What does the phrase “Oriole dynasty” signify to you?
You might think of the late 1960s through the early 1980s, when the Orioles were regulars in the postseason. Or you might hearken back to the 1890s, the era of John McGraw, Hughie Jennings and the Baltimore chop.
You probably wouldn’t think of the post-World War I era, yet that was when the Baltimore Orioles were one of the most successful franchises — albeit a minor league franchise — in baseball history. While native son Babe Ruth was rewriting the record books in major league ball, his former team in Baltimore was doing some rewriting of its own in the International League record book. Many pundits felt they were good enough to compete at the major league level.
The architect of this dynasty was John Joseph (better known as Jack) Dunn. If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he was the guy who sold the Bambino to the Boston Red Sox.
Born in Meadsville, Pa. on Oct. 8, 1872, Dunn was a right-handed pitcher who arrived in the bigs with the Dodgers in 1897, going 14-9. Two years later he had his career season, sporting a record of 23-13. Dunn’s arm went bad in 1900, and he began splitting his time among pitching, third base and shortstop for the Dodgers, Phillies and Orioles without any notable success till his last year of 1904, when he hit .309 in part-time duty with the Giants’ championship team.
Heading back to the Eastern League as a player/manager with the Providence Clamdiggers in 1905, he led the league in hits (157) and batted .301 as a second-baseman. In 1907 Orioles owner Ned Hanlon lost manager Hughie Jennings to the Detroit Tigers, so he acquired Dunn from Providence to serve in that post. Dunn purchased the team from Hanlon after the 1909 season, retired as a player after the 1911 season, but remained as manager and owner for the rest of his life.
In 1912 the Eastern League merged with the New York State League and the Ontario League to comprise the International League. The Orioles finished fourth in this new league and moved up to third place in 1913.
The arrival of the Federal League in the form of the Baltimore Terrapins in 1914 dealt a severe blow to Dunn and the Orioles. Not only were the Terrapins considered a major league team, and theoretically superior to Dunn’s minor league franchise, they built a new ballpark right next door to Dunn’s.
The resulting economic crunch was the major reason Dunn was forced to peddle Babe Ruth (for a mere $2,900), as well as a number of other players (notably Ernie Shore, who won 58 games for the Red Sox from 1914 to 1917).
Ruth, of course, would have made his way to the majors sooner or later, but perhaps not with the Red Sox, and then we would never have had the Curse of the Bambino. In fact, Dunn offered Ruth to Connie Mack, who was a minority owner of the Orioles, but Mack declined. Since Mack purged his roster after his 1914 pennant, Ruth likely would not have tarried long in Philadelphia anyway.
Despite the income realized from the sale of players, the Orioles’ financial situation worsened as attendance plummeted (one game listed the paid attendance as 50!), necessitating the relocation of the franchise to Richmond for the 1915 season. After the Federal League folded, it was safe to return to Baltimore, so Dunn purchased the Jersey City franchise and moved it into the abandoned Federal League ballpark.
You can imagine the disillusionment of Baltimore baseball fans. They were a major metro area, yet three major league franchises (National League 1892-1899, American League 1901-1902 and Federal League 1914-1915) had abandoned them. So the fans may well have thought good riddance to the majors, we’ll stick with the minors. As it turned out, they were treated to some high-caliber baseball, though not technically major league ball.
Slowly Dunn began building his dynasty, finishing fourth in 1916, third in 1917 and third in the war-shortened season (128 games) of 1918. America’s involvement in World War I and the infamous “fight or work” edict had gutted the rosters of major league teams, so Dunn continued to sell his players to major league teams while scouting for new Orioles to replace them.
More importantly, the minor leagues had voted to kill a previously existing deal with the majors, stating that any player who had been drafted by a major league team before playing for a minor league team had to be sold to the major league team for $7,500 if that team wanted him. With that agreement rescinded, a minor league team had as much control over its roster as a major league team had.
The postwar dismantling of ruling dynasties in Europe marked the beginning of Dunn’s baseball dynasty. The Orioles won seven consecutive pennants and at least 100 games from 1919 through 1925. No matter how you define a baseball dynasty, this probably fits comfortably within your definition. Let’s take a closer look at those teams.
This team was the weakest of the dynasty. It won a mere 100 games, but was the first professional baseball team to hit triple digits in victories. A 100-49 record placed the Orioles eight games ahead of the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs. As a team, they led the league with a .299 batting average and 859 runs scored The Orioles also led the league in home runs with 37; this was, after all, still the deadball era.
The Orioles finished at 110-43, once again besting Toronto, but this time by a mere 2.5 games. In fact, the Orioles had to win 25 in a row at the end of the season to prevail. The Maple Leafs won 108 games, the franchise’s best winning percentage (.701) ever, but not good enough for a pennant.
The Orioles were at the top of their game. They went 119-47 (70-18 at home), finishing an astonishing 20 games ahead of the Rochester Colts. This team actually bettered the win streak of the previous season with 27 consecutive wins, a minor league record that stood till 1987 when the Salt Lake Trappers won 29 in a row against Pioneer League opponents.
