From a Researcher’s Notebook: Baltimore, the Eastern Shore, And More (1982)

This article was written by Al Kermisch

This article was published in The National Pastime: Premiere Edition (1982)

Baltimore’s Worst Starts In Years Ending in “2”

It was probably inevitable that the Orioles struggled through their worst start in American League history in 1982, winning only two of their first twelve games. Baltimore’s worst starts in two other major leagues, in which it held membership for more than two years, the American Association and the National League, also occurred in years ending in “2.” Baltimore fielded its first major league team 100 years ago—in 1882—in the newly organized American Association. The Monumental City entry got off to a horrible start. They were 1-8, 2-11, and 3-26, which included a string of 15 consecutive defeats, Baltimore’s all-time major league record—all on the road. This team won only 19 and lost 54 in finishing in last place.

In 1892, when the American Association consolidated with the National League to form one 12-club circuit, Baltimore was one of the entries. The Orioles had finished third in the American Association in 1891 and were expected to give a good account of themselves. George Van Haltren was player-manager of the team, which included Wilbert Robinson, Sadie McMahon, and young John McGraw. But the Birds got off to a miserable start and were 1-16, the worst immediate beginning for a Baltimore major league team. The National League had a split season that year and the Orioles finished last with an overall record of 46-101.

The poor start by the Orioles, however, had a silver lining. Van Haltren relinquished the managerial reigns although he did stay on as a player. He was replaced temporarily by John Waltz, vice-president of the club. However, on May 6 the Orioles signed Ned Hanlon as manager. Within two years Hanlon, who proved to be one of baseball’s shrewdest traders, transformed the Orioles into one of baseball’s most capable and colorful teams.

It was also in a year ending in “2” that the Orioles finished last in the American League for the only time. That was in 1902, the final year that John McGraw managed the club before jumping to the New York Giants of the National League in midseason. The Orioles started off that year as a contender with such players as Joe Kelley, Wilbert Robinson, Joe McGinnity, Roger Bresnahan, Jim Williams, Cy Seymour, Kip Selbach, Dan McGann, Harry Howell, and Tom Hughes. But McGraw couldn’t get along with American League president Ban Johnson. When McGraw left Baltimore, the Orioles were in fifth place but still in contention with a record of 30 wins and 34 defeats. The defection of McGraw, however, led to the rape of the Baltimore club. Bresnahan, McGinnity and McGann followed McGraw to New York, Joe Kelley joined Cincinnati as manager and Seymour went along with him, while Hughes went to the Boston American League club.

With what was left, and players supplied by the other American League teams to fill out the roster, the Orioles gradually fell to the cellar as they were able to win only 20 of their last 74 games. After the 1902 season the franchise was moved to New York and, while the New York Yankees became the most successful team in major league history, the Orioles had to wait 52 years to get back in the league when the St. Louis Browns’ franchise was moved to Baltimore in 1954.

1937 Salisbury Club Proved Mettle

In 1937 the Salisbury, Maryland, club of the Eastern Shore League won the pennant by three and one-half games over the second-place Easton team. They went on to win the playoffs two out of three from Cambridge and three out of five from Centerville, after losing the first two games. These cold statistics, however, do not tell the story behind this courageous team, which was piloted by D’Arcy “Jake” Flowers.

The club started off the season in high gear and on June 19 it was making a runaway of the race with a record of 22 and 5, for an .815 gait. But on the next day, the standings showed Salisbury in last place with a record of 1 win and 26 losses, an .037 percentage! This was no typographical error, for on June 20, Thomas J. Kibler, president of the league, put Salisbury on the bottom of the list for a technical violation. He ordered 21 games the Indians had won to be awarded to the teams defeated.

The technical violation concerned a first baseman by the name of Robert Brady, who was signed as a rookie but was found to be listed in the National Association’s record as a player with one year’s experience. Brady had signed with Harrisburg of the New York-Pennsylvania League in1934 but was released before the season opened. He never played a game nor received a penny from the team. But the Harrisburg club never registered this release with the National Association. Consequently, Salisbury was made to suffer for the negligence of the Harrisburg organization. As soon as Brady’s status was questioned, Salisbury released him. Kibler admitted that he felt the Salisbury club was innocent of any knowing attempt to break league rules, but he stuck to the technicality and would not relent.

So all the Salisbury team did was to go out and win 58 of the next 69 games to end up on top.

Joe Kohlman won 25 and lost only 1 for Salisbury, and threw a no hitter, his second of the season, in the deciding playoff against Centerville. Jorge Comellas was 22-1. The other standouts were second baseman Jerry Lynn, who hit .342; shortstop Frank Trechock, .338; and catcher Fermin “Mike” Guerra, .296. Kohlman got into nine games with the Washington Senators in 1937-38, won his only decision, but had an ERA of 5.27. Comellas was 0-2 for the Chicago Cubs in 1945. Lynn, Trechock, and Guerra each got into one game for the Senators at the tag end of the 1937 campaign. Lynn got 2 hits in 3 at bats, including a double; Trechock was 2-for-4, and Guerra 0-for-3. For Lynn and Trechock that was the extent of their major-league careers. Guerra, however, hung around in the big show for nine years and batted .242.

On the other hand, there were a couple of rookies in the Eastern Shore League in 1937 who left indelible marks in the majors. Mickey Vernon broke in with Easton that year, batting .287 in 83 games. He spent 20 years in the big leagues and hit a solid .286, winning two American League batting titles. And the late Danny Murtaugh, who began with Centerville that season, played nine years in the majors and managed the Pirates for fourteen years, winning two pennants, two world championships, and four divisional titles.

