Hall should manage to find spot for Hanlon, early master strategist

John Steadman

March 09, 1992|By John Steadman

No manager in the storied history of baseball has approached the contributions of Ned Hanlon, who gave the Baltimore Orioles their first measure of attention. His imagination in conceiving and implementing early strategy -- such as the hit-and-run play, the "squeeze" and cutting off the catcher's throw on an attempted double steal -- singularly elevated the game to a new level of mental and physical application.

Yet Hanlon isn't in the Baseball Hall of Fame, which seems a grievous omission. When his credits are measured against those of other managers, there's little reason for comparison. No doubt, Earl Weaver, who came to the Orioles in a more modern time frame, is a worthy candidate for the same Hall of Fame honor. That's not to be disputed.

But Weaver doesn't own the longevity or pennant-winning success of Hanlon. And, of course, he didn't invent a new way to play the game -- which is Hanlon's most notable achievement. The term "inside baseball" was first attached to Hanlon's Orioles.

And six of his players went on to become major-league managers, namely John McGraw, Hugh Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, Joe Kelley, Bill "Kid" Gleason and Frank Bowerman. They were missionaries who carried the Hanlon theories to other cities and, thus, spread the Oriole gospel. He also touched the career of Jack Dunn, who left Hanlon's 1899-1900 National League team, and as a later Baltimore manager, put together the greatest winning dynasty baseballl has ever known -- the International League Orioles, who won seven consecutive pennants.

In the Hanlon era, managers were invested with the authority to make trades. And his ability to render astute talent judgments led to the acquisition of Wee Willie Keeler, Dan Brouthers, Steve Brodie, Gleason, Jennings and Kelley, among others. Jennings was batting .148 at Louisville and Tim O'Rourke was hitting .397 in Baltimore when he made the deal.

But Hanlon saw something that was to make Jennings a Hall of Fame player. The same with Keeler, Brouthers and others. "Foxy Ned," as Hanlon was called, knew something about teaching hitting and advocated stroking the ball to all fields. "Always remember it," he told McGraw.

On an overall winning managerial percentage, Hanlon has .530 over 19 years; Weaver .583 for 17 seasons and Billy Southworth .593 for 13 campaigns. And then there are two other commendable careers for the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee to consider: Frank Selee (.598) and Leo Durocher (.540). It presents a difficult puzzle.

Why hasn't Hanlon, with all the color and attention he created, plus contributions and success, been tabbed for the highest citation baseball confers? He last managed in 1907 and died in 1937. But it's not that his achievements have been buried in the record book.

Could it be because the style of baseball the Orioles of the 1890s played, such as sometimes intentionally spiking the opposition, holding up runners trying to tag after a fly ball, letting the third-base coach break for the plate when the bag was occupied to disturb the pitcher and other contrived tricks, are regarded as mortal sins -- never to be forgiven?

But, in truth, that's the way the game was played a century ago. Even a gentle gentleman named Connie Mack, revered as a baseball saint, was criticized for utilizing some of the same tactics. It was pure "gamesmanship." A different time, too, before social refinement made us a world that was slowly sophisticating itself with proper manners and more formal courtesies.

In his personal life, Hanlon was an exemplary citizen who served as a member of the Baltimore Park Board, which was instrumental in creating the city's first stadium, in 1922. He lost a son in World War II at the pivotal battle of Marne.

As a player, Ned spent 13 years in the majors playing six different positions. Mack, a dugout rival, said he was the best manager of the 19th century. Hanlon was able to contribute in a thoroughly diversified way -- as a player, manager, even an owner, when he held stock in both the Baltimore and Brooklyn clubs of the National League, which was then legal.

He also was president of the Orioles when they were in the Eastern League, 1908 and 1909, and then was the highest investor in the Baltimore Terrapins in 1914, the first year of the ill-fated Federal League. Hanlon's resume is imposing. His accomplishments, highlighted by strategical methods that altered the way the sport is played, make him an old Oriole whose time for attaining lasting recognition is worthy of sincere consideration.

With utmost respect to Weaver, Durocher, Southworth and Selee, they came much later to manage the game Hanlon conceived, crafted and left to them as a professional legacy.

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