Regressing to the mean, the Orioles dropped off to a mere 115-62, 10 games ahead of Rochester (now known as the Tribe). More important in the long run, while the season was grinding away, the U.S. Supreme Court deliberated and ruled on a case (Federal Baseball Club v. National League, 259 U.S. 200 (1922)), indirectly involving Dunn and having a huge influence on organized baseball.
After the Federal League folded, Dunn had refused to merge his new International League Orioles with the Terrapins’ roster or make any sort of buyout offer. The Terrapins argued that they had been victimized by monopolistic practices in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The trial court agreed, the appeals court disagreed, and the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the appeal, resulting in Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous opinion stating that baseball was a sport, not a business, and thus not subject to the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The Orioles came in at 111-53, 11 games ahead of Rochester.
A 117-48 record put the Orioles 19 games ahead of Toronto.
In the last year of their dynasty, the Orioles came in at 105-61, four games ahead of Toronto.
Fittingly, the Orioles’ quest for an eighth straight pennant was thwarted by the Toronto Maple Leafs who broke through with a 109-57 record, eight games ahead of Baltimore. During the Orioles’ dynasty years, the Maple Leafs had averaged 92 wins a season, but the Orioles countered with 111, so the 1926 season was one to savor on the north side of Lake Ontario.
As good as they were during the regular season, the Orioles were no better than a .500 team in the postseason. During the Little World Series, matching International League and American Association pennant winners, the Orioles defeated the St. Paul Saints in 1920 and 1922, and the Louisville Colonels in 1925 and lost to the Colonels in 1921, the Kansas City Blues in 1923 and the Saints in 1924.
Eleven Orioles (in addition to Jack Dunn) from the team’s glory years are among the 116 members of the International League Hall of Fame. They are, with their election years:
Jack Bentley (1958) played for the Orioles for seven seasons (1916-1917 and 1919-1922), excelling as both a pitcher and a first baseman. As a pitcher, he led the league in ERA (2.11) in 1920, and the following season, he led the league in batting average (.412), hits (246), doubles (47) and home runs (21). In the major leagues, he played for nine seasons (Senators, Giants and Phillies).
Joe Boley (1954) played shortstop for the Orioles every year of their dynasty plus one. He batted over .300 every year but one (.291 in 1924) and moved up to the big leagues with the Athletics in 1927 at age 30, remaining with them through 1932, and finishing his career by playing one game with the Indians.
George Earnshaw (1956) did not join the Orioles till 1924 but he remained through 1928. His best year was 1925 when he won 29 games. He played nine seasons in the big leagues, mostly with Connie Mack’s A’s (he led the league with 24 victories in 1929 for the World Series champion A’s), but also with the White Sox, Dodgers and Cardinals. He won 127 major league games from 1928 through 1936.
Merwin Jacobsen (1955) had an unusual career trajectory. He broke into major league ball with the Cubs at age 21 in 1915 and spent part of the following season with them. Then came a nine-year odyssey through the minors, six of which he spent with the Orioles. Aside from the 1925 season when he was with the Jersey City Skeeters, he was a fixture in the Orioles outfield during their dynasty years. In 1919 he led the league in hits with 203; in 1920 he led the league with a .404 average and in runs scored with 161. He never came close to .400 again, but he was above .300 every season he played with the Orioles. He finished his major league career in 1926 and 1927 with the Dodgers. Since he had only had a cup of coffee during his previous stints in the majors, he was still officially a rookie at age 32 in 1926.
Fritz Maisel (1959) served his first tour of duty in Baltimore with the Eastern League franchise in 1911 at age 21, and returned for the 1912 and 1913 seasons when the team had shifted to the International League. During the latter season, he went to the Yankees, with whom he remained through 1917, and spent the 1918 season with the Browns. After an undistinguished major league career, he returned to the Orioles and played third base for their 1919-1925 dynasty and three years beyond. He hit above .300 eight of those 10 seasons, and led the league in runs scored in 1919 (135) and 1925 (141). Altogether, he amassed 1,899 hits during his 13-year tenure with the Orioles.
Jack Ogden (1952) was a key performer on the mound for the Orioles from 1920 to 1927, winning 191 games during that stretch. From 1920 to 1922, he led the league in victories, peaking at 31 in 1921. That same season, he also led the league in complete games (33) and shutouts (six). In the big leagues, he played five more or less inconsequential seasons with the Giants (1918), Browns (1928 and 1929) and Reds (1931). His busiest year was 1928 when he went 15-16 for the Browns in 242.2 innings. He returned to the Orioles at the end of his career in 1933 and 1934.
Rube Parnham (1957) was also a renowned moundsman during the Orioles dynasty. After a couple of seasons of Class D ball, he made his major league debut at age 22 with the Athletics in 1916 and also appeared with them for two games the following year. That was it for his major league career. But he was far from washed up. Arriving in Baltimore in 1917, he remained with them through 1926, except for splitting his season with Louisville in 1918. During the Orioles’ dynasty years, he led the league in wins in 1919 (28) and 1923 (33). Altogether, he won 139 games with the Orioles.
