Resting place, Hall of Fame keep four old Orioles together

July 28, 1996|By JOHN STEADMAN

Standing there in New Cathedral Cemetery, on a high hill, with soft breezes wafting through the poplars and green grass all around, was the perfect resting place. Far away, it seemed, from a too-often troubled world. The cheers of those long ago yesteryears are muted in the silence that comes with the inevitable passing of time. It was quiet and tranquil.

This was more of a spiritual experience, the chance to visit with four elite members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, even if they weren't granting interviews. They used to play for the Baltimore Orioles when it was the pre-eminent team in all the land. Meet Ned, Joe, Wilbert and John.

The cemetery is the only one where four Hall of Fame members are buried, which gives it a distinction, one that draws national attention, plus visitors who are intrigued by the historical significance -- that three teammates and a manager from the champion Orioles of the 1890s are interred in the same consecrated ground. They don't want for company in this landscape reserved for the dead because more than 100,000 others are there with them.

Ned Hanlon is the last of the four Old Orioles, as they are respectfully known, to gain Hall of Fame acceptance and, no doubt, is one of the most deserving. It'll happen in a formal way next Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y., the long proclaimed birthplace of baseball, when he'll be enrolled posthumously.

It was Hanlon, who, as manager and general manager, put the Orioles together and introduced such strategic maneuvers as the delayed steal, the hit-and-run play and platoon system. First he recognized the talents of the players, signed or traded for them, went about polishing their skills and then led them to three straight championships.

Over there, facing the narrow lane and across from a gnarled dogwood tree, is a granite cross and underneath are bold letters that mark the Hanlon grave (lot 26 HH). Alongside him is a memorial footstone to a son. It simply reads:

Lt. Joseph Thomas Hanlon

1893-1918

Killed In Action

Buried At Thiacourt France

In another part of Baltimore, there's Hanlon Park to perpetuate the memory of this fallen officer who had gone off to help win "the Great War," a term that became a misnomer in the decades to follow. The army officer is buried across the sea, in the foreign land where he sacrificed his life, yet father and son are linked in name and spirit.

Up an incline, not far away, is the white marble monument to Joe Kelley (lot 319 MM), the handsome outfielder, with a lifetime average of .321. And, by way of discovery, next to him is the Cashen family burial place, where the parents of Frank, the former general manager of the Orioles and New York Mets, have been put to rest. The Irish have a way of sticking together.

Wilbert Robinson (lot 70 YY) can be located on a plateau of sorts. There's a cross on a stone shaft to mark the site. He was a catcher and captain for the Orioles longer than any other player and represented Baltimore in four different leagues. In an 1892 game, which wasn't exactly yesterday, he went 7-for-7, which is one of the oldest of baseball records -- still not tied or surpassed.

The most pretentious of tombs -- maybe in the entire cemetery -- is the mausoleum of John J. McGraw (lot 187 L), a third baseman with a career average of .334. He managed the Orioles for three seasons in both the National and American leagues and then in 30 years as the leader of the New York Giants won 10 pennants and finished second 11 times.

None of the in-the-same-cemetery Hall of Famers was born in Baltimore. Hanlon was from Montville, Conn., Kelley from Cambridge, Mass., Robinson from Boston and McGraw from Truxton, N.Y. All of them either played or managed the Orioles, lived in the city, raised families and were regarded as outstanding citizens. The Orioles allowed them to attain the status of baseball immortals -- or they wouldn't still be here.

Steve LaMar, a former major-league broadcaster, living in Lakewood, Ohio, has put forth extensive research to determine where all the deceased Hall of Fame members are buried. "There's nothing to compare," he says, "to Baltimore's New Cathedral Cemetery. Without a doubt it has a special place in history. There are some cemeteries where you might find two Hall of Fame players or managers buried but certainly not any more. Research people around the country, genealogists and authors of books on the subject will agree with that."

Of course, New Cathedral, formerly known as Bonnie Brae (which in Gaelic means "Beautiful Slope") has been there since 1870. It's residents number more than 100,000, with the population growing daily. Kenneth Bobick, director of the cemetery, and Anne Gahan Lucido, who manages the office, say visitors to the Hall of Fame grave sites include former players and officials of the Society for American Baseball Research.

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