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From the Archives: Phillies Drop Both in 1896 Doubleheader Disaster

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MLB: Washington Nationals at Pittsburgh Pirates Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

In honor of the Phillies getting another doubleheader this season, we’re going to revisit a doubleheader from August 17, 1896 that was so awful, the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger deemed them “Calamity No. 1” and “Calamity No. 2.” The journalist was so disgusted with the Phillies’ performance that he left one of the most scathing reviews of the team’s play that I’ve found in researching them.

Thanks to the rain, the Phillies had four doubleheaders in August of 1896, which seems excessive, but it’s baseball: each team now has 162 games within a six month period and that’s a wildly tight schedule. All together in 1896, the Phillies had seven doubleheaders, which if you consider how the stadiums didn’t have the extensive grounds crews or field drainage technology that we have today, makes sense.

The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger sports writer was truly feeling it that day.

“A distinguished philosopher of the humane school once observed that ‘There is nothing so bad that it might not be worse.’ But it must be remembered that the distinguished philosopher never had the misfortune of seeing the Philadelphia ball club of ‘96 perform.”

While the 1896 Phillies had started strong and kept first place through the middle of May, by August, they had dropped down and had a steady hold on eighth place, which wasn’t ideal in a single league sport of only twelve teams. It didn’t help that the doubleheader was against the Baltimore Orioles who were tied for first with the Cleveland Spiders. The two teams had gone head to head at the end of the previous season with the Spiders claiming baseball’s highest honor at the time: the Temple Cup. The 1896 season would end with the Orioles sweeping the Spiders to win the Temple Cup but before that, they had to destroy the Phillies in a lovely August doubleheader.

“Possibly, somewhere at some time in this great land of ours, a ball club may have played worse ball than did the Phillies...but you can’t get anyone in this neck of the woods to believe it.”

Yikes.

At one point, the writer did emphasize that both teams were playing like garbage but the Phillies were the ones that managed to come out on the bottom. The first “calamity” had the team even in both errors and runs, all two apiece. The paper then details what should have been an easy out and end to the first game but neither Hulen nor Cooley, the Phillies shortstop and left fielder respectively, called a catch and both watched as the ball dropped to the ground and an opposing player ran home.

“Not since the revival of baseball has such spectacle been witnessed in this city & it is to be hoped that it will be witnessed never again.”

A little dramatic for a single dropped ball? Maybe but it did lose them a game that they had an okay chance of winning. Also, I’ve seen what the Phillies twitter says when the Phillies and their management do, uhhh, anything. Anything ever. The first game (read: Calamity No. 1) was actually pretty tame compared to the second game (Calamity No. 2). Maybe the strong reaction to both games is a result of the article being written after the second game-- or as the sports writer called the second game: “an abomination to heaven! It was a stench to the nostrils; an offense to the eye...”

In the beginning, the Phillies seemed to be making up for their dismal performance in the 9th inning of the previous game. Sure they had 5 errors but the Orioles had 7 and the Phillies were ahead by 7 runs! They were totally going to split this doubleheader! The Phillies had scored 15 runs over the course of the game and it seemed to be won when...the Orioles scored 8 runs in the 9th inning. The final score was 16-15, with Baltimore grabbing both wins along with any dignity the 1896 Phillies might have had left.

“A more disgusted crowd never departed from a local ball ground...Collectively the Phillies are a combination of dung hills”

Barring any more postponements, the Phillies should only have their doubleheader tomorrow against the Padres (split admission at 12:05 and 6:05) and then one against the Mets, in August-- but please, dear baseball gods, don’t make any of the games calamities.

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Article quotes comes from the August 18, 1896 issue of the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger