Was an Owner of the Philadelphia Phillies Forced to Sell the Team After Their Stadium Collapsed, Killing a Dozen People?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: After a tragic stadium collapse, the owners of the Philadelphia Phillies were forced to sell the team.

In 1903, perhaps the worst baseball stadium collapse ever occurred. During a Phillies doubleheader in August of 1903 at their fairly substandard stadium, Philadelphia Park (later known as the Baker Bowl), an altercation took place in one of the wooden stands.

Over 300 people rushed to the stands, which could not support the weight and collapsed.

Hundreds were injured and TWELVE people were killed! Can you imagine if something like that happened today?

In any event, there, naturally enough, was an onslaught of lawsuits by the victims and the families of the dead.

So in many histories of the Phillies, you will hear that that is why the owner of the Phillies, John Rogers, was forced to sell the team to James Potter.

Heck, here’s the Wikipedia page for the Phillies:

To add tragedy to folly, a balcony collapsed during a game at the Baker Bowl in 1903, killing twelve and injuring hundreds. Rogers was forced to sell the Phillies to avoid being ruined by an avalanche of lawsuits.

That’s a commonly told story.

Here’s the problem.

Rogers had already sold the team in 1902!!

You see, the confusion comes from the fact that while Rogers did sell the TEAM, he still, at the time, owned the stadium that the Phillies played in, so he was, in fact, sued over the collapse. However, he was not the owner of the team at the time. Potter had already taken control for the 1903 baseball season, well BEFORE the collapse in August.

And by the way, ultimately, all the lawsuits were thrown out, as the rush of people was blamed for the collapse, not the conditions of the park.

The park was still used well into the 1920s, when ANOTHER collapse happened (only one person was hurt) and the Phillies moved into Shibe Park, the home of the Philadelphia Athletics, for the 1927 season. The A’s wouldn’t let them stay permanently, though, until 1938, so until then, the Phillies had to make do with the Baker Bowl from 1928-1937.

The legend is…

STATUS: False

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