by James H. Bready

At the recent Replay Convention in Pittsburgh, two members of the ORBL (John McKenna & Wayne Sauchuk-also known as the Dharma Bums) decided to turn the trip into an extended road tour, taking in a game in Baltimore two nights later. Before taking in a game in Camden Yards, they happened to stumble across this book, and picked it up for me. While recuperating in the hospital, I decided it was a good a time as any to read it.

This coffee-table style book covers the history of baseball in Baltimore from 1858 to the last year of their minor league team in 1953. Although it may seem odd that they wouldn’t include the modern Orioles, there is plenty here to compensate. Little-known histories of Baltimore minor league teams, snippets of witty newspaper reporting (especially from the 19th century, where flowery prose can often be found on the sports pages), and plenty of great photos of ballparks, memorabilia, and local diamond heroes make this an enjoyable book.

Starting with baseball in the mid-19th century, brief stories are told about the Excelsiors and the state of baseball in Baltimore in those Civil War days, even mentioning a game being played in town as everyone awaited the news of the Battle of Gettysburgh, which was being waged a mere 60 miles away at the time. It then developes into a mini-history of baseball itself as the city of Baltimore would play a pivotal part in many events. Somewhat surprising are the amount of major league-status teams that had played in Baltimore, including their National Association (1872-74), American Association (1882-91), National League (1892-99), Federal League (1914-15), and the American League, where their brief franchise (1901-1902) would move to New York, and eventually become the Yankees. There would be no other franchise shifting in the majors until more than 50 years later when Baltimore inherited the St. Louis Browns.

The book devotes much ink to the fabled Orioles of the 1890s, which has always been my favourite team of all time. I found plenty of information on one of the greatest major league teams of the 19th century here, with plenty of wonderful pictures of the players. Equally compelling is the section on the black teams of Baltimore, the Black Sox and the Elites. Many fabled African-American players passed through town, and are recounted here. But perhaps the most interesting team in town was the minor league International League franchise that won seven consecutive pennants under manager Jack Dunn. Much is devoted to that segment of Baltimore history. A chapter is even devoted to Babe Ruth, with stories about his birth there, and minor league debut as a member of the Oriole team. Another positive feature of this book is that it lets people know where in Baltimore many of the old stadiums were located.

I did find a couple of quotes quite enjoyable, including two 19th century sports writer barbs.

"Umpire John Kelly defeated the Baltimore Base Ball club yesterday afternoon at Oriole Park in the presence of a large concourse of people by a score of 11 to 3. The Cincinnati club assisted Kelly."

"Without a doubt the finest and most interesting game of ball ever played on the Oriole grounds was that between the Baltimores and the Alleghanys yesterday afternoon, in which the home team defeated 10 men, including the umpire, by a score of 8 to 6."

There is something for every Replayer in here. Anyone who has bought a set from 1894, The Minor League Greats, Deadball Decades, or Negro Leagues can find much to pore over in conjuction with their card sets. On the downside, it only served as an appetizer, and did little to completely inform me as much as I wanted to. Better books about the 1890s Orioles, John McGraw, the Baltimore Black Sox and Elites, and Jack Dunn have or will be written that are more detailed and complete. But if you prefer something that is a little more light, and you live near Baltimore, then this is the book for you. --Al Arthurs

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