A Vote for Dunn’s Orioles

This article was written by Al Kermisch

This article was published in 1977 Baseball Research Journal

  There have been many outstanding minor league clubs during the past one hundred years and selecting one as the greatest of all is a difficult task. In my estimation, however, Jack Dunn’s International League Orioles of 1919 through 1925, winners of seven consecutive pennants, must be ranked with the best of them.

    There was considerable continuity on this club, which Dunn owned as well as managed. Fritz Maisel and Joe Boley played on all seven pennant winners. Otis Lawry, Merwin Jacobson and Jack Ogden played on six, and Max Bishop, Rube Parnham, Harry Frank, Lefty Grove, Dick Porter, and Tommy Thomas played on five.

    It would take a voluminous effort to extol all the virtues of the seven straight champs, but a summation of two seasons of the seven year streak-1920 and 1921-best characterizes the nature of the ball club. During that two-year period, the Orioles won 229 games and lost only 90 for a percentage of .71 8-a truly remarkable record.

    In 1920 the defending champion Orioles were locked in a bitter struggle with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Birds had won 100 of 149 games in 1919 to win the flag by eight games. They were a much better team in 1920, but Toronto, which had won in 1917 and 1918, would not give in. On August 29, the Leafs had a one-game lead over the Orioles and they were winning so consistently that it appeared they would regain the title. Toronto went on to win 20 of its last 22 games which should have been good enough to win any championship going away. The Orioles, however, went them just a little bit better and won their last 25 games in a row to take the flag by one and one-half -one of the greatest stretch drives in all baseball history!

    The Orioles of 1920 hit .318 as a team. Jacobson led the league with a modern International League record of .404, making 235 hits in 581 times at bat. He also led the loop in runs scored with 161. Jack Bentley batted .371 and registered 39 doubles, 12 triples and 20 home runs. Bill Holden hit .352 and led the league in doubles with 49. Wade Lefler, who divided his time at first base, the outfield and behind the bat, batted .336. Veteran Ben Egan, who did most of the catching, hit .331. Maisel hit .3 19 and led the club with 45 stolen bases. Lawry, the left-fielder, batted .3 1 5 while shortstop Boley hit .308. Of the regulars only Bishop failed to reach the .300 mark. He finished at .248 for 122 games.

    Ogden was the big winner among the moundsmen with 27 victories against only nine defeats. Frank, picked off the Baltimore sandlots by Dunn, won 25 and lost 12. Besides playing first base, Bentley, who had his first trial as a pitcher with the Senators in 1913, found his arm had come back and he won 16 of 19 decisions on the days when he wasn’t playing the initial sack. Grove (he was Groves for his entire minor career) joined the club in June and won 12 of his 14 games.

     The Orioles went into the 1921 campaign with practically the same championship cast. Dunn did pick up another pitcher as he claimed Tommy Thomas from Buffalo for the waiver price. Thomas, a Baltimore youth, went to Buffalo right out of high school in 1918. Thomas joined the Bisons rather than the Orioles since his high school coach, Herb Armstrong, was also the shortstop of the Buffalo club. In the player-short year of 1918, Armstrong took Thomas out to Oriole Park one April afternoon to pitch batting practice. Several of the Buffalo pitchers were out of shape and Manager George Wiltse asked Thomas whether he would like to pitch the regular game and the youngster jumped at the chance. Dunn agreed to let the Bisons use Thomas without signing him to a contract. Thomas defeated the Orioles 6-3 in a game shortened to five innings by rain. After graduation Thomas forgot all about going to college and rejoined the Bisons. In three years with Buffalo, he won 30 games and lost 28, but Dunn as usual saw the diamond in the rough and Thomas became a big winner for the Orioles.

     Baltimore started at a slow pace in 1921. On May 19, they had won 15 and lost 10, which had them in first place by one-half game over Newark. On May 20, young Thomas defeated Newark 5-0 on a four-hitter. The Orioles then went on to break their 1920 record by winning 27 games in a row. Couped with the last 25 wins in 1920 it gave the Orioles a record of winning 67 of their last 77 International League games! The end of the streak came with a thud at Oriole Park on June 15. After Grove made it 27 in a row in the first game of a double-header, Buffalo jumped all over the Birds in the second game to the tune of 19 to 8. Thomas, who had started the streak on May 20, was the losing pitcher as the skein ended. Walter Tragesser, the usually light-hitting Buffalo catcher, led the attack on the Birds with six hits in six times at bat.

    The Orioles went on to make shambles of the 1921 race, winning 119 games while losing only 47, for a percentage of .717. The club batted .313 for 167 games. Bentley hit .412 to break Jacobson’s 1920 mark. He had 246 hits in 141 games, and led the league in doubles with 47 and in home runs with 24. He also found time to win 12 of 13 decisions as a pitcher, thereby leading the loop in both hitting and pitching percentages.

    Once again most of the Oriole regulars had outstanding seasons.  Lawry batted .360, Jacobson hit .340 in 167 games and scored 163 runs, Maisel batted .339, and Bishop became a .300 hitter for the first time at .319. Boley played a great game at shortstop, batted .317 and chipped in with 21 triples.

    On the pitching side, Ogden had another great year. He won 31 games, including a string of 18 in a row, and lost only eight. Grove became a 20-game winner for the first time with a record of 25-10 and 254 strikeouts. Thomas also entered the charmed circle for the first time with a 24-10 slate.

    The Orioles kept on winning pennants for another four years.  In 1922 Bentley again led the way with a .351 batting average and 13 victories in 1 5 pitching decisions. At the end of the season he was sold to the New York Giants for $65,000 and three players. In 1923 Rube Parnham had a great year, winning 33 games and losing only seven. He won his last .20 decisions in a row. With a week of the season left, Parnham had 1 8 straight wins and figured to get two more starts for a chance at 20 in a row. But the eccentric Parnham, who had a history of going AWOL, decided to take a week’s vacation, He showed up on the last day of the season and electrified a Sunday crowd in Baltimore by winning both ends of a double-header against Newark-5 to 1 and 13 to 0-to make his 20 in succession.

    Grove had a big year as the Orioles made it six straight pennants in 1924. He won 26 games against only six defeats and was sold to the Philadelphia Athletics for $ 100,600. (It was supposed to be $600 more than the Yankees reportedly paid for Babe Ruth.) The last of the seven successive flags in 1925 was sparked by the pitching of Thomas, Earnshaw and Ogden. The trio accounted for 89 of the club’s 105 wins.  Thomas won 32 games, Earnshaw 29 and Ogden 28. The latter was well on his way to becoming the all-time career winner in the International League.

    The Orioles were finally dethroned in 1926 when Toronto, with ex-Orioles Lena Styles, Tillie Walker and Otis Lawry, and a young Carl Hubbell, in its cast, finished eight games ahead of them. At that, the Orioles won 101 games, the eighth year in a row that they topped the 100-win mark.