That translates into almost 400,000 innings of baseball, and well over 2 million recorded outs. Yet, the league has never been one to rest on its laurels. Over the years it has transformed itself repeatedly in order to meet the needs of the baseball-hungry fans of the Northeast. To paraphrase Greek philosopher Heraclitus, the one constant has been change.
The Eastern League was not formed by a a group of thinkers from the cradle of Western civilization, however. Rather, the circuit came into being at Binghamton's Arlington Hotel on March 23, 1923. There, a plan was hatched to form a six-team organization: the New York-Pennsylvania League (not to be confused with today's New York-Penn League.
The league's original members were, not surprisingly, made up of entries from the Keystone and Empire States: Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport, York, Binghamton and Elmira. By 1938, the league included teams from New Jersey and Connecticut, and was thus given a less geographically specific moniker: the Eastern League.
Since that modest beginning, the Eastern league has been in a near-constant state of flux, having fielded 51 teams from 12 states and two Canadian provinces. League membership is currently at 12 teams, an all-time high and double the number the league fielded just two decades ago. In 2005, those 12 teams drew a record 3,944,197 fans, marking the ninth straight year attendance has topped the 3-million mark. Well into its ninth decade, the Eastern League is stronger than it has ever been.
Of the league's six original cities, only Binghamton currently fields a team (having rejoined the league in 1991 following a 22-year layoff). Reading, Pa., has hosted a team consecutively for 38 years, the longest such streak in the league. It is fitting that those cities are the Eastern League's most enduring, as they have both had long-running and meaningful associations with professional baseball. Binghamton was home of the International League Bingoes as far back as 1885, while Reading -- also known as Baseballtown -- was a member of the Interstate League in 1883.
These long-running teams have been joined in recent years by a slew of relative newcomers. Since 1994, Eastern League franchises have been added throughout the Northeast. Many of these new teams were a direct result of the expansion of the Major Leagues in the 1990s, while others simply were relocated from less economically viable cities. Clubs based in Trenton, N.J.; Bowie. Md.; Portland, Maine; Norwich, Conn.; Akron, Ohio; Altoona, Penn.; Erie, Penn; and Manchester, N.H., have all joined the league.
But perhaps there has been one constant in the Eastern League's history: a high level of play. Just two steps removed from the Major Leagues, the Eastern League is perpetually stocked with some of the game's top prospects. Standouts in 2005 included potential future stars such as New Britain's Francisco Liriano, Binghamton's Lastings Milledge and Portland's Jon Lester.
Overall, 27 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame have spent time in the Eastern League (a number that is sure to increase, as Eastern League alumni currently in the Major Leagues include likely Cooperstown-bound superstars Vladimir Guerrero, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera). From Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs on down to Whitey Ford, Early Wynn and Richie Ashburn, the Eastern League has left an indelible mark on many of baseball's all-time greats.
Not to mention the greats of other sports as well. Before moving on to a Hall of Fame career with football's New York Giants, Ken Strong set the Eastern League's all-time home run record in 1930. The burly halfback -- a Bo Jackson of the Great Depression era -- smashed 41 dingers for the Hazleton Mountaineers. Other Eastern League alumni who went on to great success in other sports include NFL great Don Hutson and basketball legend Bill Sharman. Both are members of their respective sport's Hall Of Fames.
One memorable Eastern League figure never even played a game: Eleanor Engle. Engle -- yes, she was a female -- was signed by the Harrisburg Senators in 1952 as a publicity stunt. Although the 24-year-old stenographer was an accomplished softball star, Harrisburg manager Buck Etchison refused to go along with the stunt. After four games as a pariah in the Senators dugout, Engle was released.
The Senators' bid for attention did not sit well with the baseball executives. George Trautman, president of the National Association, announced that in the future heavy fines would be imposed on any club that even attempted to sign a female player. More than 50 years later, a woman has yet to make an appearance in a professional baseball game. Perhaps that is for the better. As the Sporting News stated in its July 2, 1952, issue: "Dugout language is too sulphuric for the ears of ladylike performers."
Today, the Eastern League -- and the United States as a whole -- is certainly less sulphuric than it once was. It is unclear if that decline is due to the retirement of Earl Weaver, who managed the Eastern League's Elmira franchise from 1962-65 before taking over as the skipper of the Baltimore Orioles.
In fact, the Eastern League has established itself as one of the most fan-friendly and affordable leagues in all of baseball. This fact is certainly reflected in the circuit's ever-increasing attendance figures, which continue to inch toward the coveted 4-million mark. Providing high-level baseball in an intimate environment has become an enduring trademark of the Eastern League, a reliable constant in the ever-shifting world of Minor League Baseball.
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.