Thursday, May 16, 2013

May 16- Baltimore Orioles

If there’s one thing I’ve really gotten a kick out of, and will continue to get a kick out of, over the next year it’s any post that I do featuring the smiling bird logo on my Baltimore Orioles caps. I touched on this reason back March 14th with my Billy Ripken story; the smiling bird has always been one of my favorites since my youth. Hopefully that better explains why I’m always mimicking the head turn and expression in all of my photos for the future.

The Orioles are kind of a peculiar selection today. After combing through books, encyclopedia pages and scores of Web sites I was only able to come up with two really solid names for my cap, but neither of whom have an actual ties to the Orioles. By this I mean they never wore an actual Orioles uniform or cap; however, they were a part of the franchise in the old days.

Before moving to Baltimore the Orioles were known as the St. Louis Browns. We’re not talking about a one-to-five year stretch; we’re talking real embedded roots kind of a baseball franchise. The Browns played in St. Louis from 1902-1953, but prior to St. Louis they played in Milwaukee for one season (1901) as the Brewers. They were never really successful until they moved to Baltimore; however, for one season (1944), they were the best team in the American League. This of course was marred by controversy as critics felt that their only World Series bid was as a result of every other team’s top-tier talent being overseas to fight in World War II. In the case of the Browns they still had all of their best players, but not because any of them tried to duck the war effort. In fact, most of them were classified 4-F: unfit for military service. But even with all of their best players on board they still found a way to lose to their cross-town rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals in six games. One piece of note from that series is that it was the one to take place in one stadium as the Browns and Cardinals shared the facility. When the Browns finally changed over to the Orioles in 1954 the Korean War had just ended and the Vietnam War was just getting started. In either case, no representatives from the team had been drafted or enlisted and forced to fight.

The Orioles have done a great job as a team in showing their support of active military personnel. All non-prime home games on Sundays are now Military Days where active, retired and reserve members of the military can get buy one, get one free tickets and anytime anyone comes in uniform with their military ID can get a free Orioles cap from guest services. This season the Orioles will be taking on the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park for Memorial Day and the following day and bringing the last two games to Camden Yards to finish off the celebration.

As I mentioned above it was a bit of a challenge to find anyone associated with the franchise who served their country and fought overseas; however, I did find two prime figures from the Browns era who more than deserved the recognition.

GS: I had previously written about George Sisler and his time with the Browns back on January 12th, but I didn’t go into much detail about his military career. In 1918 Sisler joined the Chemical Corps (known at that time as the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) during World War I. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to Camp Humphries, Virginia. Also with CWS were Branch Rickey, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Perry Haughton (president of the Boston Braves) were sent to France. Just as Sisler was preparing to deploy overseas, the armistice was signed on November 11. Sisler was subsequently discharged from the CWS.

If you ever get a free chance to check it out take a peak at the CWS records available for all of those players. Their jobs were not easy in the slightest, and they certainly didn’t play baseball to spread goodwill during their time in the service.

BV: Bill Veeck (as in wreck) was a native of Chicago, Illinois, and a franchise owner and promoter in Major League Baseball. Veeck was at various times the owner of the Cleveland Indians, Browns and Chicago White Sox. As owner and team president of the Indians in 1947, Veeck signed Larry Doby and thus successfully integrated the American League. Veeck was the last owner to purchase a baseball franchise without an independent fortune, and is responsible for many innovations and contributions to baseball.

His time in the service started at the end of the 1943 season when he joined the Marines at the same time he owned the Milwaukee Brewers, a Minor League team at the time. The next spring he was stationed on the Pacific island of Bougainville when the recoil of an anti-aircraft gun smashed his right leg. He spent the rest of the war in hospitals. Veeck sold the Brewers soon after he returned from military service in 1945. “It was a choice between the club and my marriage,” he wrote later. The marriage had been in trouble even before Veeck joined the Marines. He moved his wife Eleanor and their three children to a dude ranch in Arizona.

After marrying his second wife Mary Frances Ackerman, Veeck bought an 80 percent stake in the St. Louis Browns in 1951. Hoping to force the NL's Cardinals out of town, Veeck hired Cardinal greats Rogers Hornsby and Marty Marion as managers, and Dizzy Dean as an announcer; and he decorated their shared home park, Sportsman's Park, exclusively with Browns memorabilia. Ironically the Cardinals had been the Browns' tenants since 1920, even though they had long since passed the Browns as St. Louis' favorite team. Nonetheless, Veeck made a concerted effort to drive the Cardinals out of town.
Some of Veeck's most memorable publicity stunts occurred during his tenure with the Browns, including the appearance on August 19, 1951, by little person Eddie Gaedel. Veeck sent Gaedel to pinch hit in the bottom of the first of the game. Wearing elf like shoes and "1/8" as his uniform number, Gaedel was walked on four straight pitches and then was pulled for a pinch runner. Shortly afterwards "Grandstand Manager's Day" – involving Veeck, Connie Mack, and thousands of regular fans, enabled the crowd to vote on various in-game strategic decisions by holding up placards: the Browns won, 5–3, snapping a four-game losing streak.
After the 1952 season, Veeck suggested that the American League clubs share radio and television revenue with visiting clubs. Outvoted, he refused to allow the Browns' opponents to broadcast games played against his team on the road. The league responded by eliminating the lucrative Friday night games in St. Louis. A year later Cardinal owner Fred Saigh was convicted of tax evasion. Facing certain banishment from baseball, he was forced to put the Cardinals up for sale. Most of the bids came from out-of-town interests, and it appeared that Veeck would succeed in driving the Cardinals out of town. However Saigh accepted a much lower bid from St. Louis-based brewing giant Anheuser-Busch, who entered the picture with the specific intent of keeping the Cardinals in town. Veeck quickly realized that the Cardinals now had more resources than he could possibly hope to match. Reluctantly, he decided to leave St. Louis and find another place to play. As a preliminary step, he sold Sportsman's Park to the Cardinals. Veeck would have probably had to sell it in any event; the 44-year old park was in a poor state of repair, and even with the rent from the Cardinals he did not have the money to bring it up to code.
At first Veeck considered moving the Browns back to Milwaukee (where they had played their inaugural season in 1901). Milwaukee used recently-built Milwaukee County Stadium in an attempt to entice the Browns. However, the decision was in the hands of the Boston Braves. For the Browns to move, the minor league Brewers would be shut down. The Braves wanted another team with the same talent, and an agreement was not made in time for opening day. Ironically, a few weeks later, the Braves themselves moved to Milwaukee. St. Louis was known to want the team to stay, so some in St. Louis campaigned for the removal of Veeck. He then got in touch with a group that was looking to bring a Major League franchise to Baltimore. After the 1953 season, Veeck agreed in principle to sell half his stock to Baltimore attorney Clarence Miles, the leader of the Baltimore group, and his other partners. He would have remained the principal owner, with approximately a 40 percent interest. Even though league president Will Harridge told him approval was certain, only four owners—two short of the necessary six for passage—supported it. Realizing that the other owners simply wanted him out of the picture (indeed, he was facing threats of having his franchise canceled), Veeck agreed to sell his entire stake to Miles' group, who then moved the Browns to Baltimore as the Orioles.

1 comment:

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