June 19, 2013
They may have been the dirtiest team in the history of baseball. They may also have been the most inventive. Beyond question, the Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s rank as one of the most important teams that ever took the field.
It isn't just that the Orioles won, although they did. THey claimed the 1894 pennant with a record of 89-39, followed that with an 87-43 mark (and second championship) in 1895, then won for a third time in 1896 with their best performance of all, 90-39. More than anything, it was the methods the Orioles invented in order to win. They perfected the hit and run play, the double steal, and the bunt single. They also refined the art of cheating. The Orioles knew that the single umpire employed in those days could not possibly see everything. Accordingly, they stored spare balls in the outfield for use in emrgencies. They cut corners when running the bases, and their catcher was known to drop pebbles in the shoes of batters so as to slow them down. A baserunning excursion in Baltimore could resemble a rugby scrum; runners expected to be jostled at first, second and third.
Even so, there was no denying the Orioles' talent. It started with "Wee Willie" Keeler, the outfielder whose mastery at the plate enabled him to post a lifetime .341 average. Keeler's best year was probably 1897 -- he hit .424 -- but selecting one season from Keeler's record is a clear case of choosing among superlatives. Anyway, the best of the three Baltimore teams probably was the 1894 group: Every starter batted at least .303,and the team average, an awe-inspiring .343, may never be surpassed. The Orioles also proved to be a breeding ground for managers. Future dugout leaders included John J. McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson and Kid Gleason. Together, they won 16 pennants.
ELSEWHERE IN BASEBALL
On Memorial Day, Bobby Lowe of the Boston Beaneaters becomes the first player to hit four home runs in one game. The infield fly rule is adopted.
IN THE WORLD
A hurricane strikes the Texas coast Sept. 8; 6,000 are killed in and near Galveston.