "Whiz Kids" won the 1950 pennant, but not without a scare. Flying high with a seven game lead and 11 to play, they hit a wind shear of a slump, losing eight of 10 while the Dodgers pulled to within one game. The two teams met on the final day of the season in Brooklyn and were tied 1-1 when Dick Sisler hit a three-run 10th inning homer. Roberts pitched the entire game and Ashburn saved the season by throwing out the winning run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth. It was all academic, as the Phils lost to the Yanks in the World Series.
If the "Whiz Kids" survived a near collapse in 1950, their counterparts in 1964 were not so fortunate. After another decade of floundering near the bottom of the league, the Phils were the team to beat in 1964 behind manager Gene Mauch, pitching ace Jim Bunning (19-8, 2.63), the veteran John Callison (31 home runs, 104 runs batted in, .274) and newcomer Dick Allen (29 home runs, 91 runs batted in, .318). The team had a 6½ game lead with 12 games remaining, and unimaginably lost 10 straight allowing the St. Louis Cardinals to steal the pennant from them by one game.
The team returned to its second division doldrums the rest of the decade. They moved out of ancient Connie Mack Stadium (nee Shibe Park) for Veterans Stadium in 1970, and a restocked farm system and some astute trades rejuvenated the franchise. Steve Carlton had been a good pitcher in St. Louis, but after being traded to the Phillies he took his game to another plateau. On a team that won only 59 games in 1972, Carlton won the Cy Young Award (27-10, 1.98).
As the youngsters matured the Phils won three consecutive National League East titles (1976-77-78) with Carlton the mainstay (20, 23 and 16 wins) and Mike Schmidt the slugging star (38, 38 and 21 home runs). He became the third Philly player among the 15 in history to hit four homers in a game in 1976. There was plenty of other power with Greg Luzinski (21, 39 and 35 homers), Garry Maddox and Richie Hebner.
The Phils had trouble advancing in the postseason, however, losing all three National League Championship Series. Looking for the boost that would get them over the top, they brought in Pete Rose in 1979. The move paid huge dividends in 1980 when Rose's leadership and fiery competitiveness led the Phillies to their first world championship. As always, Carlton was the pitching leader with another Cy Young year (24-9, 2.34) and Schmidt had one of his finest seasons as Most Valuable Player (48 home runs, 121 runs batted in, .286).
The Phils won a dramatic National League Championship Series against Houston and closed the deal against Kansas City in the World Series in six games, with Carlton winning two and Schmidt hitting a pair of home runs. The Phils won a half-season pennant but lost to Montreal in the strike-forced 1981 Division Series. They were back on top in 1983 with Carlton winning his 300th game. The Phils defeated the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series but succumbed to Baltimore in the World Series.
After another down decade, the Phils roared back in 1993 behind a group of blue collar veterans led by John Kruk (.316), Darren Daulton (24 home runs, 105 runs batted in, .257) and sparkplug Len Dykstra (.305). Tommie Greene and Curt Schilling each won 16 games and Mitch Williams saved 43. After defeating Atlanta in the National League Championship Series, the Phils lost to Toronto in the World Series, best remembered for Joe Carter's walk-off, Series-winning home run against Williams in the sixth game.
After the success of 1993, more losing seasons followed until the drought was broken in 2001 with a non-playoff, second-place finish. Then, following an 80-81 record in 2002, the Phils improved with a string of winning campaigns and near playoff misses until finally returning to the postseason in 2007 propelled by the maturation of a homegrown core that included Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Brett Myers and Cole Hamels.
The 2007 season was also a milestone in that the Phillies recorded their 10,000th team loss; the most losses by a professional team in sports history. After being swept by the Colorado Rockies in the first round in 2007, the Phils, under the guidance of General Manager Pat Gillick and Manager Charlie Manual, returned to the postseason in 2008. Led by the ageless Jamie Moyer, the resurgent Brad Lidge, emerging stars Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth, and the heart of their lineup in Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the Phils fought past the Milwaukee Brewers and L.A. Dodgers to reach their first World Series since 1993. After a wild, wet Game 5 that took three days to complete due to rain, they took their second World Series championship in franchise history when they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 4 games to 1.
Gillick, who retired at the end of the 2008 season, gave praise to his predecessor, Ed Wade, for putting together a majority of the group of players responsible for the championship victory. The team reins were handed to Ruben Amaro, Jr., who was an assistant to Gillick and Wade during their tenure.
Amaro made some key midseason pickups (particularly Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez) along the way to the Phils’ third consecutive postseason appearance in 2009. After getting past the Rockies and Dodgers in the NL playoffs, the Phillies faced the New York Yankees in their second consecutive Fall Classic. The Phils could not overcome a shaky bullpen and lost the World Series to the favored Yankees, 4 -2, despite stellar pitching by Cliff Lee, who won both of Philadelphia’s games.
Led by new ace Roy Halladay, the run of winning seasons continued in 2010 with their fourth consecutive Eastern Division crown. However, they lost in the NLCS to San Francisco. Still, the successes of the decade have provided some distance for the Philadelphia organization and its long-suffering fans from its mostly trying past.