Monday, March 15, 2010

The Orioles’ Origins Started in St. Louis

By Ginger Duran

Baltimore must love brown. No, not UPS. Both the Orioles and the Ravens descended from teams named the Browns: the St. Louis Browns and the Cleveland Browns respectively. Here is a brief history of the Orioles family tree.

The Orioles' roots began in Missouri on April 23, 1902, the birth date of the St. Louis Browns during what was the beginning of the second season of the American League.

The Browns’ name was shortened from the Brown Stockings, the discarded nickname of the St. Louis Cardinals, the other major league team in the city. Over the years, the Browns would acquire the reputation for being a hard luck team, but one with a cast of colorful characters unrivaled in major league sports.

After the inaugural year, the team finished in solid second place with a record of 78-58 and the Browns began their long and eventually fruitless struggle to establish a consistent habit of winning.

Branch Rickey, who went on to turn the St. Louis Cardinals into a premier franchise and would transform the Brooklyn Dodgers into a perennial pennant winner, was hired as manager in 1913. In 1916, the team ended a string of seven straight losing seasons with a 79-75 record, good enough to finish in fifth place, but not good enough to satisfy Browns management. Rickey was fired and went to the Cardinals, a decision which would come back to haunt them.

The struggles continued from 1917 through 1920 when George Sisler batted .407 and connected for 257 hits, a major league record that would stand for 84 years. The Browns finished in fourth place but with a 76-77 record. In 1921, they posted their first winning season in five years with an 81-73 record, finishing in third place.

In 1922, the Browns had their finest season with a record of 93-61. Sisler’s searing .420 batting average led the team, while left fielder Ken Williams achieved the RBI title and beat out Babe Ruth. Pitcher Urban Shocker won 24 games and led a pitching staff that recorded the league’s lowest ERA.

The team held the lead in the standings throughout July and into August before the Yankees edged ahead of them. They never regained the lead, but remained a heartbreakingly close single game behind to the end of the season. The remainder of the 1920s were difficult even though they posted three winning seasons in 1925, 1928 and 1929.

In the 1930s, the team was in a cruel trap. To draw fans, they needed to win, but needed to draw fans to field a good team. They could never break out of that vicious cycle and were thus poor and unsuccessful, not to mention lonely. One of the Browns’1933 games was played before a grand total of 33 paying customers.
World War II brought a change in fortunes for the Browns. While many of baseball’s biggest stars were off fighting, the Browns became contenders in 1944. They battled the Detroit Tigers for their only AL pennant with an 89-65 record, placing them into the World Series facing -- ironically -- the St. Louis Cardinals. They would lose the series to the Cards 4-2.

In 1945, with World War II wrapping up, there was a push to find good ballplayers wherever and whenever they could be found.

One of the players to be given a chance in the majors for the Browns was Pete Gray, who had lost an arm in a childhood accident. Despite his handicap, he was determined to play baseball. He learned to bat and throw left-handed, becoming a source of inspiration to many. His career lasted only one season with the end of the war and the return of the baseball stars.

Dizzy Dean, the popular St. Louis broadcaster and former Cardinal was hired by the Browns to drum up interest and support for the team. On Sept. 28, 1947, frustrated by their lack of ability, Dean pitched four innings of one game, allowing no runs and getting a single.

The Browns continued their losing streak into the 1950s when Bill Veeck purchased them. He hired pitching great Satchel Paige to shore up the teams prospects, but after one month and no improvement, he found a unique way to get the Browns notoriety. He hired Eddie Gaedel who stood all of 3-foot-7 and weighed 65 pounds. Other owners were not amused by the stunt and Gaedel made only one appearance at bat.

In 1951, the Browns discovered a silver lining in the dark cloud of their poor record. The silver lining was Ned Garver, with the Browns’ best pitching record, finishing with 20 wins and 12 losses. He became an All-Star on a last place team. Not all of Paige and Garver’s talent could save the Browns, however.

Veeck sold the Browns to Baltimore in 1953. On Sept. 28, 1953 before a sparse crowd of 3,174, the Browns lost their last game in St. Louis.

(This article appears in the Baltimore Sports News at: )

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Browns Luncheon 2010 Set for July 16

Mark your calendar for the 2010 Luncheon of the St. Louis Browns Fan Club. The event is set for Friday, July 16 at 11:30 a.m. We are looking at an expanded program for this year's event. This will be the 26th reunion of the Browns Fan Club. Make plans to attend today.

Former Browns players will be on hand to chat with you, sign autographs and have photos taken plus we expect some surprise guests. Exhibits and memorabilia will be available for display.

An official notice will be sent to all fan club members this spring.