The Reading Fightin’ Phils are gearing up to celebrate 50 Phillies seasons in Reading beginning at the end of March. While the feat is impressive, they currently boast the longest active affiliation in professional baseball, fans should hardly be surprised. If any city deserves to host one of the longest successful minor league franchises, Reading, Pennsylvania is it.
Reading has a long baseball history. The close link between the sport and the city has earned Reading the name of Baseballtown.
The title is well deserved as Reading first hosted a professional baseball team in 1883, and has fielded a team for 109 baseball seasons. The Reading Actives were an independent team, which played in the Interstate Association. Reading hosted various teams over the next 20 years, rarely facing a baseball season without a team. Prominent teams include the Reading Coal Heavers, the Reading Aces, the Reading Pretzels, the Reading Coal Barons, and the Reading Marines.
Despite always having a team, the independent teams were constantly moving and shifting with no team remaining in Reading for more than four or five years at a time.
That changed in 1923 when the Reading Keystones, a double-A team playing in the International League, came to town. The Keystones stuck with the city for 10 years, before calling it quits after the 1932 season.
Somewhere in these 10 seasons, the small baseball-loving city caught the eye of Major League Baseball, and in 1933 the Boston Red Sox brought their single-A team, the Reading Red Sox, to the city. The Reading Red Sox played in the New York-Pennsylvania League, which later became the Eastern League, the league the team still plays in today.
Boston was unable to create a successful franchise in the city, and the affiliation lasted only 2 seasons.
After one season of poorly attended games, the Dodgers moved their franchise elsewhere and Reading was left without a baseball team for 4 years.
In 1940, desperate for baseball, the city once again hosted an independent team, this time the Reading Chicks took the field. The determination of the Reading fans caught the attention of the Dodgers, and, determined to create a successful franchise in the city, they returned with the Reading Brooks. Once again the team only lasted one season before abandoning the city.
Cleveland fared better than its Major League predecessors, and the team remained in the city for 10 years, playing its final season in 1961.
In 1963 Boston attempted to be successful in the city once again, and returned with the Reading Red Sox. This time, however, the team was a double-A team, giving the fans a slightly higher level of baseball to watch.
The Red Sox lasted 2 seasons before leaving, and in 1965 fans welcomed the Reading Indians again, a double-A team this time, hoping that the teams previous success would be replicated.
Unfortunately, the Reading Indians only remained in the city for one season before Cleveland decided to move their team elsewhere.
Fans were, by this time, used to the ever-changing series of teams and affiliations running through the city, so no one expected the affiliation to last.
The Phillies somehow managed to figure out something that the other clubs missed, however, and the affiliation is now preparing to enter its 50th season. For many of those seasons the Reading Phillies have led the Eastern League in attendance.
In 2013 the team was rebranded as the Reading Fightin’ Phils in an attempt to create an identity that differed from the parent club, but the affiliation has remained as close and successful as ever.