Phillies Help Open Ebbets Field
Philadelphia is a place where much baseball history has been made. A season isn’t played entirely at home, however, and there have been numerous occasions when a Philadelphia baseball team participated in a game of lasting significance while on the road. Such an event took place on April 9, 1913 when the Philadelphia Phillies were the visiting team in the first regular season game ever played at legendary Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. Let’s take a look back at that inaugural game and the events that led up to it.
1913 looked to be a fairly auspicious year for the Phillies. Club owner Horace Fogel had been expelled from the National League (NL) for misconduct following the 1912 season after making incendiary remarks—orally and in print—charging, amongst other things, that the pennant race had been fixed and NL umpires favored the Giants (who won the league title that year). William Locke led a group of investors who purchased the franchise, and Locke became the Phillies’ new president on January 15, 1913. He was a fine choice for the position, and becoming a club president fulfilled his lifetime ambition. Frederick Lieb, in his history of the Phillies, writes,
“Will was well liked and had many friends in both major leagues. In Pittsburgh, where he had been Barney Dreyfuss’ (president of the Pirates) right-hand man, he had built up a reputation as an astute baseball man. Everywhere in baseball, people were saying, “Will is a great guy, and deserving of the best. Philadelphia is lucky to have him.””
Locke had the good fortune of taking over a fine baseball team. Although hobbled by injuries the previous two seasons, the 1913 Phillies had the makings of a pennant-contending ball club. Manager Charlie Dooin’s squad included a solid infield consisting of Fred Luderus, Otto Knabe, Hans Lobert and Mickey Doolan. Billy Killefer was establishing himself as one of the finest catchers in the league. Patrolling the outfield were hard-hitting Sherry Magee, Dode Paskert, and Gavvy Cravath, who would lead the NL in homers (19), RBIs (128), and hits (179) in 1913. He finished second in batting average (.341).
The pitching staff looked to be nothing less than excellent. Tom Seaton, Grover Alexander, and Ad Brennan would anchor the rotation, with Erskine Mayer and Eppa Rixey making important contributions as the season unfolded.
The Phillies began the 1913 campaign, as major league teams always do, with Spring Training. The club conducted its pre-season workouts in Southern Pines, North Carolina, and then headed north, stopping in Baltimore to play Jack Dunn’s Orioles of the International League. The Phillies beat Dunn’s crew four times in a row.
Then came the City Championship Series between the Phillies and Athletics. Pride was on the line as these two rivals played six games to determine who would have bragging rights as the city champion for the next year. The “Philadelphia Inquirer” noted the intensity of the competition in an April 1, 1913 article previewing the opening of the series:
“The clubs are anxious to lick each other, and while the title which hangs upon these games is not of world’s series importance, nevertheless there is considerable rivalry between the teams to beat each other.”
Unfortunately for the Phillies, the 1913 Philadelphia Athletics were one of the strongest clubs ever put together by Connie Mack. Part of the First Dynasty period that ran from 1910-14, the 1913 A’s won the American League pennant with a 96-57 record.
As a harbinger of great things to come for the 1913 Athletics, they beat the Phillies in five of the city championship games, with the other game winding up in a tie. That tie is worthy of special mention.
A Long, Long Game
It took place at the Phillies’ home field—National League Park—on April 4, and was the fifth game in the six-game series. Starting for the Phillies was none other than Grover Cleveland Alexander, while Carroll “Boardwalk” Brown handled the pitching duties for the Mackmen. The Athletics got two runs in the first inning when Eddie Murphy hit a single and Alexander walked Eddie Collins and Frank Baker to load up the bases. Then, “Stuffy” McInnis smacked a single to score Murphy and Collins. Alexander retired the side without any more damage being done, and the A’s did not score again in the game.
The Phillies’ two runs came in the bottom of the ninth inning when Ralph Capron came up to the plate with one out and hit a single into right field. Hans Lobert was the next batter, and he hit a grounder to A’s third baseman Baker. What should have been a game-ending double play became a run-producer for the Phillies when Baker threw the ball over the head of Collins, who was covering second base. Capron scampered to third while Lobert advanced to second. Oscar “Doc” Miller then hit a shot that bounced off the rightfield wall. Capron easily scored and Lobert went down to third base. Next up was Fred Luderus, who hit a short fly to centerfield. Amos Strunk, patrolling that area for the Athletics, caught the ball and fired it to catcher Ben Egan in an effort to cut down the lumbering Lobert who was trying to score on the play. For reasons that bewildered at least one reporter who was covering the game, Collins cut off the throw in the middle of the diamond, thereby allowing Lobert to safely cross the plate and tie the game.
That reporter, Jim Nasium of the “Inquirer,” had this to say about the play:
“Mr. Collins has always been a great personal friend of ours. But we just want to serve notice to the public at large and to all whom it may concern that Mr. Collins did nothing to further cement this personal friendship of ours yesterday P.M. He intercepted a throw from Strunk to the plate that would have doubtless ended the fifth contest of the Lehigh Avenue championship series in the ninth inning. By doing so he threw the stuff into a 2 to 2 deadlock and kept the galley slaves of the press box freezing their palpitating gizzards into a congealed mass for eighteen long innings.”
(Both the Phillies’ National League Park and the Athletics’ Shibe Park were located along Lehigh Avenue, which explains Nasium’s reference to the “Lehigh Avenue championship series.”)
Alexander pitched the first five innings for the Phillies, giving up two A’s runs in the first, as noted, but not allowing another during his time on the mound. George Chalmers then came in and pitched three scoreless innings. Addison “Ad” Brennan took over the pitching chores for the Phillies and did not let a single Athletics’ player score from the ninth through the eighteenth inning—ten frames of scoreless baseball.
Pitching honors for the day, however, belonged to the Athletics’ “Boardwalk” Brown. He pitched all 18 innings for the Mackmen and, as mentioned, gave up only two tallies along the way. It’s amazing in retrospect that the Athletics would allow one of their key pitchers to work 18 straight innings in a pre-season game. And, by the way, there were no designated hitters in the AL in 1913. In addition to pitching, Brown batted every time it was his turn at the plate.
It is unthinkable, of course, to consider that a pitcher would go 18 innings today. Slavish devotion to pitch counts and the pampering of pitchers simply make such a feat inconceivable in contemporary baseball.
The senselessness of allowing Brown to pitch so long was not lost on observers of the game. Nasium called it “a remarkable exhibition of early season pitching, though a foolish one.” He went on to observe,
“At that it looks like a bad piece of billiards to permit a pitcher to go through eighteen innings of hard pitching at this season of the year before he can reasonably be expected to have acquired the stamina he will possess later in the season, no matter how good his arm may feel at the time.”
It should be noted that Connie Mack was not managing the Athletics the day the 18-inning game took place. The A’s Danny Murphy had been placed in charge of the team during the city series and bears responsibility for permitting Brown to remain on the mound so long. It is highly doubtful Mack would have left Brown in for the entire game, especially given that it was a pre-season affair. Whether the grueling outing hurt Brown during the season is impossible to say. He recorded a highly respectable record of 17-11, behind only Chief Bender and Eddie Plank for wins by an Athletics’ pitcher during the 1913 season. On the other hand, Brown’s career was short-lived. He was out of major league baseball after the 1915 season—a five-year career.
Because the city series was an inter-league affair, one umpire from the National League—Bill Klem—and one from the American League—Tommy Connolly—officiated the contests. (Only two umpires were used in baseball games in 1913, unlike the four employed in today’s contests.)
The stalwart patrons of the game who were still around after 18 innings had been completed actually booed Klem when he called the game because of darkness. Sportswriters and fans alike yelled there was still plenty of light to play at least another inning. Of course, there were no lights at baseball parks back then to illuminate the field, and Philadelphia fans were already building their reputation as the most unforgiving in baseball by booing Klem.
