40 and 100 years ago: A pair of Oriole milestones

James H. Bready

August 20, 1993|By James H. Bready

ONE hundred years ago, Bill Hawke of the Orioles pitched a 5-0 shutout over the Senators in Washington. It was a midweek afternoon game, typical of the 19th century. Paid attendance: 872. The Orioles were battling the St. Louis Browns for eighth place (in the 12-team National League of the 1890s); Washington was a fixture in last place.

The next day's Baltimore newspapers, however, raised a fuss. "Hawke Invincible." said the Morning Herald, while The Sun permitted itself an exclamation point instead of a period, "Hurrah for Hawke!"

Only at the American did the headline writer make it instantly clear what had happened: "Not One Hit Off Hawke."

The term no-hitter was not yet in use. Our team was still being referred to half the time as "the Baltimores." The Sun, indeed, still hyphenated the game name: base-ball. Washington's lineup that day included three solid hitters: catcher Duke Farrell and outfielders Jim O'Rourke, now in the Hall of Fame, and Dummy Hoy, one of the (politically incorrect) time's several deaf-mute players.

There was but one umpire -- and he meted out quick justice. When John McGraw "kicked" (i.e., protested a strike call), umpire Bob Emslie fined him on the spot, $5.

Quaintness aside, more and more baseball students now accept 1893 as the start of the modern era. That spring, when play began, the pitcher was moved 10 1/2 feet farther away from the batter. At the previous 50-foot distance, cannonball pitchers were dominating. Sixty feet (and an unintended 6 inches more) evened things. Organized baseball has made all manner of small changes since 1893, but the infield measurements have become more or less an article of the U.S. Constitution.

At first, while defense struggled to adjust, offense boomed. The lowest 1893 earned run average was 3.18. Across today's 162-game season, 800 runs generally guarantee a division championship. The 1894 Orioles (89 wins, 39 losses) scored 1,171 runs. Bill Hawke's 5-0 triumph was the Orioles' first and only shutout that year -- and, at the new distance, the first no-hitter by anybody.

It would be more than four years before another major-league no-hitter happened. Cy Young pitched it.

The American identified Hawke, a 23-year-old righthander, as "the Elkton twirler." He had played for Elkton's town team, but his place of birth and death (at 32, in an accident) was Delaware; his descendants live in Wilmington. He had only three major-league seasons. The Aug. 16 game was his apex.

Today, much of the fun in reliving Bill Hawke's feat is in seeing how the press handled it. No pennant chase, no franchise rights energized Baltimore's three morning dailies; but they competed as scrappily as any baseball nine. American and Herald ran game accounts routinely on Page 1. The Sun's story was inside on Page 6.

Hawke faced only 28 batters that day. His specialty was his "drop ball," probably a curve. After taking the train home, Hawke's catcher, Wilbert Robinson, and Robby's understudy, Bill Clarke, went out in a boat. They caught enough fish "to supply their own families and that of Manager [Ned] Hanlon," proving themselves "to be good catchers." Each of these three details (including the fishing pun) is from a different paper.

Yet the biggest difference between then and now is perhaps, in 1993's term, the data base. The Sun did try, in a brief separate commentary, to highlight the event, calling it "the best record which any pitcher has made in nine innings. . . . Hawke's performance yesterday established a world's record."

Well, not quite.

Today's writer or broadcaster, transported a century back in time but with 1993's data base, could have turned instantly to one of three rival baseball encyclopedias and learned that Hawke's no-hitter was the 33rd since the major-league baseball began in 1871. Matt Kilroy, star lefthander of the 1880s Baltimores, had thrown one seven years before. Tony Mullane, a teammate of Hawke's, had thrown one.

What none of the home-town dispatches mentioned was, of course, the new pitcher-home plate distance.

James H. Bready, retired Evening Sun editorial writer, is the Orioles' historian.

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