Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
| Darren Daulton|
(photo courtesy of Reading Phillies)
Dating back to the 19th century, several Reading ball teams have suffered through record-breaking losing campaigns. There were a couple of notable exceptions. In 1953, a team from Reading just missed inclusion in the top 100. Exactly 30 years later, another Reading club did claim a place on the list of the elite.
The city of Reading, Pennsylvania, located in the eastern part of the state, joined professional baseball near the dawn of the minor leagues as a member of the Interstate League in 1883. The following year, a team called the Actives joined the Eastern League for half a season, dropping out on August 4 with a 28-27 record.
Other 19th century leagues enjoying Reading participation included the Pennsylvania State (1892-95) and Atlantic (1897-1900) Leagues. In the eight-year period, only two clubs finished in the first division. However, the city won notoriety for a pair of tail-enders. In 1893, Reading, finishing up a season started in Danville, ended up with a woeful 16-81, .165 record, the worst full-season 19th century mark. Four years later, as a member of the Atlantic League, a team called the Coal Heavers became the first minor league team to lose 100 games in one season.
Reading’s next foray into minor league baseball came in 1907 as a member of the Class B Tri-State League. In six years of participation, the Pretzels won a lone pennant before dropping out of the league following the 1912 season.
Keeping the Pretzels company in 1912 was a team in an independent league with major league aspirations. Started with much fanfare in May, the United States League featured teams in major league markets like New York and Chicago. Bad weather and spotty attendance doomed the experiment. Reading withdrew in early June with a 12-12 record. What was left of the league followed soon after.
In 1916, another team called the Pretzels joined the Class B New York State League in late August, inheriting a 51-57 Albany team. After going 7-13 during the rest of the campaign, the team played a full season in 1917, winning 51 and losing 70. After the season, the league folded.
Two years later, Reading began a 13-year relationship with the top-tier International League. Their tenure was not marked by success, as teams known as the Marines, Aces and Keystones regularly finished in the second division. One of the tail-enders, in 1926, finished with an abysmal 31-129 record, the worst record of any 20th century International League team. The first of three managers of the 1926 Keys was Frank Shaughnessy, later president of the International League for many years. In 1931, Clarence (Pants) Rowland, who piloted the 1917 champion Chicago White Sox and future president of the Pacific Coast League, purchased the Reading club and became its president and manager. He moved the franchise to Albany, August 6, 1932.
During the next ten years, teams in Reading played short stints in two different leagues. From 1933-35, the Red Sox played in the Class A New York-Penn (now Eastern) League. In 1940-41, Reading was in the Class B Interstate League. The 1940 Reading Chicks, without a major league affiliation, finished first, then lost in the final round of the playoffs. The 1941 Reading Brooks were a Brooklyn farm club managed by ex-major league infielder Fresco Thompson, who later became VP-GM of the Dodgers. Two of the Brooks’ regulars were Carl Furillo, one of Brooklyn’s immortal “Boys of Summer”, and longtime Dodgers player development executive Al Campanis.
In 1952, Reading began a ten-year stay in the Class A Eastern League as a Cleveland farm club. In its second year, the team put a tremendous team on the field, which won 101 games. After Reading took home a league crown in 1957, the franchise moved to Charleston, W. Va. in 1962, but the city returned to the Eastern as a Red Sox affiliate in 1963-64. Cleveland again was the parent club in 1965 for a single season, then that team moved to Pawtucket in 1966.
Beginning in 1967, Reading started a long relationship with the Philadelphia Phillies, taking the nickname of the parent club as their own. The affiliation paid off quickly as the team took home league championships in 1968 and 1973. After a ten-year dry spell, the team was poised for another.
The 1983 Reading Phillies plowed through the Eastern League, finishing with a 96-44, .686 record, 18.5 ahead of second place Lynn. The club had the best average (.278), scored the most runs (801), collected the most hits (1,254), stroked the most doubles and triples (207 & 42) and stole the most bases (272). Surprisingly, they were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by fourth place New Britain, two games to one.
The Phillies were managed by 31-year-old former infielder Bill Dancy, who, three years earlier, piloted another of the top 100 Minor League teams, the 1980 Peninsula Pilots of the Carolina League. Except for 1996-97, when he led Richmond, Atlanta’s AAA club, Dancy spent his entire managerial career in the Philadelphia organization. In 1999, he managed Clearwater in the Florida State League. Dancy is Philadelphia’s Minor League Field Coordinator for the 2001 season.
| Jeff Stone|
(photo courtesy of Reading Phillies)
Leading the hit parade for Reading was speedy outfielder Jeff Stone (.317). Stone also scored a league best 109 runs and stole an impressive 90 bases. He later played 372 games in eight major league seasons, mostly for the Phillies, batting .277.
Also contributing were catcher Darren Daulton (.262-19-83) and designated hitter Willie Darkis (.277-31-102). Of the two, only Daulton enjoyed a major league career, playing 14 seasons for Philadelphia and Florida. Daulton had a .245-137-588 career record and led the National League in RBI (109) in 1992 while catching 131 games. During his tenure, he was also selected for three All-Star games (1992-93-95). Despite leading the 1983 Eastern League in home runs, Darkis never played one inning in the bigs.
Other part-time Phillies included Mike Lavalliere (.294), who was the Pirates’ starting catcher for five years; Juan Samuel (.234), who played 16 years in the majors for six different teams; and Bob Dernier (.232), who batted .255 in 904 major league games.
The Reading pitching corps was led by Jay Davisson (15-4) and Rich Gaynor (13-3). Davisson led the league in wins while Gaynor posted a league best three shutouts. In addition, reliever Don Carman (8-5, 23 SV) went on to a solid big league career, going 53-54 in ten seasons.
| Mike LaValliere|
(photo courtesy of Reading Phillies)
Other Reading players who reached the majors were 1B Francisco Melendez, who played 74 games for the Phillies, Giants and Orioles, 1984-89, and LHP George Riley, who went 1-5, 4.97 with the Cubs, Giants and Expos in 1979-80, 84 and 86.
Stone, Daulton, Melendez and Carman all made the Eastern League All-Star team, Stone was the league’s MVP and Dancy the Manager of the Year. Stone also was named to the National Association and Baseball America Class AA All-Star teams and was the league’s Topps Player of the Month for August.
The team went on to win division titles in 1986, 1995 and 2000. After the 1995 title, the Phillies won the playoffs to capture the Eastern League crown. Today, the team remains a mainstay of the league.
Although Reading witnessed some stupendously mediocre teams through the years, its club in 1983 remains one of the best in league history. In the last 50 years of the Eastern League, none have surpassed Reading’s winning percentage of .686.
|1983 Eastern League Standings|
|NEW BRITAIN||72||67||.518||23.5||GLEN FALLS||53||83||.390||41.0|
|1983 Reading Phillies batting statistics|
|1983 Reading Phillies pitching statistics|