Despite going 18 innings, the game took slightly less than three hours to complete (two hours and fifty-eight minutes). Yet another example of how television and the dilatory habits of today’s players have stretched the duration of baseball games far beyond the time it takes to actually play a game.
After one more tune-up against the A’s at Shibe Park on April 8, which the Athletics won 6-5, the Phillies turned their attention to the first “real” game of the season scheduled for the next day. They would play in the first regular season game ever held at Ebbets Field, and it would be quite an event.
The Inaugural Home Opener
Ebbets Filed was a magnificent palace. It cost approximately $750,000 to build, and one newspaper reporter characterized his first impression of the ballpark this way:
“Brooklyn fans have much to boast of now on their ball plant. President Charles Ebbets has skipped no expense in trying to find the model ball yard, and the awe-inspiring grandstands, a field as level as the proverbial billiard table and other ideal niceties which appeal to fan and player alike round out an athletic enclosure second to none in the land.”
Another reporter complained, however, that the new ballpark came with a significant drawback:
“The twenty-five-cent bleachers seats have been eliminated. It costs a half-dollar to see the game from the field seats, and it’s this high-handed price of admission which the Dodger fans are raving about. Ebbets has added this one feature which is the only black mark on the opening day ceremonies.”
Prior to the start of the regular season, an exhibition game was held at Ebbets Field. It took place on April 5, 1913, when the Brooklyn Dodgers tangled with the New York Yankees. Over 30,000 fans jammed into Ebbets Field on what was described as a fine spring day to watch the game. Some 5,000 more mingled outside the ballpark, disappointed that the facility had filled to capacity. The Dodgers won the contest 3-2.
(In 1913, Brooklyn’s team was referred to interchangeably as the Superbas and Dodgers. Newspapers from the period use both names in referring to the club. For simplicity’s sake, Dodgers will be used to refer to Brooklyn’s team in this story.)
To appropriately inaugurate its new ballpark, Brooklyn was allowed to open its season a day before every other team in the American and National Leagues. This tradition continues in baseball to this day. When the Washington Nationals opened their new ballpark in 2008, the game occurred on March 30, 2008, a day before the regular season started for the rest of both leagues. (The Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics played two games that counted on March 25-26, but that was in Japan.)
The inaugural home opener between Brooklyn and Philadelphia on April 9, 1913 would be a special one-game affair. Once it concluded, both teams would hop trains to Philadelphia to begin a three-game series scheduled to run from April 10-12. Because it was a single game, Phillies’ manager Charlie Dooin decided to bring a reduced squad with him to play. The regular position players were all present, but only some of the pitchers would make the journey, including Tom Seaton, Ad Brennan, and Erskine Mayer. The rest of the pitching staff remained behind in Philadelphia. Presumably, this was done to spare those pitchers needlessly making a trip for one game in which they would not be used. But, it should be noted, leaving them behind also saved the club hotel and meal expenses and roundtrip train tickets between Brooklyn and Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, Opening Day turned out to be a very cold one in Brooklyn. The thermometer in the Brooklyn dugout read 37 degrees at game time. One newspaper account noted that fans had to “chip their way through the frozen atmosphere” to get to the ballpark and “braved pneumonia” in watching it. Another newspaper stated that the crowd “shivered in the face of the strong wind which blew across the field.” The extreme cold kept attendance well below a capacity crowd. Only 10,000 hardy souls showed up to witness history in the making.
The Phillies’ team photo that accompanies this story was taken at the inaugural home opener in Brooklyn just before the game. All those shown have on their thick wool Phillies’ sweaters, and fans behind them also are heavily garbed to keep out the cold. A photograph almost identical to this one ran on the front page of the sports section of the “Philadelphia Inquirer” on April 10 along with an article describing the previous day’s action on the field.
