RECORDS, the tested sports bromide instructs, are made to be broken. Dramatic new proof of the old adage is to be provided next Wednesday at Camden Yards. At about 9 P.M. that evening, barring calamity or injury, Cal Ripken will surpass Lou Gehrig's supposedly unbreakable 2,130 consecutive-games streak. Chances are you've heard about it.
It does not detract from the admirable Oriole shortstop's stunning feat to recall memories of another baseball miracle, one shrouded in the mists of the early 1920s. Starting in the post-war year of 1919 and concluding with the 1925 season, the Triple A International League Baltimore Orioles under manager Jack Dunn reeled off seven straight pennants, a skein never before or since accomplished in high level play.
But the method in which this was done, the often changing make-up of the hugely successful teams, attests to the acumen of its leader. Dunn died shortly thereafter, in 1928, but his widow and grandson remained in Oriole leadership positions for decades beyond.
Only the left side of the infield, third baseman Fritz Maisel and shortstop Joe Boley, played on all seven champions.
Maisel, father of long-time Sun sports writer Bob Maisel, had come down to the Birds from the majors. Of spark-plug build, he was an unlikely base stealing threat, yet had led the American League with 74 swaps in 1914. Boley, who like Maisel dipped below .300 at the plate only once over the seven-year stretch, moved up to the Philadelphia A's in the fall of 1926, there to rejoin his infield mate, Max Bishop, whom Dunn had sold to the same team after the 1923 pennant.
Statistics can glaze the eyes at times, but those recorded by the Orioles of those seven fat years are stunners.
Regard their .687 winning percentage over the span, three times over .700. To appreciate that, one should look at the performance of the vaunted New York Yankees, dominators of the majors for the three decades from the mid-1930s to the 1960s. Twice cobbling together five-year streaks and 22 times in those 29 years, the Yanks won the American League pennant. Yet only once -- in 1939 -- did they exceed the won-lost average of the seven-time Oriole champions of the 1920s. And that figure was never equaled by Baltimore's major league heroes of the long Earl Weaver era. The closest they came, in 1969, was .673.
Other numbers are equally eye-popping. In May 1921, Dunn's Orioles ran off 27 straight wins, a number not since topped. And pity the stretch-running Toronto team of 1920 who closed by winning 24 out of their final 26 games, only to lose ground to the O's of that day who took their last 25.
And how much negotiating clout would be commanded by today's player whose agent could sit down at season's end and describe to management the credentials compiled by first basemen-pitcher Jack Bentley in 1921. His batting average was .412. He had 246 base hits. And as a relief pitcher, he notched 12 wins against only one loss.
"Rube" Parnham pitched his way to 33 victories in 1923. The same year, another southpaw, Robert Moses "Lefty" Grove of Lonaconing, Md., went 27-10 and fanned 330 in 303 innings.
The names are nearly lost in time: graceful center-fielder Merwin Jacobson, sluggers "Twitchy Dick" Porter and Otis Lawry, catcher Ben Egan, pitchers Jack Ogden and Tommy Thomas. Thomas, like Max Bishop, was a product of Baltimore City College. To unregenerate Yankee-haters, the added beauty of Dunn's remarkable reign was the contribution it made to Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in breaking the New York stranglehold of the time.
Lefty Grove was sold to Mack in the fall of 1924 for the astounding sum of $100,600, so large it was paid out over 10 years. (The extra $600 was interest on the loan). Later, George "Moose" Earnshaw, an overpowering right-hander, went to the A's and, in Philly's pennant years of 1929-31, was runner-up each year in strikeouts to the flame-throwing Grove, who topped the ++ league in K's each of his first seven seasons in the majors. Anchored by the old Oriole double-play combination of Boley and Bishop, Philadelphia mercifully interrupted New York's domination of the game for three glorious seasons.
A final perspective: Jack Dunn's yearly team payroll averaged $50,000, "but," according to a comment of the time, "he loved a winner and was willing to pay the price."
That's just a tad more cash than Cal Ripken will earn for the game in which we hope he will break Lou Gehrig's record next week.
3' Milton Bates writes from Baltimore.