Monday, January 10, 2011

The 1896 Baltimore Orioles: End Of An Era


“There are two kinds of people: those who are Irish, and those who wish they were.”
John McCraw, player & manager with The New York Giants, 
originally with the 1896 Baltimore Orioles

“I have already written a treatise and it reads like this:
Keep your eye clear and hit ’em where they ain't; that’s all.”
Wee Willie Keeler, with the 1896 Baltimore Orioles, 
as told to Abe Yager of the Brooklyn Eagle

“Often regarded as the quiet man on the rowdy Baltimore clubs of the 1890s,
Keeler also earned a reputation as the greatest slap hitter of all time.”

Donald Dewey & Nicholas Acocella
The Biographical History of Baseball (1995)

The 1896 Baltimore Orioles: Official team photo, including future Hall of Famers "Wee Willie" Keeler (front row, to right of club manager Ned Hanlon in business suit, with elbow on Hanlon's knee) and John McGraw (2nd from left, front row).
Source: Wikipedia

One of the greatest teams in its time was the 1896 Baltimore Orioles, a professional baseball team that characterized the rough-and-tumble spirit of baseball of the late 19th century. The Orioles were the best team in American baseball in 1896 and 1897. A few years later, however, there would be no baseball team in Baltimore, a void that would last until 1954. 

Such characterized the instability of baseball and its teams during the 19th century, essentially baseball's infancy. It was an era where myth reigned and legends were formed. The Orioles of the 1890s, for example, earned a reputation of generously and grievously using its baseball spikes on opposing players, recounts Howard W. Rosenberg in Cap Anson 3: Muggsy John McGraw and the Tricksters—Baseball's Fun Age of Rule Bending:
“Flying spikes” rhetoric about the 1890s Orioles – meaning that they went around spiking other players and even umpires—may have helped solidify their reputation as among the baddest teams in the sport’s history, but the contemporaneous record does not support it.
Nothing like a good myth to build a fan base. In reality, however, the team used such tactics to create fear in opposing players, a valid and favored tactic in sport. More than anything, the Orioles used a fair amount of foul, or what we would call colorful language. In the same book, Rosenberg says:
Instead of “flying spikes,” it was really “flying mouths” that most made the 1890s Orioles stand out. In 1896, retired pitcher Jimmy “Pud” Galvin said that as a player, “I never heard such disgusting and vile language as [Cleveland’s Patsy] Tebeau, [Jack] O’Connor and several of the Baltimore players’’ are now using.

He added, “I am astonished that a quiet, unassuming fellow like [Baltimore manager] Ned Hanlon ever tolerated it in his club. Of course there were players in the old days who lost their temper and swore at the umpire, but they didn’t carry it to extremes."
So what happened to the Orioles? We need a bit of baseball history to understand how baseball changed. In 1876, there was only one professional league, the National League, with eight teams, and William Hulbert as its president. The charter member teams were; Boston Red Caps, Chicago White Stockings, Cincinnati Red Stockings, Hartford Dark Blues, Louisville Grays, New York Mutuals, Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Brown Stockings.

But as the popularity of the game grew, and as investors saw this as a way to make money, they formed rival leagues. Some lasted, others folded and became absorbed into a larger more established league. The National League lasted, and hence has become known in some circles as the Senior Circuit.

When the Baltimore Orioles joined the Senior Circuit, one of four teams that joined in 1891 from the  American Association, another failed league, there were now 12 teams under the National League banner. The Orioles were considered a rowdy raucous bunch of players, which might only describe class differences or the era of early baseball. But there were noted differences between the two leagues, says the website, 19th century baseball:
The National League appealed to more middle-class audiences by requiring its teams to charge fifty cents admission, banning the sale of alcohol, and refusing to play on Sundays. The rival American Association appealed to immigrant and working-class audiences by charging only a quarter, selling liquor and playing Sunday ball.
No doubt, it was a period of volatility. (For an excellent time-line, see Ken Burns: Baseball.) Since the 1840s, baseball was evolving, with rule changes, institution of the reserve clause, the formation of player associations, players earning more money, and the game becoming more genteel for middle-class audiences. It would eventually become a game associated with America itself, America's Pastime.

1912 World Series: John McGraw, New York NL, and Jake Stahl, Boston AL, at World Series. The  Boston Red Sox beat the New York Giants four games to three (with one tie).
Source: US Library of Congress:
The end of the 19th century was the end of an era, and the Baltimore Orioles were part of that era’s demise. The team had talent, no doubt, but needed a good manager in the name of Ned Hanlon, who turned things around, Wikipedia points out:
After two years finishing near the bottom of the league, the Orioles won three consecutive pennants with several future Hall of Famers under player/manager Ned Hanlon from 1894 to 1896. They followed up the title run with two consecutive second-place finishes.

Accordingly, they participated in all four editions of the Temple Cup series, winning the final two in 1896 and 1897. After the team's 1898 second-place finish, Hanlon and most of the team’s stars (though not John McGraw or Wilbert Robinson) were moved across to the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League by the joint ownership of the clubs.
The loss of Hanlon as manager had an effect on the team. They finished fourth in 1899, with a record of 86 wins and 62 losses. When the National League was looking to reduce its size from 12 teams to eight, thus eliminating four teams from the circuit, the Orioles were among them—lasting less than a decade in the National League. But the National League’s loss became the upstart American League's gain, and the seeds of one of the greatest baseball franchises in sports history were planted.

Although the American League, formed from minor league teams out of the Western League, came into existence in 1901, was the junior league by 25 years, it has been successful at winning. Including the 2010 season, American League teams have won 62 of the 106 World Series played since 1903, with 27 coming from the New York Yankees alone. Such explains the significance of the Yankees and its predecessor, the Baltimore Orioles.

In 1901, John McGraw, the first-year player/manager of the team formed a club in the rival American League (Junior Circuit) that retained the Orioles name. During the 1902 season, McGraw  secretly jumped to the New York Giants of the rival National League.

The team, without McGraw, stayed in Baltimore for the remainder of the season before moving to New York in 1903. They were renamed the Highlanders and eventually the New York Yankees in 1913—the greatest franchise in baseball history.

The rest they say is (baseball) history.