Phillies You Should Know: Former Philly Pitcher Phenomenal Smith

Phenomenal_SmithLooks like I’m also gonna have to update the Phillies All-Nickname Team.

Phenomenal Smith was born John Francis Gammon in Manayunk in 1864, and made his pro debut with the Athletics of the American Association in 1884. The next year he joined the Brooklyn Grays. It did not go well. His teammates didn’t appreciate the cocky 20-year old, and when he said he didn’t need teammates to win, they taught him a lesson.  In his first start, the Grays intentionally committed 14 errors and Smith lost 18-5. The team President fined the players $500 each, but in an effort to ensure team harmony, fired Gammon after only one game.

Following that debacle, he joined the Newark Little Giants of the Eastern League. On October 3rd of 1885, he threw a no-hitter in which he struck out 16 and didn’t let a ball leave the infield. The performance was so remarkable that it earned him a new nickname, Phenomenal Smith.

He kicked around the majors and minors for the next several years, re-appearing with the Athletics in 1889, then joining the Phillies in 1890. He was cut in 1891, and never made it back to the majors, though he played and coached in the minors for another 15 years, playing for colorful teams such as the Green Bay Bays, the Hartfort Cooperative, and even a team that named itself after him, the Pawtucket Phenoms. While coaching a team in Norfolk, VA, he signed a young Christy Mathewson. Under Smith’s tutelage, Matthewson thrived, and by the end of the season he was signed by the New York Giants.

After retiring, Smith joined the Manchester, Massachusetts police department. He died in 1952 at the age of 87.


Cupid Wears a Dress

In 1888, Cupid Childs played 4 games for the Phillies, before he was released (remarkably, 4 games was enough for him to get a Philly baseball card made). He then traveled out to Kalamazoo, Michigan to try out for the Kalamazoo Kazoos. (I am not making that team name up. In 1895, they changed their name to the Kalamazoo Celery Eaters.) Anyways, his SABR page tells us what happened when the portly Childs arrived for his tryout, which they got from a newspaper account at the time.

“Childs is the most curiously built man in the baseball business: he is about as wide as he is long and weighs about as much as Jeffries, yet there are few men in the league who can get over the ground faster than the ‘dumpling.’ He started in the business as a professional with the Kalamazoo club in the Tristate league in 1888 and his work was so good that year that he graduated into fast company, where he has been ever since. When he reported to the Kalamazoo club he came in on a ‘side-door Pullman’ and presented himself to the management of the ‘Celery Eaters’ and asked for a trial. The manager thought he was joking after looking at his short length and broad girth, telling him he would make a better fat man in a side show than a ball player. Showing them he was anxious for a trial he was told to go to the grounds and practice with the rest of the team. A search was made for a uniform that would fit him, but none could be found, the only thing of that nature large enough for him being a pair of divided skirts, which he put on, cutting them off at the knees. His appearance with this costume on can be imagined and was so ludicrous that it threatened to break up the practice. However, as soon as he got out on the diamond and began to practice they began to open eyes and wonder. Such stops and throws were made as they never saw before and with such ease and grace that all were at once convinced he was a wonder. The management signed him on the spot and at a good salary, a move they never regretted, as his playing was the sensation of league all the season.”

The Biggest Loser

You’ll find former Phillies pitcher John Coleman all over the record books, though I doubt he’d be happy to know that he’s still there. Coleman was the loser on opening day of the Phillies very first game, and it was a feeling the 20-year old would get to know quite well. He would march onto the mound as a starter 61 times that season, and take 48 losses, ending the year with a record of 12-48 (despite a bad but not historically awful 4.87 ERA. In other words, he was better than Joe Blanton is this year, at 6-6, 5.04 ERA). When he wasn’t pitching, he was playing the field, doing time at both first base and in the outfield.

Of course, the 1883 Phillies had no other options. Their number two pitcher, Art Hagen, went 1-14 with a 5.45 ERA. Funny story about Hagen: He was from Rhode Island, so when the Phillies travelled up to Rhode Island for a game, the manager decided to pitch Hagan in an effort to increase attendance. He would be facing Hall of Famer Old Hoss Radbourn. The game did draw a crowd, but their native son gave them little to cheer for, as the Phillies lost 28-0, still the most lopsided shutout loss in MLB history.

Back to Coleman: In 1884, he started the year for the Phillies, but switched over to the Athletics of the American Association, aka the “Beer and Whiskey League”, midway through the season (that franchise had no relation to the A’s of Connie Mack). Once in the AA, he was used almost exclusively as a fielder. He actually became a pretty decent hitter in the AA as well, batting .299 with 70 RBIs in 1885. He headed out west to Pittsburgh, where he played for both the AA team and the NL team. He hung up the cleats after an 1890 season with the Pirates, presumably hoping that someday someone would break that awful record. They never did, and barring the advent of the 760 game season, they never will. John Coleman is an eternal record holder. When it comes to pitching, he will always be baseball’s biggest loser. And still better than Joe Blanton.


