DIAMOND CROP:Cash has ruled baseball since early days

Phil Jackman

October 09, 1991|By Phil Jackman

There's a well worn expression in the news-gathering business something to the effect that one can't always allow the facts to get in the way of a good story (or theory).

For at least a couple of decades, or since the cathode-ray tube boys showed up with their checkbooks, rumor has it baseball no longer is able to pass the test to qualify as a sport. Maybe you've heard the suggestion the game is strictly business, love of the game is no more and the almighty buck rules supreme.

The problem with accepting this conclusion totally is a fairly decent case can be made for professional ball having always been a business, first and foremost. Examples abound right here in Baltimore where, paradoxically, we're still conducting diamond love-ins.

Next year will see the 100th anniversary of ballparks here as it was in 1892 that Harry Von Der Horst built a field at Huntington (now 25th Street) and Greenmount avenues. Unlike the present generation, Harry took about four seconds, not four months, to come up with the name Union Park.

The reason for the new park was Baltimore had been playing in a loosely constructed operation called the American Association, but it folded and the Orioles were invited into the National League, the lone big league at the time.

Union Park, constructed for the price of a backyard patio these days ($5,000), was expanded from 6,000 to 9,500 seats as the fabulously successful team of John McGraw, Willie Keeler, Wilbert Robinson et al packed them in. Ned Hanlon managed the team that won championships in 1894-95-96 and challenged mightily in other years.

But Hanlon wasn't about to leave well enough alone, particularly when the owner of the Brooklyn franchise died and Ned saw his chance for "advancement." He remained as club president here, nTC but assumed the position of manager in Flatbush, taking many of his best players with him.

Naturally, the O's fortunes suffered and, when the league looked to contract from a dozen to eight teams in 1899, Baltimore was handed a pink slip. Thanks, Ned, hope you made a few extra bucks in Brooklyn.

But not to worry, gang. The American League was on the drawing board as the new century dawned and the president, Ban Johnson, was more than happy to have the Orioles in as a charter member. The man incharge this time was McGraw, another gent whose loyalty could be measured as being in direct proportion to the thickness of his wallet.

McGraw had trouble getting along with anyone, especially the league office. First chance he got, which turned out to come in 1902, he grabbed the managing job of the New York Giants. Meanwhile, the club foundered and the new Oriole Park was nearly empty for games when word leaked out that the team was being shifted to New York (to become the Yankees).

So let's review the last few paragraphs: Ned Hanlon fled these premises, taking players with him, to solidify the Brooklyn franchise. John McGraw snuck away to pump life into the Giants and, the worst of all worlds, it was the Orioles who ended up being the sacrificial lamb that ended up being the Yankees.

Talk about the "New York Syndrome" -- that ghastly series of events of the late 1960s, which saw the Mets win the World Series from the Birds, the Jets shock the Colts in Super Bowl III and the Knicks beat the Bullets annually in the NBA playoffs.

If nothing else, Baltimore would have its baseball no matter what the designation and, thankfully, the city had a man without peer in the, uh, sport, Jack Dunn. For years, the International League proved fine in these parts until Hanlon got the wanderlust again.

Circumstances were such that Ned and several of his friends were persona non grata with both big leagues, so they broke off and formed the Federal League. Hanlon was looking for a place to play when he recalled, ah, Baltimore, that's always been a good ball town.

No doubt to soothe his conscience, Ned did have a ballpark constructed for his renegades. But, on the other hand, he made it abundantly clear it was his design to run the minor-league O's out of business because Terrapin Park went up right across the street from Oriole Park.

The first ever Federal League game was played here, the Terrapins beating Buffalo, 3-2, and a standing-room-only crowd of 23,000 was on hand. Across the street, the Orioles, playing an exhibition against McGraw's Giants, drew a polite gathering of hundreds.

Ultimately, the Orioles took leave and the Terrapins weren't far behind, the Federal League lasting just two campaigns, 1914-15. Strangely, Hanlon's colleagues didn't even tell him the league was folding and, in a pique, Ned decided to sue all of baseball for his predicament of having a team and park but no league to play in.

This turned out to be the famed case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1922, producing the even more famed decision by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that baseball was not governed by the ordinary rules of monopoly and trust.

Of course. The actions of the Perinis, O'Malleys, Stonehams, Charles O. Finley, television and Major League Promotions notwithstanding, we all realize our national game is inviolate and will remain that way forever.

Don't want the facts to get in the way of a good story.

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