Look through Orioles Opening Day photos from yesteryear.
In the rough-and-tumble baseball of the 1890s, Baltimore rose to the top with skill and guile
By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun
Updated July 7, 1996
A century ago, Baltimore was a bustling, brawling, blue-collar city of 500,000, teeming with trolleys and privies and chimneys that belched coal smoke. The skyline was beveled by breweries and churches. Cardinal Gibbons and Enoch Pratt were people, not places. And George Herman Ruth (1 year old) was really The Babe.
Then, Baltimore was port for about 4,000 immigrants who streamed into Locust Point each month. One, a young German named Frederick Peter Ripken, settled near Aberdeen, opened a general store and started a family. His descendants would lean toward baseball.
It was the age of handlebars: Men with waxy mustaches rode bicycles down cobbled city streets, past saloons and stables and stores like N. Hess’ Sons, which offered free patent leather shoes to any baseball “crank,” or fan, who could predict the outcome of the National League race.
What race? In the summer of 1896, John Philip Sousa played Baltimore, and the Orioles played ball to beat the band.
Baltimore won 90 games, lost only 39 and rolled to the pennant in the National League, then the only league around. Next month, the maestro of that Orioles team, manager Ned Hanlon, a cunning strategist whose clubs won five championships, will be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Five of his players await Hanlon there: John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Willie Keeler, Joe Kelley and Wilbert Robinson.
Tough outs, all. In 1896, that barbershop quintet hit a combined .377, despite a string of setbacks. McGraw contracted typhoid, Jennings was beaned twice and Robinson had part of a finger amputated.
Hanlon weathered all. A short, stout manager who sat on the Orioles bench in a three-button Victorian suit, circa “Life With Father,” Hanlon shuffled lineups, plugged holes and traded for journeymen who became one-year wonders when dressed in orange and black. (McGraw’s replacement, a utility man named Jim Donnelly, hit .328 in his lone summer here — 99 points above his lifetime average.)
Hanlon’s gambles paid off. The Orioles won the league by 9 1/2 games and swept the playoffs.
That Baltimore even had a 19th-century major-league team will surprise some Orioles fans, who thought life began in 1954, when the current club was born. Or 1966, when Baltimore won its first World Series behind the Robinsons, Brooks and Frank.
Not so. Before B. Robby and F. Robby, there was W. Robby, catcher and captain of a conniving, single-minded ballclub whose tactics were as sharp as its spikes.