Arlett’s Four-Homer Explosions Fifty Years Ago

In Baltimore’s long history in professional baseball—both major and minor—only one of its players has been able to hit four home runs in a game. . .and that player did it twice within a period of five weeks. It was fifty years ago that Russell “Buzz” Arlett went on his home-run rampage for the International League Orioles. Both of Arlett’s four-homer performances came against the Reading club, the first outburst on the road and the second at home.  His first big day took place on Wednesday, June 1, 1932, when he hit four consecutive home runs, with a base on balls sandwiched in between, as the Orioles outlasted the Reading Keys 14-13. Arlett scored five runs and batted in seven. His first three circuit clouts were hit lefthanded off righthander Clayton Van Alstyne and the last one righthanded off southpaw Carroll Yerkes. All went over the right-field fence. Arlett’s first home run came as leadoff batter in the second inning. His second came in the third inning with two on. He walked in the fifth inning and scored on a home run by Frank McGowan.

His third came in the sixth inning with the bases empty, and his fourth homer, in the eighth frame, came with one on and was the margin of victory.

Arlett’s next home-run explosion came on Monday, July 4, 1932 as the Orioles swamped Reading 21-10 in the first game of a twin bill at Oriole Park. He celebrated the holiday by hitting four home runs in a row after striking out in his first time at bat. This time he reversed the procedure of June 1, hitting the first one righthanded and the other three from the left side. In the second frame Buzz hit a grand-slam home run off Yerkes. He hit his second off Emery Zumbro in the fifth inning with one on. His final two home runs came off Buck Newsom, with the bases empty in the seventh and one on in the eighth. The Orioles scored 11 runs in the eighth and Buzz got a chance for a fifth home run, but he popped to the infield. Arlett did make it five circuit smashes for the day when he blasted one off Van Alstyne in the fifth inning of the nightcap.

“First World Series” Just Exhibitions

Some historians would have you believe that the major leagues’ first World Series took place 100 years ago when the Cincinnati Reds, the first champions of the American Association, played host to Cap Anson’s Chicago club, National League winners. The clubs played two games, the Reds winning 2-0 before 2,700 on Friday, October 6, 1882, and Chicago winning 2-0 the next day before a crowd of 4,500. As the story goes, Denny McKnight, president of the American Association, then stepped in and notified the Cincinnati club that it would be expelled if the games continued and as a result the series was abandoned. This makes a good story but it is not based on fact. Although supporters of the Cincinnati club were anxious to see the Reds in action against National League opposition, there seemed to be little chance of it happening since it was against the constitution of the Association and could result in expulsion.

A wealthy Cincinnati booster came up with an idea that would make exhibition games with National League clubs possible. Since the Cincinnati players’ salaries ran to October 15, the gentleman made an offer to assume responsibility for the remainder of the players’ salaries after October 1 (amounting to about $4,000) if the club would turn over all the players to him, including release of the players. This proposition looked good to the club officials, since it would produce a big saving, and they readily agreed. The players also agreed to take their releases on October 1 and for two weeks remain in the employ of the wealthy benefactor. Thus the Cincinnati club had no official status and was enabled to circumvent the American Association ban on playing N.L. teams.

Exhibition games were then arranged with Cleveland and Chicago. The Reds lost two out of three to Cleveland before Chicago came in for the two games as mentioned above. There wasn’t any abrupt ending to this series. Two games were all that were scheduled and the clubs could not have continued the series even had they wanted to. The Reds were scheduled to play an exhibition game in St. Louis on October 8, while Chicago had to depart for Providence, where they were to start a nine-game exhibition series against the second place Providence club on October 10.

When the latter series was first proposed at a special meeting of the National League in September, it appeared it would be a series to decide the league championship. Earlier the National League had announced that the Troy and Worcester clubs were to be dropped in 1883, upon which these clubs threatened to drop out before the end of the season. This could have resulted in revision of the standings to exclude the games played with those clubs and could have deprived Chicago of the championship. Hence, the nine-game series for the title was planned. But Troy and Worcester did finish out the season, and Chicago was the winner by three games. Providence still wanted to have the nine-game series decide the title but finally agreed to play the contests as exhibitions. Three games were played in Providence, one in New York, four in Chicago, and one at Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The series was hampered by bad weather and was poorly attended. Chicago finally prevailed, five games to four.

Ty Cobb’s 4,000th Hit A Routine Affair

Pete Rose, the Phils’ superstar who hopes to play long enough to surpass Ty Cobb’s major-league record of 4,191 hits, or at least become the second player to reach the 4,000 mark, passed his 41st birthday on April 14, 1982. Cobb was 41 years and 7 months old to the day when he registered what was then considered to be his 4,000th hit at Detroit on July 18, 1927. Cobb, who was then with the Philadelphia Athletics after spending 22 years with the Tigers, doubled in the first inning off Sam Gibson but Detroit beat the A’s and Lefty Grove 5-3.

If Rose ever gets close to the 4,000 mark, television, radio and newspaper coverage probably will be unprecedented. When Cobb made his “4,000th” hit many papers, except for those in Detroit and Philadelphia, didn’t even bother to mention it.

AL KERMISCH, a retired colonel, had his first baseball article published in 1939.