April 05, 2012
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.