40 and 100 years ago: A pair of Oriole milestones

David Howell

August 20, 1993|By David Howell

FORTY years ago today -- yes, in 1953, not 1954 -- the St. Louis Browns came to Baltimore.

The team came here to play the International League Orioles in the second game of a unique doubleheader at still-under-construction Memorial Stadium.

In the first game, the Orioles lost to theirleague rivals, the Montreal Royals, 4-3.

Then they lost the second game to the Browns, 8-2. The crowd of 10,681 saw Don Larsen go the distance in limiting the Flock (as they were then known) to five hits.

Two of those hits were home runs by shortstop Jack "Lucky" Lohrke and first baseman Jack Graham, a former Brownie. Ron Mrozinski and Jack Sanford pitched for the Birds. Third baseman Vern Stephens and shortstop Billy Hunter hit home runs for the Browns.

Hunter, currently athletic director at Towson State University, remembered that game. "That was a big night for me. I hit a home run. Memorial Stadium wasn't in very good shape at the time (due to construction). The infield was as hard as it was in St. Louis. There were a lot of temporary seats. That's probably how I got my home run. There was no outfield fence."

Hunter was asked why the Browns played the Orioles. "Every day we had an off day, we'd play an exhibition game in places like Niles, Ohio, and Pittsburgh to make money. Those were the days when the owners had us under their thumbs.

"I would have hit .250 that year instead of .219 if they counted all the hits I made in those games."

But there was another reason the Browns traveled to Baltimore that day. They were testing the market. Bill Veeck, the Browns' owner, had tried to move his club to Baltimore prior to the start of the 1953 season. The American League turned him down in March. Commissioner Ford Frick thought the move was rejected because it was too close to the start of the season.

That proved not to be the case, though,when the National League approved the move of the Braves from Boston to Milwaukee days later.

Veeck was unpopular with his colleagues who, according to Veeck in his autobiography, "Veeck as in Wreck," were determined to keep him in St. Louis in order to drive him into bankruptcy.

After the game, Browns general manager Rudie Schaffer said, "Baltimore is the best-equipped city to take over a major league franchise. Bill Veeck and I have explored the potential of a number of cities [Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City and Minneapolis]. No city has what Baltimore has to offer -- a stadium seating 50,000 for baseball. I will tell you right now that Baltimore has the inside track to get the Browns franchise, if and when it is shifted."

The Evening Sun reported some of the reactions of the Browns players. Second baseman Bobby Young, a local resident and former Oriole, said, "You know I want to come here. Most of the boys do. It's dead in St. Louis. Everyone who comes to the park is on every player." Young was Billy Hunter's roommate at the time.

Hunter remembered that Young "was just elated that the club was going to move." Outfielder Jim Dyck, also a former Bird and Missouri native, said the players "want to go anywhere, just so they leave St. Louis. We wouldn't be [in] last [place] if we were here."

The only dissenter was SatcheL Paige, who said, "I'd rather go anywhere than come to Baltimore."

PTC Rodger Pippen, sports editor of the News-Post, was concerned about the small crowd. "When the attendance figures were wired across the land, there was no accompanying explanatory note about the construction work in progress and the scarcity of good seats. Baltimore will get an undeserved black eye and its chances for big-league ball will not be enhanced."

That became a moot point on Sept. 29, 1953, as the American

League approved the Browns' move to Baltimore.

David Howell is a radio broadcaster and Orioles fan in Fairfax, Va.

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