Philadelphia’s winningest sports franchise returns home, conjuring ghosts of baseball past.
Back in Major League Baseball’s infancy, two team markets were much more common than they are today. The rivalry between the National League and the American League was the primary reason for this, as the two would compete with each other over the same market.
In the early days, the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League were the city’s far more dominant and successful team. Up until their departure after the 1954 season, the Athletics won 9 AL Pennants and 5 World Series Championships. Much of their success could be attributed to legendary owner-manager Connie Mack, who built some of the best teams in baseball history. Meanwhile, the Phillies spent most of that time in the cellar of the National League, earning just 2 NL Pennants. To this day, the A’s remain the city’s winningest sports franchise, despite their tenure only lasting 54 years.
It seems strange, then, that the much more successful team would be the one to get relocated. But, through a combination of the A’s playing poorly while the Phillies were doing the opposite, MLB’s desire to expand west, a Mack family feud and some meddling on the part of the New York Yankees, the Athletics left for Kansas City in 1954.
Like most multi-team markets, Philadelphia’s two teams enjoyed a pretty healthy rivalry (though the A’s were far and away the more dominant fan base). Fans in the city were strongly divided over which team to support, and while neither team ever met in the World Series, they did play a number of exhibition games before and after the regular season, dubbed the City Series.
The series was at first wildly popular in the early century, though interest tapered off after the late 20’s. After sporadic contests, interest picked up again in the late 40’s, when both teams were expected to be good. The winner of the City Series was awarded the Ellis A. Gimbel trophy, and 100% of the proceeds from each game were donated to local charities. The whereabouts of the trophy are unknown, though the Phillies were the last to win it in 1954.
The teams continued playing each other even after the A’s moved to Kansas City, though once the A’s moved to Oakland and their spring training facilities switched over to Arizona, the teams would not meet again until 2003, 7 years after the adoption of Interleague Play.
Though neither the A’s nor the Phillies have forgotten about the team’s roots in Philadelphia, it’s the former fans that get the shortest end of the stick. The A’s honor their history in various different ways: the White Elephant logo, acknowledgement of former stars, and even a ballpark tavern named after Shibe Park. Meanwhile, the Phillies devote a section of their ballpark to the team’s memory, induct Philadelphia A’s into their Wall of Fame, and even have a statue of Connie Mack.
Accolades aside, past Philadelphia A’s fans get very little when it comes to live baseball. Their team has barely come back to visit, with today being their 9th game played in Philadelphia since 1954. When weighed against how intense the fandom had been and the broken promises that the team would never move, this is probably one of the saddest parts of this whole affair. I hope whatever A’s fans are left were able to make it out and see their old team. It certainly looked like quite a few of them were out in the ballpark this weekend
As it currently stands, the two teams have played each other during the regular season 17 times, with the overall record being 9-8 in favor of the Athletics. With today’s game, the Phillies have a chance to even things out and claim a win in 2017’s City Series.