Even greater than Earl Weaver

March 12, 1996|By Burt Solomon

WASHINGTON -- He's Baltimore's other Hall of Fame manager and even greater than Earl Weaver.

Ned Hanlon was the manager of the historic Orioles team that won three straight National League pennants a century ago. He had none of Earl Weaver's flamboyance. He left tramping on the umpires' toes to his players.

But he was an inventive strategist who left far more of an impact on the national game. No three-run homers for Hanlon. He was TC the father of ''scientific'' or ''inside'' baseball the bunt, the Baltimore chop, the hit-and-run.

He wasn't the first to use them. But he perfected them and turned them into an aggressive, brainy style of play that was credited even in his own day with revolutionizing how the game was played, in a way that survives to this day.

''The father of modern baseball,'' The Sun called him in 1937, when he died.

Utterly remote

Like Weaver, he wasn't an easy man to work for. Not that he was in his ballplayers' face. Far from it. He never set curfews when the team was on the road and would correct a ballplayers' mistakes casually and privately. But he was utterly remote. In photographs, he seemed to back away from the camera. He never praised a ballplayer for playing well. No one ever knew what he was thinking. ''Silent Ned,'' he was called.

And also ''Foxy Ned.'' Both nicknames sprang from the Connecticut native's shrewd Yankee demeanor. Arriving in Baltimore as an untried manager in 1892, he turned a last-place team (in a 12-team league) into champions in two years.

He glimpsed the somebodies where others saw nobodies and acquired them cheaply, through crafty trades. That's how he got ''Wee Willie'' Keeler too puny, Brooklyn's management thought and Hughey Jennings, the lightning shortstop, and slugging Joe Kelley. All of them will have preceded Hanlon into the Hall of Fame.

Hanlon embodied the spirit of his age. He applied the tenets of science to the 1890s the age of trusts as a capitalist par excellence. He had started out as a union man, as one of the architects of the Players' League that lasted for the 1890 season. But even as a center fielder, he started investing in real estate, and became a part-owner of the Orioles soon after he arrived.

''I decided early in the game that there was money to be made in baseball if it was studied seriously,'' he said years later, ''and after I took hold of the Orioles I often got out of bed in the night to jot down a play that might be worked out.''

He could be ruthless to his ballplayers and to his adopted hometown. He knew when to unload an aging player just before he started his decline.

''Syndicate baseball''

In 1899, he did something far more ruinous to all Baltimoreans. He was a key figure in the advent of what became known as ''syndicate baseball,'' the game's answer to the spread of monopoly across the nation's economy. The owners of the Orioles and the owners of the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers swapped half of each team for the other. Most of the Orioles' stars were transferred to Brooklyn, where the population was greater and more money was to be made.

''Baltimore Broken-Hearted,'' a headline read. The next year things only got worse. The National League scaled back from an unwieldy 12 teams to eight lopping Baltimore off. Hanlon and his partners could have blocked the deal if they'd liked. (It took unanimous consent.) But for $30,000 they acquiesced. ''Everything I have, except my family, is for sale at a price,'' Hanlon said. For Baltimore, the deal meant a half-century of being a minor-league town.

Hanlon, a master at spinning reporters, escaped blame around Baltimore for his sins. And he lived to atone for them. He made enemies in Brooklyn, trying to move the franchise to Baltimore, and parted ways. He'd kept his home on Mt. Royal Avenue and soon enough found his way back to Baltimore for good.

He became a patriot of the Monumental City. He was a backer of the Baltimore franchise in the ill-fated Federal League in 1914-15 and was the chairman of the city's Park Board for many years. By the end he had given to Baltimore far more than he had ever taken away. His entry into Cooperstown is long overdue.

Burt Solomon, a reporter for the National Journal, is writing a book, ''Where They Ain't: A Cautionary Tale of Baseball at a Century's End.''

Pub Date: 3/12/96

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