The 1887 Phillies; Team Photos and a Season Recap Written in 1888

I bought a bunch of old Philly Almanacs last weekend, and they formed the basis of my column in the Post this week. Of course, they also contained a few sports goodies which I’m excited to share with you on here. Let’s start with the 1887 Phillies (aka the Quakers, as they were also known), who got quite  a little write-up in the 1888 Almanac. Lalli actually wrote about this team last year. A few things I particularly enjoy: the writer complaining about the Detroit team’s payroll, and the fact that people apparently hated the Baker Bowl even in its inaugural year. Here is the 1888 Almanac piece verbatim:

The salary list of baseball players for the season of 1887 amounted to over $1,000,000. There were about a dozen professional organizations, the majority of which were composed of eight clubs each, with an average of twelve men per club. The two leading organizations are the National League and the American Association, in each of which Philadelphia has a representative club. These two clubs are great rivals, and each has a host of followers and admirers.

The Philadelphia Club, which is a member of the National League, made the splendid record during the season of winning 75 games and losing but 48, giving it a percentage in victories of .609. Only one club did better-the Detroit, which won the champion pennant with 79 victories to 45 defeats, giving it a percentage of .637. The Detroit Club of 1887 had the highest-priced team ever put upon a ball field, and yet the margin by which it won the pennant was narrow.

The season opened very disastrously for the local club, which was obliged to begin at home on newly graded grounds that were not fit to play upon. Several players were injured, all became intimidated, and there was more or less dissipation among the men, which had to be corrected, and it was well toward the middle of the season before the club began to play in good form. From that time on the club improved its position steadily, climbing from fifth to second position. The Boston, New York, and Chicago Clubs repeatedly went down before its steady play, and the Detroit Club was beaten twice in succession on its own grounds. The Philadelphia Club closed the seventeen last games of the season with sixteen victories and one tie.

Remember, in Senior year of high school, how you had two photos: your casual and your formal? Apparently they used to do that same thing in baseball. Here is the same team from above, this time in their evening attire. (Larger version of photo can be seen here)

And finally, here is a really nice photo of the squad that has apparently been touched up (larger version here). Man, that team was just hounded by the paparazzi!


First Opening Day in Phillies History

129 years ago, on May 1, 1883, Philadelphia’s National League team was opening up its season, the first in the team’s history.

John Coleman was the Quakers opening day starter, and thus, the first opening day starter in the history of Phillies baseball. He’s shown to the left holding a bat like, well, a pitcher.  The Quakers opponent that day was the Providence Grays, who threw Charles Radbourn.  Facing Radbourn in their first ever game was a challenge for the Quakers.  Radbourn would win NL’s Pitching Triple crown the next year with 59 wins, an ERA of 1.38, and 441 strikeouts.  His 59 wins is a major league record that will never be broken.  He was also the first major leaguer to flip the bird during a team photo.  (If you can’t see it, here’s a closeup.)

The upstart Quakers got off to a hot start at Recreation Park with some small ball and scored 2 runs in the first inning.  Blondie Purcell led off the game with a single and Bill McClellan followed that up with a double.  With runners on second and third with no outs, two consecutive infield grounders led to two fielder’s choice RBI. The score remained 2-0 until the 7th inning, when a 2-out single by catcher Frank Ringo scored third baseman Bill Harbridge to give the Quakers a 3-0 lead.

In the top half of the 8th, the Grays finally got to Coleman.  A leadoff walk surrendered to Radbourn was followed by consecutive singles and a double.  After forcing a groundout, Coleman gave up another single before finally ending the inning.  All told, the Grays put up 4 runs to take a 4-3 lead.

The game wasn’t without the type of nostalgic controversy that we all love about old-time baseball. In the Quakers’ half of the 8th, Purcell led off with a single.  On his way to first, he sprained his ankle. After reaching safely, he requested to have another player run for him because of the injury. However, he needed not the umpire’s permission, but rather that of the captain of the Grays. Purcell’s request was denied, leading to the 1,000 or so in attendance to voice their displeasure with the visiting Grays. Next up, Bill McClellan reached first on an error and Purcell limped safely into second.  Two pop-outs later, there were runners on first and second with two outs.  Radbourn threw a wild pitch and in the words of an Inquirer article:

“Purcell started for third, and fairly reached there, but was decided out at third, a very unjust decision, which was vigorously hissed.”

In the ninth, neither team scored.  Opening Day for the history of the Phillies ended with a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Providence Grays.  Things wouldn’t get much better for the Quakers in 1883, but the fledgling franchise got its start and National League baseball has lived in this City ever since.

The Phillies’ Longest Winning Streak

On July 28th, the Phillies faced Tim Lincecum and the Giants and fell 4-1.  They haven’t lost since. The Phils went on to sweep the Pirates and Rockies in three-game sets and have taken the first 3 of 4 against the Giants, winning 9 consecutive games.  Today, the Phillies are once again up against Luiz the cab-driver with Roy Oswalt looking to extend the team’s win streak to double-digits.

Nine wins in a row is nice, but it’s not even close to the team record.  That record, 16 wins without a loss, belongs to the dapper gentlemen pictured above of the 1887 Philadelphia Quakers.  On September 15th, the Quakers were stuck in 4th place mired 9.5 games behind the Detroit Wolverines. They then got hot, really hot.

The Quakers swept the Indianapolis Hoosiers, the Wolverines, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, the Washington Nationals and the Boston Beaneaters for 13 straight victories.  The final series of the season was a 4-game set at the original Polo Grounds against the New York Giants.  The Quakers took the first two, tied the third and then won the last game of the series and the season on October 8th.  This capped what Major League Baseball considers a 16-game winning streak, but what the hockey-guy in me wants to call a 17-game unbeaten streak. No matter the name, the streak propelled the Quakers to a 2nd place finish in the National League.

The 2011 Phillies have some work to do if they want to push the franchise record for consecutive wins past 16 games.  In addition to beating Lincecum today, they will need to sweep the Dodgers in L.A., sweep the Nationals at home and take the first game of the D-Backs series.  It won’t be easy, but if any team can do it, the real dream team in this town can.

Note: The Phillies’ longest winning streak in the modern-era is 13 games, which was earned in 1977.

The Greatest Left Handed Catcher in MLB History Was a Phillie

For the past century, almost no left handers have strapped on shin guards and gone behind the plate. A long season makes people do goofy things, so there have been occasional glimpses of lefties, but they have been more of a novelty than anything. The Cubs Dale Long caught two games in 1958, White Sox 1B Mike Squires caught a few games in the early 80s, and Benny Distefano caught for 6 innings for the Pirates as an emergency replacement in 1989. He was the last lefty to wear the tools of ignorance.

Only 5 left handers have caught over 100 games, and all of them played in the 19th century. The first lefty to go behind the plate was Philly native Bill Harbridge, who did so for the Hartford Dark Blues in 1876. He would catch 128 games. But there was only one left handed catcher who had a long, impressive career behind the plate. That was Jack Clements, who played on the Phillies from 1884-1897. (Not only was he the last every day lefty catcher, he was also the first catcher to ever wear a chest protector.) Though defensive stats are unavailable, we do have this little gem from the Phildelphia Ledger to let us know what kind of a catcher he was…his fine throwing held runners so closely to their bases, that they could not get around unless by consecutive hitting or through errors by the fielders.

Clements was a fine hitter, batting .287 for his career but hitting .350 or high for three straight years from 1894-1896. (The 1894 team was one of the greatest hitting teams in baseball history, with all 3 outfielders hitting over .400 and the team hitting .350 as a group.) Clements had some pop, too, hitting 17 homers in 1893 and finishing his career as the only 19th century player who played in 1,000 or more games with more career homers (77) than triples (60). Bill James had him listed as the 58th greatest catcher ever, and he certainly can be included in the discussion with Lieberthal, Boone, Seminick, and Daulton for greatest Phillies catcher of all time.

Studio Shot of Pitching Great Charlie Ferguson

A couple of months ago, Lalli did a terrific piece on tragic Phils pitcher Charlie Ferguson. Ferguson threw the Phillies’ first ever no hitter, never won less than 21 games in a season, and had Hall of Fame written all over him. But during spring training in 1888, he contracted typhoid fever and died in late April. Ferguson was 25 years old. The photo taken above was shot just months before his death.

Here is a very good piece Frank Fitzpatrick did on him in 2003. Anyways, was just tooling around on flickr and came across this photo and thought I’d share. Something else interesting about Ferguson: he is 8th all time in wins for the Phils, but isn’t shown on their All-Time list on their website.

A Phillie You Should Know: Charlie Ferguson

One of the things we want to do here at Philly Sports History is bring to life old-time Philadelphia athletes who have been long forgotten by the majority of fans today.  One of these athletes is Charlie Ferguson.  His prowess at the plate was mentioned here before; but he was just as productive on the mound.

Ferguson graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1883 before playing for Virginia in the minors in the Eastern League.  After just one year, he was called up to the Philadelphia Quakers (the name was officially changed to the Phillies in 1890).

