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Which franchise is the oldest in Major League Baseball history?
by Scott Butler 7/6/17

1887 Philadelphia Phillies Team Photo

My biggest takeaway after writing So You Think You’re a Philadelphia Phillies Fan? was the tremendous sense of history that accompanies a club that began in 1883. Chester Arthur was the president when the Phillies franchise began and more than half (24) of the 44 U.S. presidents have taken the oath of office over the next 134 years. The Phillies are the oldest, continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional sports. It's a nice catch phrase, isn't it?

But if you were to ask people to name the oldest franchise in baseball history, few would mention the Phillies. Most would likely give that distinction to the Cincinnati Reds, who were founded in 1869 as baseball's first professional club and were a charter member of the National League (widely regarded as the first official major league) in 1876. In recognition of their longevity, for years the Reds had the honor of playing the inaugural game of each MLB season and they are still privileged to open every regular season at home.

Some fans might say the Cubs or Red Sox are the oldest, with history just oozing out of the walls of their ballparks. And a few might even go with the Yankees because...they are the Yankees.

So, which franchise is it? Well, that all depends - what constitutes a franchise, anyway? Do they need to remain in the same city? Do they need to keep the same name?

It is difficult to declare a victor when we can't even define the very topic of the discussion, but we can at least narrow down the possibilities. To begin, here is a look at the first year of all 30 active MLB franchises.

Oldest Active MLB Franchises

Rank Current Franchise Name First year
1Chicago Cubs1876
2Atlanta Braves1876
3 Cincinnati Reds 1876
4St. Louis Cardinals1882
5Pittsburgh Pirates1882
6San Francisco Giants1883
7Philadelphia Phillies1883
8Los Angeles Dodgers1884
9Oakland Athletics1901
10Minnesota Twins1901
11Detroit Tigers1901
12Cleveland Indians1901
13Chicago White Sox1901
14Boston Red Sox1901
15Baltimore Orioles1901
16New York Yankees1903
17Texas Rangers1961
18Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim1961
19New York Mets1962
20Houston Astros1962
21Washington Nationals1969
22San Diego Padres1969
23Milwaukee Brewers1969
24Kansas City Royals1969
25Toronto Blue Jays1977
26Seattle Mariners1977
27Miami Marlins1993
28Colorado Rockies1993
29Tampa Bay Rays1998
30Arizona Diamondbacks1998

 

You can clearly see the distinction between the original 16 ballclubs, which began in 1903 or earlier, and the teams from the expansion era, which began in 1961. Our focus here will be on the eight franchises that began in the 19th century.

It seems reasonable to presume that relocating to a different city is a deal breaker, which counts out the Braves (who relocated from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953 and again to Atlanta in 1966), the Giants (who moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958), and the Dodgers (who moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958). It leaves us with a group of five franchises that remained in the same city the longest:

1876: Cubs franchise (Chicago) and Reds franchise (Cincinnati)
1882: Cardinals franchise (St. Louis) and Pirates franchise (Pittsburgh)
1883: Phillies franchise (Philadelphia)

If we leave it there, the Cubs and Reds should be considered the oldest franchises, but it isn't quite that easy. The Reds were expelled from the National League for the entire 1881 season for (among other reasons) refusing to cease selling beer during games, meaning the Cubs are the oldest continuously operating franchise. Seems like a tomato, tomahto deal to me, as is most of this entire debate.

To further complicate things, the Cincinnati and Chicago franchises both changed their names several times. Once we introduce the topic of name changes, it throws the whole conversation into a blender. Here is a list of the teams remaining in the same city with the same name the longest (minimum 115 seasons):

1883: Philadelphia Phillies - 135th season
1891: Pittsburgh Pirates - 127th season
1900: St. Louis Cardinals - 118th season
1901: Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox - 117th season
1903: Chicago Cubs - 115th season

Of the five original finalists, the Reds and Cardinals franchises had four different names, the Cubs franchise had three, and the Pirates had two. The Reds no longer make the cut in this scenario, since they briefly changed their name to Redlegs from 1954-1958.

The Phillies are the only franchise that maintained the same name throughout their history. In that regard they are the oldest, but that seems like a trivial distinction. Besides, the Phils held a contest in 1944 to change their name. Blue Jays was the winning name, but they eventually discarded the idea. Even if they did become the Philadelphia Blue Jays, doesn't that amount to slightly more than a uniform change, anyway?

In my opinion, the Cubs and Reds started first, so it is those two teams who should share in the title of oldest franchise. The Reds have the advantage of being the first professional team, but the Cubs technically operated continuously the longest. Tie goes to the runner...or does it? Ultimately, the decision is yours.

Worst franchise in Major League Baseball History

We can argue Reds versus Cubs versus Phillies forever, but there should be little debate that the Phillies are the losingest team in baseball history. Their 10,796 losses at the time of this writing are 321 more than any other franchise (Braves with 10,475 losses). They are a combined 1,170 games under .500 - 340 games worse than any other franchise (Orioles at minus 830).

Furthermore:

Which team is the oldest? Which team is the worst? All that really matters is this: which team won it last?

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