Monday, September 29, was the last day of the American League’s 1902 season. The National League wrapped up its season with a Sunday doubleheader in St. Louis on October 5. There was only the one game in the AL played on the 29th. The last-place Baltimore Orioles hosted the Boston Americans, who were in third place, seven games behind the champion Philadelphia Athletics. The game meant nothing for either team in terms of its place in the standings.
Both teams were led by future Hall of Famers. Catcher Wilbert Robinson had taken over from John McGraw as manager of the Orioles around the end of June.1 This September game was Robinson’s last as a player. Jimmy Collins managed the Bostons. Collins played third base and managed for the next four seasons.2
The game was played in an atmosphere that was “almost like a funeral,” as described by a subhead in the Baltimore Sun.3 The Coal Miners Glee Club was on hand to entertain the crowd, but the crowd itself numbered a scant 138, said the Sun. The Orioles’ season had fallen apart. There had been optimism at the outset, but while “starting full of hope last April,” the team’s “best players were repeatedly laid off on charges of misbehavior on the ball field.”
The Sun hinted at a conspiracy theory that may have obtained: “These things may not have been intended for the obliteration or removal of the club, but they would have made a good starter if such an object had been intended. Next came injuries to players, and next a match of wits between President Johnson, of the American League, and Manager McGraw, of the Orioles. … McGraw left and disrupted the playing strength of the nine. Patchwork was tried. It has failed.”
It had been learned in late August that the AL planned to field a team in New York City, and not field one in Baltimore.4 That home games later in the season drew small crowds was not surprising.
The Orioles had lost the season opener, in Boston, on April 19, when the Bostons scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth and won, 7-6. There had been such turnover on the Baltimore ballclub during the season that Robinson was the only player in the lineup for both the first and last games of the Orioles’ season. Indeed, at the tipping point of the midseason turmoil, the Orioles had forfeited their July 17 home game to the visiting St. Louis Browns because only five players had come to American League Park for the game. The club itself therefore forfeited its franchise “by failure of the team to appear for play.”5
The league acted quickly, and the same newspaper article reported that “a new team has been gotten together with the assistance of the other clubs in the organization.”6 For instance, pitcher Lewis “Snake” Wiltse – who started the September 29 game for the Orioles – was “contributed” by the Philadelphia Athletics. Jack Katoll, the left fielder in the last game, had been contributed by the Chicago White Sox. Harry Arndt came from Detroit, and Lew Drill from Washington.
The Orioles played on July 18 with what the St. Louis Post-Dispatch referred to as an “improvised Baltimore aggregation.”7 Ban Johnson was on hand in Baltimore and planned to stay for a while, “directing the affairs.”8
The September 30 Boston Globe was understandably not impressed with the competition. “To win from the disorganized Orioles was the easiest sort of task for Collins’ men, and they did it with such complete ease that the game was totally lacking in interest.”9
Lefty Snake Wiltse started for the Orioles. Right-hander Tully Sparks pitched for the visitors. But, said the Globe, “Selbach, Gilbert, and Williams were out of the game, and Wiltse knew that the team for which he was pitching had no earthly chance to win.”10 Kip Selbach was the regular left fielder, Billy Gilbert the shortstop, and Jimmy Williams the second baseman. Pitcher Jack Katoll played left field. Another pitcher, Ike Butler, played eight field.
Still, it was a game. Boston batted first and scored twice in the top of the first inning on singles by Patsy Dougherty and Buck Freeman and an error by third baseman Jimmy Mathison. Baltimore scored once in the second. In the third inning, though, Boston scored five times. Dougherty, Freddy Parent, Chick Stahl, Buck Freeman, and pitcher Tom Hughes (who played right field in the game) each collected base hits which, combined with Orioles errors, resulted in the five runs. It was a relatively error-free game for the times; each team committed three.
The Orioles put across another run in the bottom of the fourth on base hits by Harry Arndt and Jimmy Mathison, and a sacrifice fly by Wiltse. They added two more in the sixth when Arndt walked and Mathison singled to left, Arndt reaching third base and Mathison taking second on a bad throw in by Dougherty. Then Robinson doubled to deep left field, driving them both in.
The Orioles scored another run in the bottom of the seventh when Katoll singled and Harry Howell doubled to center field. Two outs followed, but then Katoll scored on a throw that Parent dropped. It was 7-5, not at all a game that appeared quite as hopeless as both major newspapers seemed to suggest. Though the gap had closed to two runs, however, there was an evident lack of anything approaching excitement in the “crowd” – which numbered only about five times the combined number of the two ballclubs. A dispatch to the Boston Herald dubbed it “a listless, careless event.”11
Boston scored twice in the top of the eighth to pad its lead, and that ended the scoring.
The Orioles had 11 base hits in the game, three of them by Robinson. Katoll, Howell, and Arndt each had a pair. For Boston, Patsy Dougherty’s 5-for-5, all singles, accounted for a third of Boston’s 15 hits. Stahl, Freeman, and catcher Lou Criger each had two base hits. Sparks had a two-base hit, the only one for extra bases for the Americans.
Wiltse struck out two; Sparks stuck out three. Each pitcher walked one. There were six stolen bases in the game, five of them by Boston.
Tommy Connolly was the umpire. The game lasted 1:30.
