Tag Archives: baseball

Opening Day, 1954

Guest post by Mike Gesker

“Well, it was the Mardi Gras. It was New Year’s Eve and it was the 4th of July all wrapped into one. I never remember during my time in Baltimore a more joyous occasion.” That’s the way the venerable sports reporter John Steadman recalled the gala celebration of April 15, 1954, when the Baltimore Orioles paraded through town and headed to Memorial Stadium for the first major league Opening Day since the demise of the old Federal League Baltimore Terrapins in 1915.

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Legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell was there 60 years ago, too. He fondly reminisced, “It was a great thrill in 1954. The Orioles had played a couple of games in Detroit. They split two. . . their first two games in their modern history. And then they got on the train and came to Baltimore. We had a big parade. They got off the train in their uniforms, got into automobiles, and went through the downtown streets of Baltimore and paraded to the stadium. And I can remember coming into the stadium and the workmen were still working on the stadium. And it was a threatening day. It looked like it might rain out the home opener.

“We had a jam-packed crowd. And the Orioles won that game, I think it was 3 to 1 over the Chicago White Sox. Clint Courtney and I think Vern Stephens hit home runs. And it was a gala day for Baltimore and the beginning of the modern era for the Orioles.”

The arrival of the modern Orioles was such an occasion that even the New Yorker magazine dispatched a footloose correspondent to scribble down his observations. In the May 1, 1954 issue, John McNulty noted, “In the seventh, the Orioles’ first baseman, Eddie Waitkus, laid down a bunt that was as close to perfection as a bunt can be. It seemed to me that the crowd of 46,354 shouted louder and went daffier over that bunt than over the two home runs—maybe because this was Baltimore, where, as I said, they either invented or perfected the bunt more than sixty years ago.”

Jimmy Dykes, a veteran of Connie Mack’s powerful Philadelphia Athletics, was the Birds’ skipper that day. Here is the lineup that took the field to the delight of the tens of thousands of cheering Oriole fans: Bobby Young 2b, Eddie Waitkus 1b, Gil Coan cf, Vic Wertz rf, Sam Mele lf, Vern Stephens 3b, Billy Hunter ss, Clint Courtney c, Bob Turley p.

One year later, the only member of Jimmy’s lineup who would be starting Opening Day was Eddie Waitkus. Even Mr. Dykes himself was gone in 1955. The new manager and general would be Paul Richards. The “Wizard of Waxahachie” did his best to shed the last remnants of the old St. Louis Browns and create a new winning tradition in Baltimore. “The Oriole Way” was born.

Opening Day is not unlike a blind date: brimming with hope, wonder, and maybe a few expectations. You’ve heard nothing but nice things about the club. Yes, it really is good looking and has a wonderful personality. If you have a good time, and all goes well, you hope to meet again and again with visions of a World Series—or least the playoffs—dancing in your head.

Gesker comp3**-A.inddSo here’s to Manager Buck Showalter and his charges. With a little luck and Manny Machado’s happy return, we’ll have a date in late October. Let the games begin!

Baseball fan Mike Gesker is the author of The Orioles Encyclopedia and the Emmy award-winning producer, director, and writer of Maryland Public Television‘s Baseball, the Birds on 33rd. He is a writer-editor for Catholic Relief Services and freelance writer whose work has been published in the Baltimore Sun, Sport magazine, and the Army Times.

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Filed under American History, Baltimore, Popular Culture, Sports, Uncategorized

Baseball and agrarianism

Guest post by David Vaught

On Opening Day, many a broadcaster waxed poetic over the green grass, blue sky, fresh air, and carefree atmosphere of the downtown oasis of a professional ballpark. But ponder this: Baseball captures the essence of the American rural experience. Whether they know it or not, Americans think of baseball in agrarian terms—from Abner Doubleday and Cooperstown to Kevin Costner and Field of Dreams. We associate the game with nostalgia, romantic imagery, and pastoral flights of fancy. Even in today’s predominantly non-rural culture, rural culture continues to be expressed through baseball. Where else other than a major league ballpark does someone sitting in the middle of a row of thirty seats pass a $20 bill down through the many different hands—black, white, brown, male, female, gay, straight—to the hotdog man with the complete and total expectation that they will get back not only the hotdog but every last penny of change? That innate trust and sense of cooperation is rooted in our agrarian heritage, dating back to the days before the market complicated farmers’ lives. It epitomizes what Thomas Jefferson thought a nation of farmers would become.

Vaught Figure 3

A game of baseball at a farming community in Fayette County, ca. 1900. Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives, La Grange, Texas.