Dick Porter (1963) received his baptism in baseball at age 19 with the Orioles. His .363 average led the league in 1924. During his eight years playing in the Orioles outfield, he hit .336 (1,273 for 3,788). At age 27, he advanced to the big leagues, playing for the Indians and Red Sox from 1929 to 1934. He acquitted himself well, garnering 774 hits and a .308 batting average.
Tommy Thomas (1948) got a good schooling in the International League (Buffalo from 1918 to 1920, Baltimore from 1921 to 1925). He won 73 games in his first four seasons with the Orioles, then really outdid himself in 1925, leading the league in wins (32), shutouts (seven), and strikeouts (268), while tying teammate Jack Ogden and Myles Thomas of Toronto for complete games (28). Arriving in the majors with the White Sox ate age 26 in 1926, he remained in the big leagues through 1937, winning 117 and losing 128. He returned to the Orioles as manager, winning the Little World Series as well as the Minor League Manager of the Year award in 1944.
Jimmy Walsh (1958) played for the Orioles on his way up (he arrived in the big leagues as an outfielder with the Athletics at age 24 in 1912) and on the way down. After a ho-hum major league career (410 hits, .232 average), he returned to the minors for good. At age 34, he began a two-season stint (1922 and 1923) with the Orioles’ dynasty, leading the league in doubles with 47 in the former season. He hit .333 in two seasons. He spread around his post-big league International League career, also playing for Akron, Newark, Jersey City, Buffalo and Toronto. No one knew better than Walsh that it was a long way to Tipperary, as that was his birthplace.
Lefty Grove is the only member of this group who is also in the major league Hall of Fame. His 300 victories with the A’s and Red Sox assured that status, but as good as he was in the big leagues, one wonders how many games he might have won had he arrived at the Show before age 25. With the Orioles from 1920 through 1924, he won 108 games and lost just 36. He led the league in strikeouts in 1921 (254), 1922 (205), 1923 (330) and 1924 (281); in shutouts in 1923 (six) and 1924 (five); and in victories (26) in 1924.
Obviously, Jack Dunn knew how valuable Grove was and held out till the A’s finally offered $100,600 (the $600 was a lagniappe to surpass the amount the Yankees paid for Babe Ruth in 1920). After a disappointing rookie season in 1925, Grove never looked back.
While Grove is the most renowned player of all the Orioles in the International League Hall of Fame, he was the last to be inducted. The IL Hall was established in 1947. From then through 1963, all the other players listed here were voted in. After a hiatus from 1964 through 2007, voting was resumed in 2008 to coincide with the league’s 125th anniversary. Grove was posthumously inducted in 2008. Why he was overlooked from 1947 to 1963 is beyond comprehension.
So how would the dynastic minor league Orioles have fared against major league competition? The Orioles won most of their exhibition games against major league teams, but that hardly settles the matter. Still, one suspects that a top-tier minor league team that eclipsed 100 victories might have done pretty well against Boston and Philadelphia, as those cities housed teams that featured 100-loss records from 1919 to 1925.
The most dismal team was the 1919 A’s (36-104), still reeling from Connie Mack’s post-1914 sell-off of players. The A’s also hit triple digits in losses in 1920 (48-106) and 1921 (53-100). In 1921 they were joined by the Phillies (51-103). The Braves chimed in during the 1922 (53-100) and 1924 (53-100) seasons, and the Red Sox entered the race to the bottom in 1925 (47-105).
If you’re wondering about the usual suspects, the Senators and the Browns, they varied from mediocre to good from 1919 to 1925, with the Senators winning two pennants (1924 and 1925) and a title in the former year, and the Browns enjoying the franchise’s best record (93-61 in 1922) in St. Louis.
If organized baseball had employed a promotion and relegation system, as they do in British soccer leagues, we might have found out just how good the Orioles were. Absent that, all we can do is speculate.
Jack Dunn, age 56, died of a heart attack in 1928, but Orioles management was something of a dynasty itself. Jack Dunn Jr. played for the team and was being groomed to take over, but he preceded his father in death, having died of pneumonia at age 28. After Dunn Sr.’s death, his wife, Mary, was the team’s owner till 1943, when Jack III took over. He was in charge till the arrival of the major league Orioles in 1954. So someone named Dunn was in charge of the Orioles for their entire tenure in the International League.
The Orioles had a long drought after their dynasty years, though there were some individual achievements, notably Joe Hauser’s 63 home runs in 1930 and Buzz Arlett’s 54 home runs (including two four-homer games in one month) in 1932.
Overcoming long odds, including their ballpark burning down and taking their equipment with it, the Orioles won the Little World Series under Jack III’s ownership in 1944. This was the year the Orioles moved into the 33rd Street football facility that eventually came to be known as Memorial Stadium. Famously, the Orioles attracted an International League record 52,833 (plus 10,000 standing room) to one of their Little World Series games on the same day the major league World Series game in St. Louis attracted 31,630. Obviously, major league owners were paying attention. Braves owner Lou Perini attempted to move his team to Baltimore in 1949 but the deal fell through.
One of the teams that played in that 1944 major league World Series was the Browns, enjoying their only pennant in St. Louis. Ten years later, the Browns, transformed into the major league Orioles, opened for business at spacious Memorial Stadium.