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Baseball of America History of the Senators

By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians

In the past 60 years, only three teams in the Class AA Eastern League have played better than .680 ball. The first two played in Reading in 1953 and 1983. The third played 10 years later in Pennsylvania's state capitol as a farm team of the Expos.

The city of Harrisburg, located in south central Pennsylvania, has a long and storied involvement with the national pastime. At the dawn of the minor leagues, in 1883, Harrisburg placed a team in the Interstate Association, claimed by some to be the forerunner of today's International League. After a second place finish (43-33), Harrisburg played half a season in the Eastern League the following year, disbanding on July 4 with a 16-25 record. Other 19th century baseball stopovers included short stays in the Atlantic Association (1890), Pennsylvania State League (1893-95) and Atlantic League (1900). Harrisburg's best season occurred in 1894, when a team called the Senators won the first half title, only to lose a disputed title game with Pottsville.

In 1904, another team called the Senators joined the brand-new Tri-State League. Operating as an independent league from 1904-06, the circuit joined the National Association in 1907 as a Class B loop. During its eleven-year existence, the team won titles in 1912 and 1914, the latter finishing with a classy 78-32, .709 record. Following the 1914 season, the league disbanded.

The next year, a team from Harrisburg joined the elite International League, albeit as a replacement franchise. In July, enduring fierce competition from a Federal League club, Newark elected to finish out the season in Harrisburg. The following year, with the team returned to Newark, Harrisburg fielded another replacement franchise, this time for Troy in the Class B New York State League. After a last place finish in 1916, the team lasted just two months in 1917 before disbanding with a 11-41 record.

Seven years later, Harrisburg joined the New York-Pennsylvania League, a Class B loop in its second year of existence. During its twelve-year stay, the club, also known as the Senators, won titles in 1927, 1928 and 1931. After a pair of second division finishes, the team dropped out of the league after the 1935 season.

Just before America's full-scale involvement in World War II, Harrisburg gave pro ball another try, placing a team in the Class B Interstate League in 1940. In ten years of play (1940-42, 1946-52) the Senators, as a farm team of the Pirates, won a flag in 1941 with a sparkling 81-43, .653 record. Following the war, after seven years spent mostly in the second division, the Senators left the league following the 1952 season.

A long 35 years later, the Senators placed a team in the Class AA Eastern League as an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. During its first year, in 1987, the club won all the marbles, beating Vermont, three games to one in the playoff finals. After a division crown in 1989, the club signed a working agreement with the Expos. This paid off with another title in 1991. Two years later, the club was poised for another.

The 1993 Senators started quickly, and after April 28, never looked back. The team started 35-9 and continued to dominate even after such early-season standouts as Cliff Floyd, Rondell White, Joey Eischen, Kirk Reuter and Gabe White were promoted to AAA Ottawa. In the end, the Senators ran away with the flag, finishing 19 games ahead of Canton-Akron. In the post-season playoffs, the Senators dusted the Albany-Colonie Yankees, three games to one in the first round. In the finals, Harrisburg dropped the first two to Canton-Akron before roaring back to take the last three and the pennant. Collectively, the team had the league's best batting mark (.278), scored the most runs (802) and stole the most bases (187).

The Senators continued their winning ways as they repeated in 1994. After a plunge to the cellar in 1995, the club rebounded to win four titles in row beginning in 1996. The 1999 pennant was particularly dramatic, as Milton Bradley hit a game-winning grand slam in the final inning of the deciding game, bringing the crown home.

The 1993 Harrisburg Senators won Baseball America's prestigious Bob Freitas Award for Class AA, symbolic of long-term success and stability in baseball operations. In addition, Harrisburg was named Baseball America's Minor League Team of the Year for its excellence on the field.