The 1944 Junior World Series

October 12, 1994|By David Howell

WERE IT NOT for the major-league baseball strike many of us would be eagerly anticipating the outcome of the World Series by now. Would the Orioles have made it? Since that's impossible to know, let's go back 50 years ago this week when the Baltimore Orioles (the minor-league version) won a championship the old Municipal Stadium. The world was still at war in 1944. The news from the fronts indicated that the Allies were closing in on the Germans and that the Japanese were being beaten, too.

Baseball saw an all-St. Louis major-league World Series as the Browns won their only American League pennant and met their stadium tenants, the Cardinals, for the championship. (The Browns would move to Baltimore a decade later and assume the Orioles' name bringing the long-denied city major-league baseball.)

Baltimore, which in 1944 was filled with defense-industry workers RTC eager for recreation, was eager for a pennant winner of its own.

The International League Orioles pleased their fans by winning the pennant by beating Newark, a Yankee farm team. That propelled them into the Junior World Series for the first time since 1925.

Their foe from the American Association was the Louisville Colonels, third-place finishers in their league, but playoff winners.

The series opened in Louisville on Friday, Oct. 6. The Orioles started poorly as the Colonels pounded pitcher Bo Palica for 10 hits in five innings. Catcher Sherm Lollar got two of the Orioles' five hits, but the Orioles lost, 5-3.

Sherm Lollar's fourth-inning grand slam led the Orioles to an eight-run inning as they swamped Louisville, 11-0, in Game 2. Red Embree struck out 10 Colonels and allowed but six hits.

Game 3 was the longest by the number of innings in Junior World Series history at that time as the Orioles outlasted the Colonels, 7-4, in 14 innings. Outfielder Howie Moss' two-run homer tied the game in the sixth. First baseman Bob Latshaw scored the winning run on outfielder Felix Mackiewicz's fourth hit of the game. Stan West got the win. The Orioles returned home leading the series, 2-1.

The next evening 52,833 paying fans crowded the old Municipal Stadium for Game 4. Many thousands more got in when a gate was knocked over by the throng trying to get inside. The crowd was larger than the attendance for the final game of the Browns-Cardinals World Series.

The Birds let their fans down, though, by losing, 5-4. The Colonels led 5-0 after four innings. The Birds scored three runs in their half of the sixth on Bob Latshaw's triple. Latshaw then scored the Orioles final run in the ninth on a throwing error by Louisville's third baseman, but the rally fell short. The series was tied at two games each. Hal Kleine took the loss.

Before the game, Orioles shortstop Kenny Braun was given a war bond by the Maryland chapter of the American Legion. He had played Legion ball in Louisville that summer before signing with Baltimore.

The Orioles regained the series lead the next night as they shut out the Colonels, 10-0. Red Embree gave up only four hits and struck out six as he won his second game of the series. Second baseman Blas Monaco had three hits, including a home run, three RBIs and scored three times. Third baseman Frank Skaff also had three hits.

Wednesday, Oct. 11, proved to be a red letter day in Baltimore as the Orioles won the Junior World Series by defeating Louisville, 5-3. It was the first time since 1928 that an International League team had won the pennant, the playoffs and the series. Three runs in the seventh iced the game for the Orioles. Bo Palica got the win in relief.

As left-fielder Stan Benjamin caught the ball for the final out of the series, the fans, "like water pouring over the dam," reported The Sun, stormed the field to get to their heroes. Trainer Eddie Weidner was at the clubhouse door to let the players in before they were trampled by their adoring fans.

After the game, Mayor Theodore H. McKeldin fired off a telegram to his St. Louis counterpart challenging the Cardinals to play the Orioles in Baltimore with proceeds to go to the war chest community funds of both cities.

"We guarantee a larger attendance than any World Series game of this year." The Cardinals, however, declined.

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

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