Baltimore Orioles (19th century)

Baltimore Orioles
Years 18821899
Based in Baltimore, Maryland
Major league affiliations
Team colors

Orange, black, white

Major league titles
  • Temple Cups: 2 (1896, 1897)
  • National League pennants: 3 (1894, 1895, 1896)
  • American Association pennants: 0

The Baltimore Orioles were a 19th-century American Association and National League (organized 1876) team from 1882 to 1899. The early ball club, which featured numerous future Hall of Famers, finished in first place three consecutive years (1894–1895–1896) and won the "Temple Cup" national championship series in 1896 and 1897. Despite their success, the dominant Orioles were contracted out of the League after the 1899 season, when the N.L. reduced its number of teams and franchises from 12 to 8, which endured for the next half-century. This controversial action resulting in the elevation of the former Western League by leaders such as Ban Johnson into a newly-organized American League in 1901 of which the Baltimore Orioles were a prominent member for its first two seasons which "waged war" on the elder "Nationals".


The team was founded in 1882 as a charter member of the American Association, which was then a major league. After several years of mediocrity, the team dropped out of the league in 1889, but re-joined in 1890 to replace the last-place Brooklyn Gladiators club which had dropped out during the season. After the Association folded, the Orioles joined the National League in 1892. The beginnings of what was to become a legendary team can be traced to June 1892, when Harry Von der Horst hired Ned Hanlon to manage the Orioles, giving him stock in the team and full authority over baseball operations. Ned moved his growing family to a house that stood a block away from Union Park.

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.

Following a fourth-place finish in 1899, the National League eliminated four teams from the circuit, the Orioles among them. First-year player/manager John McGraw followed through on his threats to abandon the NL and form a club in the rival American League (being formed by new president Ban Johnson out of the former minor Western League), doing so beginning in 1901. (Those newly formed A.L. Orioles only stayed in Baltimore for two seasons before being moved to New York as "the price of peace" as agreement was established in 1903 between the older circuit and its new upstart rival allowing the "Americans" to have a representative also in the "Big Apple" as a sign of respectability. The old Oriole franchise under McGraw became known as the "New York Highlanders" or occasionally the "New York Americans", later becoming renamed in 1913 as the New York Yankees.)

A high-minor league franchise in the old Eastern League filled the void left by the Orioles in 1903, including local product and future baseball icon Babe Ruth and Lefty Grove, even winning an unbroken string of six straight titles, 1919–1925 in the "Triple A" (AAA) level of minor league baseball in the reorganized International League (after 1911), but top-level professional baseball would not return to Baltimore until the St. Louis Browns relocated to the City in 1954.


The Orioles played briefly at the old Oriole Park, in Harwood, south of the Waverly neighborhood at 29th and Barclay Streets, (just a block west from Greenmount Avenue) from 1890 to 1891. (The 1901 AL Orioles-turned-Highlanders would play at the site a decade later.) During the 1891 season, the Orioles moved a few blocks away to Union Park on Huntington Avenue (later renamed 25th Street) and Greenmount Avenue, where they would play and win their famous three straight championships for the old "Temple Cup" in 1894–1895-1896. Unfortunately they were removed from the N.L. roster after the 1899 season when the League was controversially reduced from12 team franchises to 8, which endured for the next half-century. For further info see List of baseball parks in Baltimore, Maryland.


John McGraw (left) and Hughie Jennings (right) anchored the left side of the infield for Orioles teams that won three straight National League pennants (1894–1896). Later, both were successful managers. (Note: In the middle image, McGraw is shaking hands with Athletics captain Harry Davis, right).

The original Orioles were one of the most storied teams in the history of the game. Managed by Ned Hanlon, they won NL pennants in 1894, 1895 and 1896, and sported some of the most colorful players in history including John McGraw, Wee Willie Keeler, Hughie Jennings, Joe Kelley, Wilbert Robinson, and Dan Brouthers.

They were rough characters who practically invented "scientific" baseball, the form of baseball played before the home run became the norm in the 1920s. Like the style known today as "small ball", the "inside baseball" strategy of Orioles featured tight pitching, hit and run tactics, stolen bases, and precise bunting. One such play, where the batter deliberately strikes the pitched ball downward onto the infield surface with sufficient force such that the ball rebounds skyward, allowing the batter to reach first base safely before the opposing team can field the ball, remains known as a Baltimore Chop.

Matt Kilroy pitched a no-hitter for the Orioles on October 6, 1886. Bill Hawke threw one on August 16, 1893, the first from the modern pitching distance of 60 feet, 6 inches. Jay Hughes threw a no-hitter for the Orioles on April 22, 1898.

Tricky and dirty play

What one might call the tricky, dirty or "anti-social behavior" on the field, of the 1890 Orioles, was chronicled and quantified at length in a 2005 book, Cap Anson 3: Muggsy John McGraw and the Tricksters: Baseball's Fun Age of Rule Bending.

One of the book's strongest conclusions is that "in amount of vile language, they were perhaps three times as bad as any other team." A main reason is that they had John McGraw. In 1899, the Pittsburg [sic] Times said McGraw, off the field, is "one of the most pleasing gentlemen playing professional ball. He is not in the least swelled over his position and can intelligently discuss the game from any point." On the field, though, he becomes "so wrapped up in the sport that for the time being he makes breaks that he would never think of at other times.[1]

The 1896 Baltimore Orioles

Around that time, National League President Nicholas E. "Nick" Young, while roasting McGraw's treatment of umpires, said he respected his playing. Also, McGraw is "well read, witty, and brilliant and makes many bright points in his conversation." And, he said, McGraw pays his fines promptly.[2]

"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.

