Besides the din and debris, there were other distractions afield. Many teams played on weedy, hardscrabble diamonds-in-the-rough. At Washington's National Park (7th Street and Florida Avenue), the portly Robinson chugged all the way home when his single got lost in the tall grass. Other parks played like an obstacle course. In Cleveland, the Orioles lost when an enemy hit bounded into a large iron lawn roller parked in center field, clearing the bases.
Baltimore's Union Park was fancier than most, a double-decked, 8,000-seat wooden stadium with beer garden, picnic grounds and a ladies' grandstand, where well-dressed ushers served iced drinks and doled out hand fans to women who tried to shine their vanity mirrors in the eyes of opposing players.
The Orioles romped at home, winning nearly three-quarters of their games. Small wonder. The diamond was usually doctored. The third-base line slanted inward, preserving Baltimore's bunts. The first-base line sloped downhill, promoting Orioles speed. Even the mound might be booby-trapped: Parts of it were sprinkled with soap flakes, which stuck to the hands of rival pitchers and played havoc with their control.
At season's end, the victorious Orioles quietly passed the plate and collected $150 for groundskeeper Tom Murphy.
And Hanlon, the 39-year-old wonder they called "Foxy Ned," went home to devise new ways to stay ahead of the NL hounds.
Accolades trickled in from a reluctant press. "The Orioles have won the championship by shoving out little exasperating teasers, place hitting, and by playing an intellectual game," the magazine Sporting Life declared.
"The charm of the work of the Baltimores is that every man is alive and thoroughly in earnest, playing ball for all he is worth all the time," the Boston Herald wrote.
The Orioles' gritty play caught America's fancy. Robinson played all three games of a tripleheader, one month after the amputation on his throwing hand. Keeler caught a fly ball by stretching his arm through a barbed-wire fence in Washington. Jennings let himself be hit by pitches 49 times, a single-season record that stood for 75 years.
"Big pads that [Jennings] wore on his left side could not prevent the fearful-looking black and blue bruises his body bore," Robinson later recalled. "But what did he care? Neither he nor any of the other Orioles had any thought but 'getting on.' "
Hanlon's men, it was said, "played as one brain cell." Traveled that way, too. They ate, drank and caroused as a group, at home and on the road. They pedaled around town together in flashy bicycle suits and gold stockings. They talked shop while sweating in Professor Rowland's Turkish Baths, in the Equitable Building. "If it was a trip to the theater, all of us went and sat together," McGraw said. "We talked, lived and dreamed baseball."
Weak initial start
It wasn't always so. In 1892, the Orioles joined the 12-team National League and finished last, 54 1/2 games back. The club was awful from the start. By June, Harry von der Horst, the Baltimore beer baron who founded the Orioles, had dismissed two managers and hired Hanlon, a no-nonsense New Englander who had been fired by his previous team, Pittsburgh, for trying to discipline his boozing players.
Hanlon muddled through the rest of '92 and began to downsize the Orioles. "I decided we had too many big, clumsy fellows," he said, swapping the lot for unheralded rookies on the cusp of stardom. Enter players such as Kelley, a swift Irishman who would hit over .300 for 11 straight years and lead the league in stolen bases, and Jennings, a freckle-faced kid who nearly tripled his batting average in Baltimore. Exit the cellar. The '93 Orioles finished eighth.
Things were looking up. The opportunistic Hanlon secured his own future by lending $7,000 to von der Horst, who, in appreciation, named him president. Hanlon then dealt for more young talent, including the soft-spoken Keeler, only four years shy of hitting .424.
The trades put the Orioles over the top. The '94 team won the pennant, with 28 victories in its last 31 games. The city went
nuts: A parade of 10,000 fans and 200 horse-drawn floats snaked five miles through festooned streets choked with cheering mobs, to a gala reception at the 5th Regiment Armory (where fans stood in line for hours to shake hands with their heroes) and a lavish, champagne-soaked banquet at the swank Rennert Hotel.
"You men have all done the city a great benefit," Mayor Ferdinand Latrobe said, raising a glass to the Orioles. "I tell you, baseball has done more to advertise this city than anything else, and we feel grateful to each of you for it. Everyone knows #F Hanlon's boys. Your names are on every tongue from Maine to Louisiana."
The players basked in the revelry, which lasted two days and probably cost them the Temple Cup, a postseason series that matched the NL's first- and second-place teams. The New York Giants swept the woozy Orioles, four straight.