Baseball has also been immensely popular among rural people themselves since the days of Thomas Jefferson. Yet, few farmers and townspeople embraced the game so passionately and with such commitment for its abstract qualities—agrarian, nostalgic, romantic, or otherwise. For them, baseball’s appeal rested on real, tangible attributes. On one level, they simply enjoyed the excitement and camaraderie of the game. Baseball offered recreation, a distraction from their arduous daily routines, and an opportunity for hard-working farm families to gather together for a pleasant Sunday afternoon. The widespread, sustained passion for baseball among farm people over the decades, however, indicates that the game had a deeper, more complex cultural meaning than such an explanation suggests. Far from just a simple pastime, baseball became an expression, indeed a symbol, of the way farmers perceived day-to-day reality. With the emergence of market-oriented agriculture in the early nineteenth century, that reality became increasingly defined by skill, competitiveness, and chance: skill, with regard to their ability to produce high-quality crops in prodigious amounts; competitiveness, in terms of their insatiable appetite for achievement in a world of change and unpredictability; and chance, in that for all their skill and competitiveness, a spell of bad weather or a run of bad luck in the marketplace could bring failure, misery, and frustration. Given that perspective on life, farmers and townspeople preferred games that demanded skill, competitiveness, and chance—and baseball, with its intricate set of rules and rituals, action and suspense, and winner-take-all mentality offered them everything they wanted and needed and more.

Rural baseball now exists primarily in memories and on vintage fields—not because the game has lost popularity but because there are just barely enough farmers left to field a team. For much of American history, however, baseball served as the farmers’ game.

The Farmers' GameDavid Vaught is department head and professor of history at Texas A&M University and author of the recently published book The Farmers’ Game: Baseball in Rural America, available from JHU Press.

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Myths about the Baltimore Orioles

Guest post by Frederick E. Taylor

Baltimore Orioles fans must feel very frustrated. Their once-great franchise has fallen on hard times—14 consecutive losing seasons, a serious decline in attendance, and no dominant players to reverse their misfortune. Losing records bring lower attendance and less revenue which result in smaller payrolls and fewer impact players. Is there any hope? Perhaps, but a realistic answer is obscured by five widespread myths about the Orioles.

The good old days at Camden Yards.

  1. The Orioles are currently the worst team in baseball and maybe the worst team ever. Actually, the Orioles are not the only team experiencing a drought. It has been 19 years since the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a winning season and, with the exception of 2003, it has been 18 years since the Kansas City Royals have had a winning season. The Boston Red Sox are perhaps the most dramatic example of losing streaks. Laboring under the notorious “Curse of the Bambino,” they had 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1920 to 1933. Remember that all teams, like all players, do not perform uniformly year after year. Some teams have more ups and fewer downs and other teams have the opposite. The Orioles are having it tough right now, but all teams have similar experiences from time to time.
  2. The Orioles have a cheap owner who is not willing to give his players adequate compensation.Actually, Orioles owner Peter Angelos has the 16th-highest payroll among the 30 major league teams and the 3rd-highest payroll in the American League East. The 2011 Orioles payroll exceeded that of the Toronto Blue Jays by more than $6 million and that of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays by nearly $45 million! The losing record of the Orioles has more to do with player performance than player payroll. Peter Angelos, like all owners, is certainly not perfect. An objective evaluation of his decision-making is impossible because it occurs in the inner councils of the organization and is not necessarily made public. Based on published data, however, Angelos is not cheap when it comes to player salaries.

    Adam Jones and Nick Markakis in 2009.

  3. Orioles attendance is declining because fans are deserting them for the Washington Nationals. Since 2001, Oriole attendance has declined from about 3 million to 1.75 million, but about 400,000 of that decline occurred before the Nationals arrived in Washington. The attendance of both teams have declined since 2005—the Nationals by about 790,000 and the Orioles by about 870,000. Some fans may have deserted the Orioles for the Nationals, but the decline in Oriole attendance is largely a reflection of performance on the field.
  4. The Orioles are doomed to dwell in the cellar. Although the Orioles play in the toughest and richest division in baseball, they have a higher payroll than the Devil Rays and Blue Jays. The Yankees and Red Sox have the two highest payrolls by far, and yet the Devil Rays—with one-fourth the Red Sox payroll—finished ahead of them in 2011. The Orioles, with twice the Devil Rays’ payroll, should be able to do the same.
  5. The Orioles are bound to improve in 2012 and thereafter. One could point to the Orioles great showing last September. From September 7 on, they had a record of 14-7 overall and 10-4 against American League East teams. The Orioles won five of their six games with the Red Sox and were largely responsible for eliminating the Red Sox from the playoffs. Playing the role of  spoiler was their consolation for an otherwise dismal season. The Orioles have improved a little each of the last two seasons, from 64-98, to 66-96, to 69-93. These increases are quite small, however, and at that rate it would take six years to have a winning record—there’s no guarantee that this will occur.

Frederick E. Taylor is the author of The Runmakers: A New Way to Rate Baseball Players, now available from the JHU Press. He was educated at the University of Rhode Island, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and Georgetown University, which awarded him a Ph.D. in philosophy. He worked in the Departments of Commerce and Defense and has taught at several universities.


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