Tom Seaton was given the ball to pitch for the Phillies, matching up against Nap Rucker. Seaton would go on to have an outstanding year for the Phillies, leading the league in wins (27), innings pitched (322), and strikeouts (168). But, fatter paychecks dangled by the Federal League after the season ended lured away Seaton and other star players from American and National League clubs. Seaton wound up playing, ironically, for the Brooklyn Tip-Tops in 1914-15. He would return to the National League once the Federal League folded, but never to the Phillies.
As is always the case at inaugural home openers, festivities preceded the ballgame. Players from both teams marched behind a brass band out to the centerfield flagpole where Old Glory was raised by the entire squads of both teams. Two large floral horseshoes were presented to the Brooklyn club—one for the players and one for franchise president Charles Ebbets. Team captain Jake Daubert received a gold bat from admiring fans. NL President Thomas Lynch was in attendance, as was Phillies’ President William Locke. Albert E. Steers, president of the Brooklyn borough, threw out the ceremonial first ball. Interestingly, he threw it to umpire Bill Klem, not the catcher of the home team as is the custom today.
Prior to the game, Charles Ebbets entered the Brooklyn clubhouse and announced to the team that if it finished the season in the first division (first through fourth place), the players would receive a bonus. The club found itself in sixth place at the end of the season, so the players did not collect that bonus.
With pre-game festivities out of the way, attention finally turned to the business at hand, playing baseball. Or, as one reporter put it, “When these pleasing little side functions had been completely wiped off the map, the two clubs buckled down to the serious side of life, namely, to annihilate one another for the day.”
In the top of the first, Phillies’ centerfielder George “Dode” Paskert smacked a sharp grounder past the outstretched glove of Brooklyn’s shortstop Bobby Fisher on the first pitch thrown at the new ballpark. Showing more ambition than judgment, Paskert was thrown out trying to stretch that single into a double on a nifty throw by leftfielder Zack Wheat.
Phillies’ second baseman Otto Knabe then stood at the plate and rapped a double to right field. Hans Lobert came up and flied out to Brooklyn centerfielder Casey Stengel. With two out and Knabe still on second, Sherry Magee stepped up and swatted an easy fly ball to rightfielder Benny Meyer. However, Meyer muffed the play. As one reporter present put it, Meyer “let Magee’s high spiral slip through his benumbed fingers,” allowing Lobert to score. Magee advanced to second base on the error. Phillies’ leftfielder Albert “Cozy” Dolan was up next and hit a single to centerfield. Magee made a dash for home, but Stengel heaved a terrific throw to Brooklyn catcher Otto Miller, nailing Magee at the plate.
The top of the first inning concluded without too much damage being done. True, the Phillies had scored one run on Meyer’s error, but it was only the first inning, plenty of time for Brooklyn to catch up and take the lead.
Except, in the first regular season game ever played at Ebbets Field, Phillies’ pitcher Tom Seaton hurled a masterful shutout, giving the visitors a win and marring the opening for hometown fans of Charles Ebbets’ grand palace.
Only one Dodger got as far as second in the first five innings. Seaton struck out seven of the Brooklyn players and issued only one free pass—to Meyer, whose error allowed the only run of the game to score. Seaton also benefited from some outstanding defensive support. Catcher Dooin nailed three Brooklynites who notched singles and then tried to steal second base. Mickey Doolan showed his wizardry at shortstop in helping Seaton. As one account of the game noted:
“Doolan robbed Wheat of what looked to be a sure single in the fifth by making a sensational stop of Zack’s deep bounder and cutting down the Indian at first, and in the eighth—the only really stormy period of Seaton’s afternoon’s career—he was in front of Stengel’s ugly-going smash in time to handle the ball and get it over to Luderus for the third out of the stanza.”
The eighth inning was the only real chance Brooklyn had to score. The Dodgers had men on first and second with one out, but Leo Callahan—sent in to bat for Rucker—grounded into a force out. Stengel came up, and as described in the preceding paragraph, grounded out shortstop-to-first on a fine play by Doolan. The Phillies had a couple of chances as well to put additional tallies on the scoreboard but could not push any more runs across the plate. It did not matter, however, because the Phillies had already scored the one, and as it turned out, only run of the game.