The 21-year-old made his major league debut on May 1, 1884.  As a rookie, Ferguson was a work-horse for the Quakers.  He led the team in starts, wins, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts.  He finished his rookie campaign with a 21-25 record and an ERA of 3.54.  Those numbers don’t jump out at you, but they should when you consider that the Quakers only won 39 games and lost 73 that year.

Ferguson’s numbers improved in the ’85 season.  Ferguson went 26-20 with an ERA of 2.22.  On August 29 of that year, Ferguson threw the first no-hitter in Philadelphia baseball history in a 1-0 win against the Providence Grays.  Ferguson’s pitching pushed the Quakers to a 56-54 record and a 3rd place finish in the 8 team National League.

In 1886, Ferguson had a career year.  He finished 30-9 with a minuscule 1.98 ERA and 4 shutouts.  His ERA was good for second in the league.  And with Ferguson leading the way, the team vastly improved.  The Quakers boasted a 71-43 record.  Ferguson, a switch-hitter, also did some damage at the plate.  In 261 AB, he managed 25 RBI and a .253 batting average.

In his 4th year, Ferguson showed Philadelphia the kind of player he was; and folks, he was the kind of player we would have loved to have in any decade.  On the mound, Ferguson finished 22-10 with a 3.00 ERA.  With about a month left in the season, the Quakers were 9.5 games out of first place, but second place was in reach.  Manager Harry Wright saw Ferguson’s potential at the plate and knew the team couldn’t move up in the standings without more offensive production.  So for the home stretch of the season, he made Ferguson an everyday player.  When he wasn’t pitching, Ferguson played second base.  In 264 at bats, Ferguson hit .337, led the team with 85 RBI, hit 3 HR, stole 13 bases and scored 67 runs.  In their last 17 games, the Quakers won 16 and tied 1.  They finished 75-48, clinching second place and ending up only 3.5 games behind the eventual champion Detroit Wolverines.

Sadly, during spring training for the 1888 season, Ferguson contracted typhoid fever and died in Philadelphia.  He was just 25 years old.

Ferguson was an all-around player who did everything well: pitching, hitting and fielding.  He was Philadelphia baseball’s first legitimate star.  In 1931, Hall of Fame manager Wilbert Robinson ranked Ferguson right up there with some of baseball’s most celebrated players:

“Back in the old, old days the Phillies had a man who could pitch like a streak and play the infield, too. His name was Charley Ferguson. You can’t leave him off. There’s Hughey Jennings, too. He was an unbeatable shortstop. As I said before, it’s unfair to name just a few. Think of the many good ones I’ve never seen! But if I have to name the best five you can put down Cobb, Keeler, Ruth, Wagner and Ferguson for me.”

If Ferguson hadn’t fallen ill and died at such a young age, who knows where he would rank in the list of all-time greats.  The fact remains that no matter how obscure he may be to today’s fan, Charlie Ferguson is a Phillie that deserves to be remembered.

Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl Opens on Today’s Date in 1887

On today’s date in 1887, the Baker Bowl opened for business. The home of the Phillies from 1887-1938, the Baker Bowl was located on North Broad Street, by West Lehigh Avenue. When it opened in 1887, it was considered state of the art. It was the first ever stadium built of brick and steel. The foul territory was enormous, making the stadium non-fan friendly, but it was appreciated by pitchers. The first game, played on April 30th, 1887, was won by the Phillies, 19-10, over the NY Giants. The Phillies would end the 1887 season 75-48, and finish the year 4 games behind the Detroit Wolverines. Amazingly, Phillies pitcher Charlie Ferguson would lead the team in RBIs, with 85, despite only batting 264 times.

The Baker Bowl’s most famous feature was its enormous right field wall. Located a mere 280 feet from home plate, the wall was an incredible 60 feet tall. By comparison, the Green Monster is 37 feet high (and 310 feet from home plate). The enormous wall was an add-on. When the stadium opened, there was a normal sized wall in right, meaning that balls consistently flew out of the park. The Baker Bowl came to be known as The Bandbox. The nickname was later applied to other stadiums, and is now used for any stadium with intimate, homer-friendly features (You might even called CBP a bandbox.)

The Phils played 51 seasons there and only managed one pennant (1915). There was a giant advertising sign on the right field wall which read “The Phillies Use Lifebuoy”. Legend has it that a graffiti artist snuck in one night and next to the ad wrote, “And they still stink.” The Phils were indeed awful for the vast majority of their history in Baker Bowl. They moved to Shibe in 1938 and stayed there until 1970, when they moved into the Vet.

The Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society has an excellent history of the ballpark on their site, and I have posted a bunch of very cool photos after the jump.

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