Most baseball fans who live in Baltimore know about the great Orioles teams who won six pennants and three Worlds Series between 1966 and 1983, including three pennants in a row from 1969-1971.
However, many Baltimoreans may not realize that more than 70 years before the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954 to become our Orioles, another professional team by the same name roamed four different ballparks that stood in various locations in the area just west of Greenmount Avenue between 24th and 29th Street. Between 1894 and 1896, these Orioles won three consecutive National League pennants. That’s right, the Orioles were once in the National League.
The first Orioles team was in the American Association, a professional league that competed with the NL between 1882 and 1891, but when the AA folded at the end of the 1891 season, the Orioles were accepted into the NL.
The Orioles of the AA were a mediocre team at best, so a mere 12 games into their inaugural season in the NL, team owner and local brewery magnate Harry Von der Horst hired Edward “Ned” Hanlon as the team’s manager. This proved to be a momentous decision, and Von der Horst promised he would stay out of Hanlon’s way — he even wore a button that said, “Ask Hanlon” to deflect people from approaching him with management suggestions.
In his first two years, Hanlon purged the roster of unmotivated and untalented players, hired young and hungry ones to replace them, and instituted and relentlessly drilled his players in an innovative style of play that would turn the Orioles into a championship team that eventually dominated the league.
Nicknamed “Foxy Ned” and “The Father of Modern Baseball,” Hanlon revolutionized the game by devising or popularizing what became known as “Inside” baseball, which featured an aggressive brand of in-your-face play that employed the hit-and-run, expert bunting, the “Baltimore chop,” the squeeze, and other innovations such as having the pitcher cover first base on balls hit to the right side of the infield.
During Hanlon’s seven-year tenure as the manager of the O’s, he compiled a 555-361 record (.601) and led the team to three straight pennants and two second-place finishes. The Orioles also won two Temple Cup Championships, a precursor of the modern World Series where the first- and second-place teams in the league played a best-of-seven series. And Hanlon is also generally credited with bringing the orange and black colors to the team’s uniforms.
Hanlon was acknowledged as being an excellent judge of baseball talent, and he assembled teams with great players. Wee Willie Keeler, Dan Brouthers, John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Joe Kelley, and Wilbert Robinson were mainstays of the pennant-winning teams. He also added other accomplished players, including Walter “Steve” Brodie (who recited Shakespeare in center field), Heinie Reitz, “Dirty” Jack Doyle, Bill “Boileryard” Clarke, and Frank Foreman (a life-long Hampden resident).
Notable Oriole pitchers were Tony Mullane (who won 284 games in his career), the dependable Sadie McMahon, Jerry Nops, and Kid Gleeson (who later was the unfortunate manager of the infamous 1919 Black Sox).
The baseball played during this time was no place for the faint of heart. The game routinely featured frequent fights between players, abominably foul and offensive language, crowd riots, rabid “cranks” (the word for fans in those days) who abused opposing players and umpires, and a flagrant disregard of rules by all teams.
Because there was normally only one umpire who could not see everything, players commonly cheated by taking short cuts around the bases, interfering with runners in the base paths, and a multitude of other infractions. Most regarded the Orioles as the dirtiest team, and one reporter of the time commented that “McGraw uses every low and contemptible method that his erratic brain can conceive to win a play by a dirty trick.”
In addition, the Orioles were notorious for “kicking.” The term refers to umpire baiting; however, “virulent abuse” might be a more accurate description. Almost to a man, the 1890s’ Orioles probably could have taught Earl Weaver a thing or two. The Orioles became the darlings of Baltimore, but because of their unscrupulous antics and success in winning games, they were generally despised by the rest of the baseball world — the first “Evil Empire” of sports.
When the league contracted after the 1889 season, the Orioles were one of four teams that were bounced out, but a new Orioles team joined the newly formed American League in 1901. During the first two years they were managed by John McGraw and played their games at the American League Park where a McDonalds now stands just south of 29th Street. But after the 1902 season, the franchise was moved to New York to become the New York Highlanders, later renamed the Yankees — the “Evil Empire” of modern baseball.
Six men who played for the Orioles during Hanlon’s tenure end up the Hall of Fame: Brouthers, McGraw, Jennings, Keeler, Kelley, and Robinson. Hanlon followed his boys into the Hall in 1996. McGraw went on to manage the New York Giants for 30 years and won a total a total of 2,784 games (second only to Connie Mack), 10 pennants and three World Series. Jennings managed the Detroit Tigers and Ty Cobb for 12 years and won more than 1,100 games and two pennants. Robinson managed the NL Brooklyn Robins (named after him) for 18 years, winning more than 1,300 games and two pennants. Hanlon later managed the Brooklyn Superbas of the NL for seven years and won two pennants and the Chronicle-Telegraph Cup in 1900 (another precursor of the World Series).
The 1890s’ Orioles were a fleeting moment baseball history in Baltimore, but what a time it was. If you know where to look, vestiges of these players and those times can still be found. Until his death in 1937, Hanlon lived for more than 30 years at 1401 Mount Royal Avenue in the Bolton Hill section of Baltimore. He was a city park commissioner for almost 20 years and working for him there was his old centerfielder, Steve Brodie, whose job it was to lay out baseball diamonds in the city parks. Brodie’s longtime home where he died in 1935 still stands at 2729 Maryland Avenue.
In Charles Village, within walking distance of the old ballparks, the homes of John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson (2738 and 2740 St. Paul Street) still stand side-by-side. Tragically, McGraw’s first wife, Minnie, died there of at age 23 of a ruptured appendix. A block away you can still see Joe Kelley’s house at 2826 N. Calvert Street where his funeral was held in 1943. Throughout that neighborhood, there are other sites of significance to those old Orioles.
Then there are the old ballparks where some of most hallowed names in baseball history challenged the Orioles: Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Cap Anson, Ed Delahanty, Nap Lajoie, Charlie Comiskey, Connie Mack, Amos Rusie, Kid Nichols, and Rube Waddell — just to name a few. No physical structures of those parks remain, but you can retrace their perimeters and walk the glorious grounds of Union Park where Hanlon’s teams won their three pennants.
The site is located in-between Barclay Street to the east, Hunter Alley to the west, and in-between 25th and 24th Streets. If you look at the extant photos of Union Park, you can clearly see the buildings along 25th and Barclay Streets that once overlooked the old park. They now serve as silent guardians of the memories of Baltimore’s first champions.
And over at New Cathedral Cemetery here in Baltimore, Hanlon, McGraw, Robinson, and Kelley are all buried. No cemetery in the country is the final resting place of so many Hall of Famers.
Tom Delise grew up in New York as a Mets fan and Yankee hater, and to this day, Tom Seaver is his baseball hero. He has lived in Baltimore for 34 years and has held season tickets for the Orioles since 1992 and the Ravens since they moved here. He retired in 2018 after a 40-year career as an English teacher and now spends much of his time reading, especially about “old time” baseball. He lives in the Bolton Hill section of Baltimore with his wife Christine and his dogs Shakespeare and Cordelia.
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.