Citizens Bank Park from a Wikipedia photo
By Yael Borofsky for PhillyHistory.org
The thing about October is that the weather is like the baseball — sometimes it’s hot for most of the month, and sometimes it’s very, very cold. After quite a few years of some very “hot” Octobers for the Philadelphia Phillies, this year’s tenth month seems like it will be a chilly one.
But even if the Phillies miss out on a chance at the national title this year, they may deserve another title: the Movingest Team in Baseball.
Although the Cincinatti Reds and a few other legacy baseball teams may be close runners-up, the Phillies have switched major home parks at least five times within the same glorious city throughout their tenure.
The superlative illustrates their unique legacy and could, by way of a jaunt through history, distract from what will otherwise be a decidedly disappointing October.
Recreation Park, also known as Centennial Park (among other monikers), was adopted as the first true home of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1883.
Recreation Park was outlined by 24th Street, 25th Street, Columbia and Ridge Avenue, in what baseball author Rich Westcott described as “the most irregularly shaped piece of land imaginable,” in his book Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks. To add to its physical oddity, though the park was previously called Columbia Park — it had been used as a baseball field by other teams since 1860 — it was also briefly occupied by a cavalry of the Union Army in 1866. One can only assume that they didn’t squeeze a few recreational innings in. The spot was renamed again in 1871 when the Philadelphia Centennials improved the baseball facilities and named it Centennial Park after the team.
Albert Reach, formerly a hot shot second baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics credited with taking that team to the 1871 pennant, brought major league baseball and the Phillies to the bizarre spot he renamed Recreation Park.
But, according to Westcott, the fans and the Phillies outgrew the park quickly and the team moved to a new home park, the Philadelphia Base Ball Park (eventually known as the Baker Bowl), in 1887.
Philadelphia Park met its untimely demise in 1894 when a fire killed 12 fans and injured more than 200 others, according to Westcott.
In the aftermath, the Phillies played in a couple other city parks until making their next big move to Columbia Park, the original home of the Athletics and first American League stadium in Philadelphia. In addition to hosting both the Phillies and the Athletics, the wooden park managed to contain the City Series, in which the two Philly teams went head to head. Coincidentally, in 26 total City Series match-ups, each team won an even 13 times.
After Philadelphia Park was reincarnated as the Baker Bowl, the Phillies stayed put for until 1938. Despite the fire and the new park’s infamously low, tin right field wall, it’s no surprise they stuck around – the Phils went to their first World Series there in 1915, not to mention sustained a run of nine consecutive first division finishes.
Westcott writes in his book of the Phillies’ success in the park: “Between 1911 and 1938, Phillies players led or tied for the National League in most home runs hit at home 19 times.”
In total, the Philles hit 1,314 home runs in nearly 52 years at their odd little hitter’s park at Broad Street and Lehigh.
You can read a fuller history of the infamously weird Baker Bowl at PhillyHistory.org by clicking here.
The Phillies next set up shop at 21st and Lehigh. Shibe Park, known as Connie Mack after 1953, housed the team for nearly 33 years. The park, named after former catcher and A’s manager Cornelius McGillicuddy, was also a nesting ground for the Philadelphia Athletics for 46 years and the Philadelphia Eagles for 17 years before being razed in 1976.
After Connie Mack closed in 1970, the Phillies moved on to Veterans Stadium where they finally claimed their first World Series title in 1980.
They wouldn’t see another national victory like that until 2008, after moving to their current home, Citizen’s Bank Park, in 2004.
Over the course of more than five different home stadiums, the Phillies traveled from North to South Philly, nabbing themselves a title as unusual as their journey and one that tells a story of adaptability, determination, and maybe, just a little bit of faith.
Wescott, Rich, Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.