Union Park and the National League Baltimore Orioles of the 1890’s play a prominent role in my book Deadball, A Metaphysical Baseball Novel, and it is not often that I come across artifacts from the team or that era. When I do, they typically are way out of my price range. But as luck would have it, I was able to purchase at auction recently four copies of the Sporting Life that feature the 1890’s National League Baltimore Orioles on the front cover, as well as a page out of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper featuring a preview of the Orioles and the New York Giants in the Temple Cup.
The Leslie’s newspaper page is extraordinary for it’s pictorial history of early baseball star including Orioles Hall of Famers Dan Brouthers, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Ned Hanlon, plus several New York Giants who appear in the team photo including John Ward, Amos Rusie, and Roger Connor.
The Orioles won the National League pennant in 1894, the first year of a dynasty that would last almost until the team’s demise at the end of the century. The Orioles won three consecutive pennants from 1894-1896. This is reflected in the October 3, 1896, Sporting Life below depicting a Baltimore Oriole player standing next to Uncle Sam on top of the world with the inscription “the world is mine.”
The 1897 season saw a turn of fortune for the Orioles, who lost the pennant to the Boston Beaneaters by two games that year (they came in second behind the Boston Beaneaters in 1898 as well). The May 18, 1897, Sporting Life foreshadows the Orioles fall from the top of the world that season, with a depiction of Uncle Sam presenting a Baltimore baseball player a letter that reads, “Uncle Sam – Some of the other clubs want the pennant this year. Respectfully yours: Uncle Nick.” The caption at the bottom of the page states: “Uncle Sam – Well son, what are you going to do about it.”
The 1899 season would be the last for the National League Baltimore Orioles. The July 15, 1899, Sporting Life depicts Orioles Player/Manager John McGraw, who is said in the caption to be “The brilliant player and capable manager of Baltimore.” Although McGraw would remain in Baltimore as player/manager of the American League Orioles in their inaugural 1901 season and part of the 1902 season, McGraw would move to New York to manage the Giants towards the end of the 1902 season. It was in New York where McGraw achieved his most notable fame, where he is recognized as one of the greatest managers of all time.
On February 24, 1900, when the Sporting Life below was issued, Willie Keeler was still identified as an outfielder for Baltimore, however, by then he had been playing for the Brooklyn Superbas since 1899, alongside fellow former Orioles Joe Kelley, Aleck Smith, and Hughie Jennings. Additional former Orioles Harry Howell, Frank Kitson, Joe McGinnity, Jerry Nops, Gene DeMontreville, and Jimmy Sheckard joined Brooklyn after the 1899 season.
Of course it helped that the former owner of the National League Baltimore franchise, Harry Von Der Horst, also owned the Brooklyn franchise, back in the days of syndicate baseball. The Superbas would win the pennant in 1899 and 1900 thanks in part to the contribution of the old Orioles, including former Orioles Manager Ned Hanlon who joined the Superbas at the helm in 1899.