The Phillies had won the first regular season game ever played at Ebbets Field 1-0 in a contest that took one hour and thirty minutes to play. It was a happy bunch of Phillies’ players who boarded the train for a trip back to Philadelphia to open a three-game series at National League Park the next day against the same Brooklyn team.
What Happened Next
While Tom Seaton delivered a pitching gem on April 9 in Brooklyn, George Chalmers could not duplicate the feat for the Phillies the next day in Philadelphia. Brooklyn jumped all over him, and when the dust had settled, the Dodgers were on top by an 11-3 score. Only 5,000 fans showed up for the Phillies’ home opener, and they “shivered” through a cold day at the ballpark. The next two games with Brooklyn, scheduled for April 11-12, were rained out.
The Phillies had a successful season in 1913. The team ended the season in second place with a commendable record of 88-63. That still left the club 12 ½ games behind the pennant-winning New York Giants, who won the title decisively. Although the Phillies could not prevail over the Giants for the league championship, the City of Philadelphia attained dominance over New York when the Athletics thumped John McGraw’s team in the World Series four-games-to-one.
In an especially sad development for the Phillies, William Locke, who had taken over as club president prior to the 1913 season, died in July. His all-too-brief and promising tenure at the helm resulted in William F. Baker taking over as president. In a few short years, Baker led the franchise into its “Dark Ages,” a prolonged and profound era of truly awful baseball. One can only speculate how much different and better the history of the Phillies’ franchise would have been had Locke captained the ship for a sustained period.
Before leaving the 1913 Phillies, it is worth looking one more time at the team photograph that accompanies this story. On the front row, standing next to a crouching Erskine Mayer, is a hunchbacked boy who was the team mascot and batboy. Phillies’ manager Dooin had observed the fortunes of Connie Mack’s Athletics since 1910 when hunchback Louis van Zelst had been adopted as the team’s good luck mascot and batboy. Of course, it would be regarded as highly offensive today for a team to employ a hunchbacked boy as a mascot, regarding his deformity as a symbol of good luck and allowing superstitious hitters to rub their bats on his back to get out of a slump.
But, that was not the case in the early part of the 20th century, and van Zelst’s arrival on the Athletics coincided with the onset of the First Dynasty period. The A’s had been World’s Champions in 1910-11 and looked to be fielding another powerhouse in 1913.
Dooin decided the Phillies’ needed a good luck mascot as well, especially since the club had experienced injuries to key players over the previous two seasons that torpedoed chances for the pennant. The mascot was intended only for home games, but Dooin chose to bring him along to Brooklyn for the inaugural game at Ebbets Field to start off the season with a dose of good luck. The “New York Times” coverage of the game noted that “the youngster fetched them plenty of good luck.” The fact that the mascot would be with the team only in Philadelphia explains why he is in a Phillies’ home uniform (white jersey, pants, and cap) while all the players are attired in road uniforms (gray jersey and pants with a dark red cap).
Despite efforts by this writer, the name of the mascot who appears in the accompanying photo remains unknown. He was with the Phillies for a relatively short period. By 1915, Eddie Naughton had become the team’s hunchbacked mascot.
A Final Thought
Ebbets Field no longer exists; nor do the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Philadelphia Phillies live on to this day, and the distinction they enjoy as the club that won the first regular season game ever played at Ebbets Field remains forever etched in the history of baseball.
This year, the New York Mets opened their new ballpark, Citi Field. The main entrance’s rotunda and exterior façade are meant to be reminiscent of Ebbets Field, and like the Dodgers back in 1913, the Mets lost their inaugural home opener. But, the similarities between the ballparks and games end there. The Mets’ opponent in that 6-5 loss on April 13, 2009, was the San Diego Padres, not the Philadelphia Phillies. As noted, Ebbets Field cost $750,000 to build, while Citi Field cost $800,000,000 to construct.