Eastern League History (1923-Present)
Formed on March 23, 1923 at the Arlington Hotel in Binghamton, New York as a six-team circuit located entirely within two states, the Eastern League (EL) is now composed of two six-team divisions with teams in nine different states.
For the first 15 years of its existence the Eastern League was known as the New York-Pennsylvania League. The original six members of the league were Binghamton and Elmira, New York and Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport and York, Pennsylvania. The following year, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Utica, New York joined the fold, increasing the league's membership to eight teams. On July 2, 1936, the York franchise made a mid-season transfer to Trenton, New Jersey, creating the league's first-ever member outside of New York and Pennsylvania, the Trenton Senators. In 1938, the Scranton franchise moved to Hartford, Connecticut and the New York-Penn League became known as the Eastern League. Although there were franchise relocations, the league remained an eight-team unit through 1957. League membership fluctuated between six and eight teams until 1994, when the league grew to ten teams with the addition of the New Haven Ravens and the Portland Sea Dogs. In 1999, the Eastern League expanded to 12 teams, with the addition of the Altoona Curve and the Erie SeaWolves, making it double the size it was just 20 years earlier. Prior to the 2016 season, the New Britain Rock Cats relocated to Hartford, Connecticut, making the Hartford Yard Goats the most recent addition to the league. Since 1923, there have been Eastern League franchises in 52 different cities which have been located in 13 different states and two Canadian provinces.
The first game in league history took place in Williamsport on May 9, 1923, when the Billies stomped the visiting Wilkes-Barre Barons 10-4. Since then, more than 57,000 Eastern League games have been played in front of more than 122-million fans. Attendance has risen dramatically in recent seasons, with the Eastern League breaking the all-time attendance record during the 2010 season, when 3,966,241 fans paid their way into Eastern League ballparks.
A total of 44 Eastern League alumni have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, with the latest members, Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome, inducted in the summer of 2018. Many of these players, including Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan, Juan Marichal, Mike Schmidt, Whitey Ford, Bill Mazeroski, Warren Spahn, Richie Ashburn, Carlton Fisk and Ralph Kiner, played in the league prior to starting their MLB careers. Jim Palmer pitched for Elmira in 1968 while rehabbing an arm injury. A year earlier, Robin Roberts closed out his pro career pitching for the Reading Phillies. Following a Hall of Fame career in the Negro Leagues right-hander Leon Day played for the Scranton Miners. Lefty Gomez, Heinie Manush, Travis Jackson, Tony Lazzeri, and Rabbit Maranville all managed in the league following the completion of their big league days. Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver was an Eastern League skipper for four years (Elmira 1962-65) prior to becoming the manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 1968.
Jim Bunning, who entered the Hall with Weaver in 1996, pitched for the Williamsport Tigers in 1952 prior to his major league career and his post playing career in the United States Senate. Twenty years later he returned to the Eastern League to manage the Reading Phillies. One of the few umpires in Baseball's Pantheon, Al Barlick, called `em as he saw `em in the Eastern League in 1939, while Jocko Conlan, who umpired in the Eastern League during the 1936 and 1937 seasons, also earned enshrinement
The list of Eastern League products in a sports hall of fame does not end in Cooperstown. Don Hutson, a charter member of the professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, played for the 1937 Albany Senators. Ken Strong, who earned election to the Football Hall of Fame in 1967, is still the co-holder of the Eastern League record for home runs in a single season. Strong, who like Hutson was an outfielder, belted 41 round trippers for the Hazelton Mountaineers in 1930. Another outfielder, Bill Sharman, played for Elmira in 1950 before putting his energies full-time into another sport. He subsequently played and coached his way into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975. Glenn Killinger, the manager and second baseman for the League Champion 1928 Harrisburg Senators, played quarterback for Penn State from 1918-1921 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971. Killinger played football professionally with the New York Giants in 1926 and went on to coach basketball, football and baseball at West Chester State Teachers College.
In the history of the Eastern League only five players have managed to win the "Triple Crown" (lead the league in home runs, RBI, and batting average). The most recent winner came in 2008 when Bowie Baysox outfielder Lou Montanez hit .335 with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs. Other Triple Crown winners include Joe Munson of the 1925 Harrisburg Senators (his .400 average is still the league's single season record), Bob Chance of the 1963 Charleston Indians, George Scott of the 1965 Pittsfield Red Sox and Danny Thomas of the 1976 Berkshire Brewers.
Among the Eastern League hurlers who have won the pitching equivalent of the Triple Crown (league leader in wins, ERA, and strikeouts) are Wilkes-Barre's Red Embree in 1941, Chet Covington of Scranton in 1943, Mark Davis of the 1980 Reading Phillies, and two members of the Springfield Giants: Juan Marichal (1959) and Gerry Thomas (1961).
Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole and Jon Lester were among the 31 Eastern League alumni named to the rosters for the 2018 MLB All-Star Game. Additionally, of the 50 players on the rosters for the 2018 World Series, 20 played in the Eastern League during their career, including ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. and World Series MVP Steve Pearce. The list of Eastern League alumni award winners also included 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts and National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom.