Shortchanged Hanlon brought baseball riches

February 15, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

When the illustrious achievements of Ned Hanlon are measured under the microscope, it's difficult to comprehend why he has been passed over for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the highest honor the game bestows. This is not an indictment of omission but rather a regrettable statement of fact.

Hanlon has an imposing record . . . the leader and architect of five pennant-winning teams in Baltimore and Brooklyn during a 19-year managing career; endorsement as the father of what evolved into the modern strategy; and an exemplary role as a civic leader in Baltimore.

He also committed what was once regarded as an unpardonable sin. He sued baseball.

But, with a touch of irony, instead of being vilified for that, he should be elevated to a position of everlasting gratitude since it was because of Hanlon -- and only him -- that the game has enjoyed its landmark exemption from the nation's antitrust laws, the only sport so favored.

Baseball is in Hanlon's debt, or should be. Had it not been that he entered suit against the major leagues for what was an atrocious act of monetary discrimination, the national pastime wouldn't have been able to operate outside the laws of the land for the past 70 years.

This historical development has in a strange way worked against Hanlon and discouraged earlier Hall of Fame veterans' committees to ignore the Baltimore Orioles manager who created the most dominant and colorful of all teams before the turn of the century. They were known as the "Old Orioles," unyielding, innovative, resourceful and successful.

Hanlon loved baseball so much that after his accomplishments in Baltimore and Brooklyn, he put his faith and finances in owning Baltimore teams in the Eastern and International leagues and also in the Federal League, the abortive attempt to create a third major circuit. Right here is the crux of why he has up to now been ostracized.

Taking baseball into the courts was akin, in a world that was once as simplistic as it is now complex, to trampling on the American flag or damning motherhood.

With his admiration for his adopted hometown of Baltimore, after coming from Montville, Conn., Hanlon entered the city in the Federal League of 1914 as a serious financial backer. He was, in the ill-fated effort, to lose more money than any investor in the entire league.

The majors later embraced some Federal League cities and indemnified others, but not Baltimore. It was the odd city out. Hanlon wanted similar consideration but was rejected. His only recourse was the courts and, as he took action, he didn't realize he was creating a cause celebre.

He lost there, too, when Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, $l eventually writing the opinion for the Supreme Court, ruled in 1922 that baseball was a sport, not a business. This meant Hanlon was shut out, receiving nothing for what seems in retrospect a reasonable request. Right there is the genesis for baseball's coveted dispensation, meaning it doesn't have to comply as other businesses are compelled to do.

Instead of being rewarded and viewed in the context of what he contributed, Hanlon has been given the silent treatment. He died at age 80 in Baltimore in 1937 and is buried in New Cathedral Cemetery, pop-fly distance from where two of his famous proteges repose, John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, both members of the Hall of Fame.

From 1921 until he died, Hanlon was a member of the important Baltimore Park Board and chairman for nine years. A son, Joseph, was killed in World War I and Hanlon Park, in the northeast area of the city, was named for him.

The Hanlon personality identified the 1890 Orioles, when they won three straight championships, as an early version of the swashbuckling St. Louis Cardinals, the celebrated "Gas House Gang."

Hanlon originated what's known as "inside baseball," and created the hit-and-run play and delayed steal. Also, according to the late, respected historian Lee Allen, he invented the platoon system.

Perhaps the richest testimonial of all came from Connie Mack, who admitted Hanlon taught him how to manage.

"I always rated Ned Hanlon as the greatest leader baseball ever had," Mack told sportswriter James Isaminger of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I don't believe any man lived who knew as much baseball as he did. He saw more under the surface than anybody else. He could size up opponents better than all others. . . .

"He developed Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Hugh Jennings, Joe Kelley and others into the biggest stars of their day. He left Pittsburgh in 1891, where I caught for him, and went to manage a last-place team in Baltimore that won pennants in 1894, 1895 and 1896."

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