Tracking early Orioles is no minor quest

John Steadman

May 31, 1991|By John Steadman

Minor-league confinement was difficult for Baltimore (the city) and the Orioles (the team). It lasted 51 years. This was long before expansion, the advent of extensive farm systems and, for a period of time, a then gimmick invention known as night baseball.

Baltimore was put down as a "nickel city," a stop between Philadelphia and Washington, and the mistaken belief it wouldn't support a major-league franchise. That contention, of course, vanished when the St. Louis Browns transferred to Baltimore in 1954 and became forevermore the new Orioles, successful on the field and rich in revenue.

But that half-century in-between, from 1902 through 1953, found the Orioles in two minor leagues -- the Eastern and the International -- both a mere notch below the American and National leagues. It's an era worthy of reflection, highlighted by the fact the Orioles became the winningest team in the history of organized baseball, earning seven pennants in a row.

They produced such remarkable players, headed for big-league renown, as Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, Max Bishop, Jack Ogden, George Earnshaw, Fritz Maisel, Tommy Thomas, Cliff Melton and a litany of others. Had Baltimore been in the major leagues, they would have remained here but were too talented and rightfully gained the advancement their abilities deserved.

Those 51 years of being in the minors so interested Dave Howell, who was born in 1953, the last season before Baltimore regained major-league identity, that he embarked on a one-man mission to find the names of every Oriole who played for the Eastern and International league teams. The total, by actual count, is 869 and there may be more to come.

Howell, an assistant production director at radio station WRC in Washington, used old baseball record books, files at the Library of Congress, the Sporting News, Baltimore newspapers and spent five days at the Baseball Hall of Fame on the research. "It's as complete as it can be," he says, "but that's what I thought six months ago and since then I located four additional players -- Cliff Bolton, Paca Childs, Walter Dickson and Joe Kuhel.

"I found Bolton's name through a publication of the American Society of Baseball Research and Jim Bready gave me Childs. Dickson turned up on a card put out by the American Tobacco Trust in 1910 and Kuhel's career chart showed he was in a handful of games for the Orioles on his way to the Washington Senators."

It wasn't until 1941 that baseball record-keepers included players participating in less than 10 games a season. So it's conceivable that Howell, through no fault of his, hasn't been able find them all. He's interested in Orioles from 1903 to 1953, even if they only batted one time or threw a single pitch.

"Merwin Jacobsen, who I interviewed before he died, said the Orioles had more history than any team in baseball. I agree. I have great appreciation for what happened back then. I am tired of the present modern day players and their million-dollar contracts. The minor-league Orioles under Jack Dunn have a place in history that will never be challenged."

Howell is conversant about when Baltimore operated independently and then had working agreements with the Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns. He lists a Donald Richardson in 1941 but there also was a Jesse Richardson. Could they be one and the same?

Actually, one of the Richardsons -- if there were two -- was Dick Waldt, who withdrew from Calvert Hall and pitched for the Orioles in a game at Montreal under an assumed name because he wanted to protect his amateur standing. It was a ruse that was later uncovered when Richardson pitched so impressively that manager Tommy Thomas had to reveal the truth.

Howell's huge effort to uncover the names of all minor leaguers is so impressive that Bob Brown, director of publications for the Orioles, wants him to submit a report of his findings for one of the team's future programs. You can find references to such Orioles of the past as Nick Etten, Les Powers, Kenny Braun, Howie Moss, Joe Hauser, Bucky Crouse, Ducky Davis, Bob Latshaw, Howie Moss, Harry Imhoff, Bill Dornbusch and 800 others.

Even if they were only an "Oriole for a day," they are linked to a distinguished alumni whose deeds should not be forgotten. Baltimore's baseball heritage is rich because of their presence and the uniform they wore.

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