It had to be depressing to have only 138 fans in attendance. The Glee Club “chirruped” their best songs, but “their notes went up into the big, empty grandstand, mixed up with the rafters there and returned by the echo route, sound like a dirge for the departed glories of baseball in old Championtown.”12
These were, indeed, two teams going in very different directions. One to become a world champion team the very next year, and the other to something like oblivion. Or New York City.
When it was all over, it was all over, “and the Baltimore club had ended the most disastrous season in its career. It finished, for the first time since it had learned the delights of championship, absolutely in last place.”13 The Orioles finished at 50-88, 34 games out of first place. Ominously, the hometown paper suggested that the team “may fall off the map.”14
And so it did. The 1903 season was without major-league baseball in Baltimore. The franchise had been forfeited, and Ban Johnson had overseen the formation of a new eighth team in the American League, in New York City, known as the Highlanders and later the New York Yankees. That new team became one of some renown, though it wasn’t until 1923 that it won its first World Series.15
It was only in 1903 that the World Series as we now know it began. It was the Boston Americans who won that World’s Series (as it was called) from the Pittsburgh Pirates, becoming the first World Series champions in baseball. Boston won the American League pennant again in 1904, and John McGraw’s Giants declined to play them, effectively allowing Boston to remain as world champions until the World Series became an annual event in 1905.
There was baseball played in Baltimore, of course, but the city did not have its own major-league team until more than half a century later, when the St. Louis Browns franchise relocated to Baltimore in time for the 1954 season.16
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author relied on Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org. Thanks to David B. Stinson and John Thorn for suggestions for greatly improving this article.
1 After several serious disagreements with AL President Ban Johnson, McGraw was “suspended indefinitely” by Johnson. McGraw negotiated his unconditional release to the Baltimore club and essentially jumped back to the National League, leaving the Orioles in midseason to become the third manager of the 1902 season for the New York Giants. See some of the background in John Thorn, “The House That McGraw Built,” ourgamemlblogs.com, February 29, 2012. ourgame.mlblogs.com/the-house-that-mcgraw-built-2bf6f75aa8dc. Regarding McGraw’s suspension, Burt Solomon wrote: “McGraw had counted on being suspended – planned on it, in fact. Ten days earlier he had slipped away to New York at Andrew Freedman‘s invitation. They had met in the Tammany man’s private office. When McGraw brought his lawyer in, Freedman objected to discussing private business before a stranger. Mac insisted that if Freedman’s clerks could sit in the next room and listen, his lawyer could sit in, too.
“Freedman had a scheme in mind – to snatch John McGraw and Joe Kelley for the National League. Even Freedman’s enemies among the National League magnates had seen the genius in the plan. It would cripple the American League. McGraw, more than anyone, had turned the Western League into the American League by giving it a strong eastern presence. Luring him back to the National League was something Freedman’s colleagues would help him pay for. As a war measure, so to speak.” Burt Solomon, Where They Ain’t, The Fabled Life And Untimely Death of the Original Baltimore Orioles, The Team That Gave Birth to Modern Baseball (New York: The Free Press, 1999), 226-231.
2 His last game was August 25, 1906. At that point, with the team 35-79, Chick Stahl took over as manager. The team went 14-26 under Stahl, who committed suicide during spring training in 1907. Robinson later managed the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1914 to 1931, during which time they were sometimes known as the Robins, in his honor.
3 “Farewell Baseball,” Baltimore Sun, September 30, 1902: 6. All quotations from the Sun come from this article.
4 John Thorn writes, “On August 25, Johnson announced what McGraw had already known: the AL’s intention to move the Orioles to New York in 1903, with Clark Griffith as the Americans’ manager.” John Thorn, “The House That McGraw Built.” The planned New York AL team was already being assembled at the time. See “Signs Players for New York,” Chicago Tribune, August 27, 1902: 6.
5 “New Club Ready,” Boston Globe, July 18, 1902: 5.
6 “New Club Ready.”
7 “Burkett’s Star Catch Gave Browns Victory,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 19, 1902: 3. James H. Bready wrote, “[W]ith a roar, Johnson declared Baltimore’s franchise forfeited to the league. The AL’s founder-president moved in a ragtag of utility men from other teams to play out the season. Wilbert Robinson was left in charge (at ballpark and bistro).” James H. Bready, Baseball In Baltimore, The First 100 Years (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1998), 106-113.
8 “On a Firm Footing,” Boston Globe, July 19, 1902: 5.
9 “Last of the Season,” Boston Globe, September 30, 1902: 5.
10 “Last of the Season.”
11 “Boston’s Last Game,” Boston Herald, September 30, 1902: 5.
12 “Farewell Baseball.”
13 “Farewell Baseball.”
14 “Farewell Baseball.”
15 The Highlanders were not the Orioles reconstituted. Griffith was the manager. Only five players on the 1903 Highlanders had been on the 1902 Orioles – Ernie Courtney, Harry Howell, Herm McFarland, Jimmy Williams, and Snake Wiltse.
16 David B. Stinson points out that McGraw and Robinson, along with other principals at the time – Ned Hanlon and Joe Kelley all ended up back in Baltimore – at New Cathedral Cemetery. See David B. Stinson, “New Cathedral Cemetery and the Four Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles,” March 21, 2012, at davidbstinsonauthor.com/2012/03/21/new-cathedral-cemetery-and-the-four-hall-of-fame-baltimore-orioles/.