The fastest Orioles placed steaks in the bottoms of their shoes, to ward off blisters. Opponents found something else at the bottom of their stockings, courtesy of Captain Robinson. Crouching behind home plate, Robby casually would drop pebbles into the shoes of unsuspecting batters, to slow them down.
"It was Hanlon who taught us to do the unexpected," Robinson said. "That was his great motto."
"This isn't baseball the Orioles are playing," one NL manager said. "It's a completely new game."
But it worked. Hanlon's teams won three straight pennants, beginning in 1894, none sweeter than the last. Baltimore took nearly seven of every 10 games in '96, the best winning percentage in Orioles major-league history.
They outpitched Cy Young, outfoxed Connie Mack and out-jawed the umpires, who were cowed by the in-your-face antics of the Orioles, most of whom were about as short, and as combative, as Earl Weaver.
City flexes with team
Kicking and screaming, they dragged baseball into the 20th century, and Baltimore with it. The city was flexing its manufacturing muscle, from textiles to tobacco, and baseball was good for business. Salesmen in straw hats and linen jackets struck deals over a cold beer and a 10-cent Havana cigar in the grandstand at Union Park (25th Street, between Guilford and Barclay), and at Ganzhorn's Hotel, an Orioles hangout famous for its post-game dinners of planked steak and shad.
Locals rushed to cash in on the Orioles' success. A jeweler on Baltimore Street peddled baseball buttons and pins. A brewery sold Oriole Export Lager. A baseball score card advertisement trumpeted: "All Orioles ride Eagle bicycles."
Players became pitchmen themselves, even the abrasive John McGraw, who shilled for Hess shoes. McGraw, a notorious umpire baiter, touted the footwear as being "fine shoes to 'kick' in."
Though the Orioles raised wrangling to an art form -- McGraw started a fracas in Boston that spread to the wooden bleachers and ended with the ballpark's burning down -- bickering was hardly a Baltimore phenomenon. Players and umpires routinely slugged it out, and more than one arbiter stormed off in mid-game, leaving clubs to try to police themselves.
One umpire, Tim Keefe, quit in midsummer of 1896 after a Cleveland player grabbed and "shook him like a rat" for calling him out at third base.
Enough, cried Keefe: "It is the fashion now for every player to foam at the mouth and emit shrieks of anguish whenever an [adverse] decision is given. This may not be wearying to the general public, but it is certainly disgusting to the umpire."
Fans terrorize opponents
The public took its cue from the players. During big games, overflow crowds spilled onto the playing fields and badgered the opposition. In Pittsburgh, Hanlon's troops might be pelted with bits of iron ore; in Cleveland, they dodged potatoes.
Some rules bred chaos. One hundred years ago, balls that bounced into the stands were playable, much to the chagrin of a Chicago fielder who scrambled into the bleachers at Union Park to retrieve a wild throw and was pummeled by a Baltimore fan.
Orioles patrons were among the league's rowdiest, especially when their team was losing, said Bill Hassamaer, a Louisville infielder in 1896:
"The Baltimores just break open the fence, back of the players' seats, and let in a regiment of murderers armed with brickbats, clubs, cobblestones and any other handy little heavy thing to hurl at the visitors. I'd rather have been at Bull Run than lead the Baltimores by three runs in the sixth inning on their home grounds.
"I tell you, Daniel in the lions' den had a future ahead of him, compared with the outlook of a ball team visiting Baltimore. The bleachers are simply a mob of homicides, howling for blood."
In the rough-and-tumble baseball of the 1890s, Baltimore rose to the top with skill and guile
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