Paul Richards: The Wizard of Waxahachie -
The Bird Tapes

Paul Richards: The Wizard of Waxahachie is delighted to be partnering with John Eisenberg, the author and longtime Baltimore sports columnist, whose latest venture is an Orioles history project called The Bird Tapes. Available on a subscription basis at, the Bird Tapes is built around a set of vintage interviews with Orioles legends that Eisenberg recorded a quarter-century while writing a book about the team. Paid subscribers can hear the interviews, which have been digitized to make them easily consumable. The Bird Tapes also includes new writing on Orioles history from Eisenberg, who is the author of 11 books, including two on the Orioles. will publish Eisenberg’s new writing.


When you start digging into the history of the Orioles, as I’m doing with my Bird Tapes project, you soon discover a guiding principle about the team that is close to unassailable.

Whatever happens now, it has happened before.

It’s no surprise when you consider the Orioles have existed since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House in the early 1950s. Seven decades is a long time, especially in baseball years. It’s more than enough time for just about anything that can happen to, well, happen.

That may sound lame to some in an era in which “greatest ever” comparisons fly around on social media as casually as line drives in batting practice. But it’s true. Very seldom are we seeing something for the first time.

You probably think the Orioles had never experienced anything quite like what is now known as “the rebuild,” when Mike Elias was hired as general manager in 2018 and willingly stripped the club down, hoping to rebuild it as a monster. A whole lot of losing ensued, and indeed, out of that darkness, the brightness of a winning team has crystallized.

But that’s also an apt description of what happened to the Orioles in their first years in Baltimore.

The franchise that arrived in town in 1954 had existed since 1902 as the St. Louis Browns with a record lacking distinction, to put it mildly. They were the worst team in the American League, winning the pennant exactly once in a half-century and usually finishing near the bottom. In their last five years in St. Louis, they lost 101, 96, 102, 90 and 100 games.

Fans in Baltimore were thrilled to have them, but as an on-field entity, they were hardly a prized possession.

The group of Baltimore businessmen who bought the team included Clarence Miles, an attorney who became team president; Zanvyl Krieger, president of the Gunther Brewing Company; James Keelty, a real estate executive; and Jerry Hoffberger, president of the National Brewing Company. Scrambling to populate a front office, they hired a general manager, Arthur Ehlers, who was attractive to them mostly because he was from Baltimore, and a manager, Jimmy Dykes, whom the Philadelphia Athletics had just fired.

Looking a lot like the Browns, the first-year Orioles lost 100 games.

New to baseball but savvy in business, the owners correctly deduced that they needed to make a big move to inject some life into their lamentable club. They hired Paul Richards, who was a hot commodity after managing the Chicago White Sox to a 94-win season in 1954.

Much like Elias decades later, Richards was given full control of the baseball operation, only Richards had even more control than Elias — he became the field manager as well as the general manager.

A tall Texan from Waxahachie, just south of Dallas, Richards was considered one of the game’s most astute and original thinkers. He sought to field teams with strong pitching, solid defense and sound fundamentals, and was unafraid to try innovative tactics. Managing in the minor leagues against a team with a leadoff hitter that wreaked havoc by stealing bases, he simply walked the batter in front of the base-stealer, gumming up the basepaths.

He joined the Orioles because he had long wanted to take his principles and try to shape an organization as a front-office executive. The Orioles, desperately in need of some philosophy, provided the perfect blank slate.

Compared to Elias decades later, Richards had far fewer tools with which to try to engineer a turnaround. Baseball was still a decade away from instituting a draft. College baseball and Latin America were virtually nonexistent pipelines. Teams commonly threw money at promising “bonus baby” prospects coming out of high school but ruined many by asking too much of them too soon

Richards immediately demolished the status quo by engineering the largest trade in baseball history — 16 players went back and forth between the Orioles and Yankees. He gave away his best starting pitchers, Bob Turley and Don Larsen, but received in return some key pieces of a young foundation, including a catcher, Gus Triandos, and a shortstop, Willy Miranda.

(Note: My Substack posts that include the vintage interviews are available via a paid subscription, which also gives you unlimited access to the archive of interviews. Free subscribers to the Bird Tapes will receive immediate access to my new written work, which will also be published here at on a different schedule.)

As in Elias’ first years, it was initially impossible to see even a hint of progress; fans existed in a dark tunnel, unable to see light at the end. The Orioles lost 97 games in 1955 and finished 38 games out of first in 1956 as Richards mostly sorted through an array of expendable veteran talent. Asked about the roster one day, he said, “You mean the one coming or the one going?”

His fondest for innovation continued. If an opposing hitter lofted a potential sacrifice fly with a runner on third, Richards asked his pitcher to dash to the plate and exchange gloves with the catcher before the throw came in, thinking the smaller glove gave the catcher a better chance to catch the ball and apply a tag.

That one didn’t work so well, especially when a left-handed pitcher tossed his glove to a right-handed catcher. Oops.

When the Orioles acquired knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm, Richards designed an oversized glove for his catchers to use, thinking it gave them a better chance of corralling Wilhelm’s unpredictable tosses. His “elephant glove” made headlines but baseball eventually banned it.

Signs of progress soon became evident. The Orioles finished with a .500 record in 1957, ending the franchise’s run of 11 straight losing seasons. Triandos slugged home runs and became a fan favorite. A young third baseman, Brooks Robinson, emerged as a solid performer. Richards, a former major league catcher with a knack for helping pitchers, oversaw the signing and development of a bevy of young pitching talent, including Milt Pappas, Steve Barber, Jerry Walker and Chuck Estrada. Suddenly, Baltimore had a tough starting rotation.

By 1960, with a roster nicknamed the “Kiddie Corps,” the Orioles were formidable enough to win 89 games and challenge the Yankees for the American League pennant before finishing second.

Richards had plenty of help as he turned the Orioles around. He inherited a savvy farm director, Jim McLaughlin, the only member of the St. Louis Browns’ front office to move to Baltimore. McLaughlin knew talent. By 1960, the organization featured Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell and a bunch of quality pitchers. Earl Weaver was managing a minor league affiliate, Cal Ripken (the dad) about to do the same. The foundation of a consistent winner had been laid.

A critical aspect of that foundation lay at the club’s minor league spring training site in Thomasville, Georgia, which Richards turned into a personal factory of sorts with his philosophy preached on every field at every level — the origin of what would become famously known as the Oriole Way.

Richards wasn’t always an easy boss. He fought constantly with McLaughlin, who eventually was fired; both thought they were the smartest guy in the room. He spent a ton of money on failed prospects. Ownership eventually stripped him of his dual manager/GM role, bringing in another GM. Brooks Robinson calls him “the smartest baseball man I ever played for,” in his Bird Tapes interview, but Jim Palmer found that he had “a certain arrogance.”

Near the end of the 1961 season, Richards abruptly left Baltimore to become the general manager of a new National League franchise in Houston, soon to be called the Astros. Part of his calculus, no doubt, was his desire to live closer to Waxahachie.

But as he departed, it was beyond debate that he had fundamentally transformed the Orioles, inheriting a loser and turning them into an on-the-rise winner.

Interested in subscribing to the Bird Tapes? Here’s a link:


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