20. AL REACH, Owner/Founder
Born in London, England in 1840, Al Reach was a cricket player in his youth who became one of the first baseball stars. As a player in the old American Association in the mid-19th century, Reach was a left-hander who played both outfield and 2nd base.
From 1871-75, Reach played in Philly for the Athletics. While still playing, Reach became a sporting good manufacturer.
In 1883, the newly formed National League was looking to place a franchise in Philadelphia, replacing the former Worcester club. Reach immediately set about working to gain control of this club, and brought in local Philly attorney John Rogers as a partner.
They were awarded the team, which was nicknamed the “Quakers” at the start. However, most teams of that time were also known as, and frequently referred to in the media as whatever town they were from, i.e. – the New Yorks, the Cincinnatis, etc. As the “Philadelphias” was rather long, locals shortened it to “Phillies”, and by 1890 this was the only official name for the club.
In 1887, Reach worked to have a ballpark built in the city, National League Park, which ultimately became known as Baker Bowl. At it’s opening, it was known as the finest ballpark in America. A tremendous competitor, he was behind the hiring of the club’s first great manager, Harry Wright, in 1884, and the bringing in the team’s first truly talented ball players such as Ed Delahanty, Billy Hamilton, and Sam Thompson.
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During an injury to Wright in 1890, Reach briefly managed the club, and had a 4-7 record as one of three temporary Phillies managers during Wright’s convalescence.
While Rogers was certainly a key financial investor whose own early role should not be diminished, and Reach would ultimately sell out to him in 1899, it was Reach who was the baseball man of the two.
After selling his interest in the Phils, Reach helped his friend, Ben Shibe, start up the Philadelphia Athletics club with the new American League.
Reach’s son George, working for the family sporting goods company, would introduce the cork-center baseball, which became standard in the major leagues, and he would merge the company with Spalding in 1934.