What became of the 1896 Orioles? Some faded quickly; others lingered well into the 20th century. But none ever forgot his heyday in Baltimore.
A fastball fractured shortstop Hughie Jennings' skull in 1897. Unconscious for three days, he recovered, only to fracture it twice more -- in swimming and driving accidents. Jennings managed Detroit to three consecutive American League pennants (1907-1909), during which time he reportedly taught Ty Cobb the old Orioles trick of sharpening his spikes in front of opponents. In 1925, Jennings suffered a nervous breakdown. He died three years later of spinal meningitis. He made the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.
On Opening Day 1897, outfielder Willie Keeler hit in his first of 44 straight games, a record that stood for 44 years. He retired in 1910, with 2,932 hits and a .341 average. Beset by ill health and bad investments, Keeler died on New Year's Day 1923, in a shack in Brooklyn, N.Y. At his funeral, catcher Wilbert Robinson called Keeler "the loveliest character in baseball," and third baseman John McGraw wept.
Enshrined in Cooperstown in 1939, Keeler was resurrected by Ogden Nash in a 1954 poem commemorating Baltimore's return to the majors:
Wee Willie Keeler runs through the town,
All along Charles Street in his nightgown,
Belling like a hound dog, gathering the pack,
Hey, Wilbert Robinson, the Orioles are back!
Hey, Hughie Jennings! Hey, John McGraw!
I got fire in my eye and tobacco in my jaw!
Hughie, hold my halo, I'm sick of being a saint,
Got to teach the youngsters to hit 'em where they ain't."
After the '96 season, Robinson bought a large stone house at 2740 St. Paul St., and McGraw moved next door. The two men opened the Diamond Cafe, a saloon and bowling alley on Howard Street, where the game of duckpins reportedly was invented. After retirement, both became managers -- McGraw in New York, where he ran the Giants for 29 full seasons, captured 10 pennants, three World Series and won more games than anyone else but Connie Mack. McGraw died of cancer in 1934, three years before his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Ten years after his death, the John J. McGraw, a Liberty ship, was launched from Bethlehem Shipyard during World War II.
Robinson managed in Brooklyn, winning two pennants despite an unorthodox style. Robinson was known to let waiters choose his starting pitchers, and once benched a player because he couldn't spell the player's name on the lineup card. Robinson died six months after McGraw; their services were held in the same mausoleum in New Cathedral Cemetery in West Baltimore. Cooperstown enshrined Robinson in 1945.
Handsome Joe Kelley played 11 more years, managed awhile, then married the daughter of John "Sonny" Mahon, a turn-of-the-century Baltimore politico, and took a cushy job in City Hall. He died in 1943 at his home on Calvert Street, several blocks from old Union Park, and was buried in New Cathedral Cemetery, close by McGraw, Robinson and manager Ned Hanlon. Kelley entered the Hall in 1971.
Steve Brodie, the eccentric outfielder, was traded before the 1897 season to Pittsburgh, where he convinced the Pirates to move spring training to his hometown of Roanoke, Va. In his debut against the Orioles, Brodie took his old seat on the Baltimore bench as if he belonged there. He retired to Baltimore, coached Navy's baseball team, served as caretaker of Municipal Stadium and died in 1935. Brodie is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery beneath an unusual fir tree, one of a kind on that hillside.
Pitcher Joe Corbett, Temple Cup hero, won 24 games for the '97 Orioles but was refused a $1,000 raise. He quit baseball, ran a livery stable in San Francisco and served as sparring partner for his brother, heavyweight champion "Gentleman Jim" Corbett. A baseball comeback failed. He died in 1945.
Arlie "Doc" Pond pitched well for the Orioles until 1898, when he received an appointment as an Army surgeon, shipped out to the Philippines, founded a hospital for lepers, bought a coconut plantation and became a millionaire. Pond Parkway, a thoroughfare in downtown Cebu, bears his name.
Sadie McMahon, the Orioles' hard-drinking Opening Day pitcher, was hired by McGraw as a New York scout and lived to be 86. Charles "Duke" Esper, who won 14 games despite fears he was dying of stomach cancer, bought a restaurant in Philadelphia and lived 14 more years. Heinie Reitz, the quiet second baseman, retired to San Francisco, where he was struck and killed by a car in 1914.
First baseman "Dirty" Jack Doyle, who battled many an umpire, became an arbiter himself. He later spent 37 years as a scout for the Chicago Cubs, for whom he signed Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett. Doyle attended the Orioles' season opener in 1954, where he reminisced that "the two happiest years of my life were spent here." He died four years later, at 88.
Catcher Bill "Boileryard" Clarke became baseball coach at Princeton, where he pitched batting practice until the age of 75. The last of the '96 Orioles to go, Clarke succumbed on July 29, 1959 -- eight days after the death of Bill Hoffer, his old battery mate.
Hoffer, the club's workhorse pitcher, ruined his arm and landed in Cleveland, where, in 1901, he was the losing pitcher in the first American League game ever played.
Hoffer retired to his native Iowa and became a successful artist. His favorite oil painting was a still-life portrait of his 1896 uniform. The frame, Hoffer made from his Orioles bat. The painting's title? "After the Ball is Over."
Pub Date: 7/09/96