Cieradkowski: Ford Meadows: Better than The Babe

From SABR member Gary Cieradkowski at The Infinite Baseball Card Set on March 26, 2013:

I love those “what if?” questions in history. You know, those major events in history that hinged on one minor and insignificant event or individual: what if Hitler had gotten into art school or what would America be like now if Lee Oswald was a lousy shot? Baseball has plenty of those great “what if’s” as well, and it was one of those minor turn of events that gave the game its greatest player.

In the spring of 1914, Baltimore Orioles owner and manager Jack Dunn looked over his roster for the coming season and knew he had a problem – left-handed pitching, or more precisely, the lack of it. Fortunately Baltimore and the surrounding countryside was an untapped gold mine of amateur talent. Though the city had a major port, world-class universities and a many top-notch semi-pro teams, Baltimore’s pool of ballplayers was often overlooked due to the close proximity of Washington, Philadelphia and New York City. For years the savvy Jack Dunn had it all to himself and he was famous for his meticulous scouting of local talent. When the time came for him to fill that left-handed spot in his pitching rotation Jack Dunn knew exactly who he wanted.

For a year Dunn had been following a local 19 year-old student at an Xaverian school who was mowing down every team he pitched against. He was a big fella and like most left-handers had a bit of a reputation for being a bit eccentric. To Dunn, a veteran judge of baseball talent, this kid was one of the greatest lefties he’d ever seen. In early February of 1914 the Orioles owner took his former third baseman and now New York Yankee Fritz Maisel along to talk to the Brothers who ran the school the young phenom attended. Dunn figured that by bringing along Maisel, a local boy, would make it easier to get the Xaverians to give up their star player if they could see that being signed by the Orioles was a stepping stone to the big time.

Brother Gilbert, the school’s baseball coach and athletics director, met with the two men apprehensively. While one one hand he wanted the young man to succeed, on the other he also wanted a winning ball club for the upcoming season and this kid was his ace. Brother Gilbert thought about how he could keep him for just one more season and settled on the old bait and switch tactic.

Check out Gary’s original baseball card illustrations and read the full article here:

Originally published: April 3, 2013. Last Updated: April 3, 2013.