The “What Is a Phillie?” Answer

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Nola is developing into a annual Cy Young candidate. Photo by H. Martin/Getty Images.

If you ever wondered about the local franchise’s nickname and its origin, this article provides more than just an explanation of the moniker for the Philadelphia Phillies.


The Wild West:  

Memory can distort the reality of the past, and youthful perception can mistake partially understood success for longevity.

According to Michael Karpyn’s entry in the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, cricket flourished here in the 1830s and Philly became its epicenter. What was their moniker? The Philadelphians. In fact, Philadelphia and New York had more than 6,000 cricket players in 1860.

According to a preview of “Baseball Team Names: A Worldwide Dictionary, 1869-2011” by Richard Worth, the first organized teams began in the 1840s, when social clubs became sports teams. But while the first Phillies in 1866 were amateurs, the first professional Phillies were in the National Association in 1873.

However, many monikers existed – some for only a few weeks – because reporters, managers and fans gave nicknames to their teams. And there were three major leagues: the National, American and the Eastern Associations.

In those days, players wore knickerbockers: short pants that gathered at the knee. Yes, they were knickers but not the underwear type. And they wore long stockings up to their knees. In fact, another nickname for the Philadelphia squad was the White Stockings in 1873.

To understand baseball nicknames, you have to realize they came from many sources: geography, local animals, a skipper’s name or nickname, local disasters and an Easterner’s fascination with the Wild West. In other words, cowboys and Indians equated to rough, burly, rowdy men or primitive savages. In 1873, however, while other alliterated names appeared, the Phillies-style moniker used a number of letters from their city’s name: Phil is in Philadelphia and Phillies.

Unfortunately, one glaring exception for a nickname was in New York City in 1884: The scribes’ moniker for a working man’s club in the American Association was a pejorative. What was this negative connotation? The Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers.

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