One of a series of articles in 1934 under McGraw's byline in a magazine named Liberty, but written by Edgar Forest Wolfe, contained prose about using spikes to intimidate: "On that old Baltimore club we used to keep a row of files hanging on the wall back of a bench just outside the visiting players’ dressing rooms, and as the visiting team came out to start its practice we’d be sitting there sharpening up our spikes."[3]

The 2005 book found no 1890s reporter who said the Orioles tried to intimidate opponents that way. The book concluded, "Surely, an opposing player would have had a funny story to tell about that to a non-Baltimore newspaper. No such story seems to exist. Recaps in the 1890s, including from the newspapers of Baltimore's opponents, show one deliberate spiking by a star Oriole in the entire decade. That was by McGraw against Cincinnati's Arlie Latham in July 1893, and he did so after a play was over, by putting his foot on Latham's hand. He did not draw blood."[4]

Instead of "flying spikes," it was really "flying mouths" that most made the 1890s Orioles stand out.[5]

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.[6]

In 1895, after a Baltimore game at Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette had said, "It's very funny to see the Baltimore players scrap and jaw with each other when a ball gets away. Yesterday [Steve] Brodie, [Joe] Kelley and [Willie] Keeler had a grand jawing match in the outfield." In vain the following day, Brodie tried to stop a ball with his feet. Kelley, Keeler, Hughie Jennings, Kid Gleason and McGraw "all began telling Brodie what a lovely dub he was, that he should go back to carrying the hod [manual labor], etc. Brodie got mad and gave them just as good as he got."[7]

McGraw is said to have sometimes held a runner's belt to keep him from scoring, but the 2005 book found no contemporaneous reporting on the subject.[8]

Other stories the book deemed funny, but not confirmed by contemporaneous coverage, include a claim, first made by J. Raymond "Jim" Price in Baseball Magazine in 1910, that the following took place during an 1896 Brooklyn game at Baltimore. With the bases full, shortstop Jennings threw a ball wildly to the plate. After striking a pebble, the ball landed in a water bucket on the field. Catcher Wilbert Robinson, in sticking his hand in the bucket, first produced a sponge. He tossed the sponge to pitcher Sadie McMahon covering home, who "put the sponge, still soaked, on [runner] Mike Griffin, who came sliding in desperately. Mike walked to the bench looking like a drowned rat."[9]

The 2005 book did unearth a tin can story from 1900, by imaginative writer Charles Dryden, that loosely resembled the above. Dryden said Cincinnati, a few years earlier, lost an exhibition game at Maysville, Kentucky, when a fly ball to the outfield became lodged in a tin can. With the ball inside, the fielder threw the can. Can in hand, a Cincinnati player tagged a runner with it, and the umpire called him safe. The umpire's reasoning was that the ball itself had not touched the runner. Dryden wrote, ""Of course, the visiting [Cincinnati] players were very indignant, and [Cincinnati first baseman] Jake Beckley declared that if the time ever came when professional ball players had to carry can openers on the field he would quit the business. One of [Cincinnati coacher-nonplayer] Arlie Latham's jobs at exhibition games this [sic] year was to hunt around and throw all tin cans over the fence before play was called."[10]

Also dismissed in the 2005 book for not having been reported on contemporaneously is a story that may have first appeared in Fred Lieb's "The Humorous Side of Baseball" in "Baseball Magazine" in 1921. In his 1955 "The Baltimore Orioles", Lieb says Price is his source for the following. When St. Louis's Tommy Dowd hit a ball to left center field, the runner at first, Joe Quinn, ran to third. Using a hidden ball, outfielder Joe Kelley threw him out, with McGraw catching the throw. "But just as the single umpire was about to call Quinn out, [fellow outfielder] Brodie, who had pursued the real ball to the fence, whipped it in, rather botching this inside play." The end of the story is, "After an argument, the umpire forfeited the game to St. Louis."[11]

Lieb, the 2005 book concludes, was on firmer ground in his 1950 The Baseball Story, when he wrote that manager Hanlon "instructed the groundkeeper to keep the grass high in the outfield, and balls were planted in the thick grass. A visiting player would hit into the deep underbrush, and Keeler or Kell[e]y would come up with one of the planted balls, hold the hit to a single, or cut down the base runner at second." The 2005 book noted that, "While Baltimore's outfield grass was definitely high at times, as contemporaneous reports show, the contemporaneous record does not support any claim of ball planting."[12]

First United States soccer champions

In the 1890s the major Baseball franchises were keen to find ways to keep their venues, and players active in the winter months. One solution was to launch a National soccer league containing the same teams names as, and even some players from its Baseball parent. Soccer was growing rapidly in popularity in the United States at the time but a combination of poor advertising, low media coverage, midweek kick off times and most importantly, the failure of the Baseball stars of the day turning up, as promised, to try their hand at the kicking game, led to attendances rarely growing above 1,000 per game. When all was said and done Baltimore were declared champions and despite positivity from owners and fans alike, a second championship was never organized and the first of several false dawns for American soccer came to an end.


  1. Rosenberg, Howard W. (2005). Cap Anson 3: Muggsy John McGraw and the Tricksters: Baseball's Fun Age of Rule Bending. Tile Books. p. 472. ISBN 0-9725574-2-3., p. 219.
  2. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., pp. 219-220.
  3. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., p. 207.
  4. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., p. 207.
  5. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., p. 206.
  6. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., p. 206.
  7. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., pp. 206-207.
  8. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., pp. 56-57.
  9. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., pp. 183-184.
  10. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., p. 184.
  11. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., p. 184.
  12. Rosenberg. Cap Anson 3., p. 185.

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See also

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