By Marty Appel
Before they slipped into their current funk, the Baltimore Orioles were considered one of the classiest, best-run organizations in baseball by those who worked in the game. And as if often the case with such reputations, published material, either by the team or by outsiders reflected that.
The Orioles team publications were always top tier, but one privately published book was especially well done, even if lacking in brilliant design or composition.
Called “The Home Team,” and written by James H. Bready, the edition I own was published in 1979, the team’s 25th anniversary in its current incarnation. Earlier editions had been produced in 1958 and 1971. Bready, now 91 and retired, was a long time Baltimore Sun columnist and still an active SABR member. Born in Philadelphia, raised as a Phillies and Athletics fan, he moved to Baltimore after World War II, and has watched the Orioles since they reentered the American League in 1954. He also put in 61 years at the Sun.
I say current incarnation because Baltimore has been mixed and matched through so many leagues over the years. They began in the National Association in 1872, emerged in the American Association in 1882, participated in the Union Association in 1884 and the Eastern League that same year. They emerged in the American Association again in 1885, the Atlantic Association in 1890, the National League from 1892-1899 (where they won several Temple Cup series and achieved the greatest fame of any 19th century team).
Then they were there at the start of the American League, 1901-02, before the franchise collapsed and reappeared as the New York Highlanders (later Yankees) in 1903. That same year they found themselves back in the Eastern League, which became the International League, and there was a Baltimore team in the Federal League of 1914-15, the Terrapins. The International League team went on through 1953, and it is where Babe Ruth prepped for the Red Sox and where Lefty Grove prepped (for several years) for the Athletics. And there were the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro National League. Finally, in 1954, the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore, the Orioles were revived, and continue to this day, playing in the first of the great modern ballparks, Camden Yards.
The Orioles started to compete for real under Paul Richards with his “Baby Birds” pitching staff in the early ‘60s, (when Milt Pappas, Steve Barber, Chuck Estrada, Jerry Walker and Jack Fisher all came along around the same time), and they won a world championship in 1966 for Hank Bauer, and then three straight pennants and a world series under Earl Weaver, 1969-71.
It’s all chronicled in words and pictures in this 9 ½ x 12 book, which received an assist from the great Bob Brown, the Orioles longtime PR Director, among others.
Compiled completed out of black and white photos, drawings, ads, bumper stickers, newspaper reproductions, editorial cartoons, annual rosters, and ticket reproductions. The book also credits Charles Devaud as art director and Stephen Bready for photographer, with Christopher Bready getting an acknowledgment and obviously making this a family affair, and a project with a lot of love behind it.
The 19th century Orioles, celebrated here, included John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Wee Willie Keeler, Dan Brouthers, Joe Kelley, Hughey Jennings, and manager Ned Hanlon, Hall of Famers all and properly recalled here as one of the great teams in baseball history.
Bready was schooled at Haverford and Harvard. He came back in 1998 with Baseball in Baltimore, the First 100 Years (Johns Hopkins University Press), sealing his reputation as an outstanding historian on the subject. How did The Home Team do? “We made a few bucks, that’s all,” he laughed, when we spoke to him in his Baltimore home.
Bob Brown’s Orioles yearbooks and media guides, and the organization’s long recognized care and outreach for team alumni, has been well recognized by baseball scholars, and the state of the Birds these days is universally grieved in the baseball community. This was a first rate franchise, and its embrace of its roots along with its celebration of its development (largely under Lee MacPhail, Harry Dalton, Frank Cashen and Hank Peters) deserves to be fondly recalled.
With “outsiders” like James Bready chronicling the team’s history, it was long in good hands even from its observers.