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Game 85: Twins at Orioles

Some very early Baltimore Orioles history

John McGraw Cabinet Card Balto

First Pitch: 11:05 AM CT

TV: Peacock (hey—they aren’t bankrupt!)

Radio: TIBN

Know Thine Enemy: Camden Chat

As you sit down this morning with your coffee (I’m more of an orange juice guy myself) and donuts to watch another round of Sunday morning Minnesota Twins baseball, I’m sure that a history lesson on a figure from the opposing team is exactly what you want. So, here is a history lesson on a figure from the opposing team...

When you think of the Baltimore Orioles, you probably conjure images of Boog Powell, the Robinsons (Brooks & Frank), amazing 60s/70s starting pitching, Cal Ripken Jr., and Camden Yards. But none of that would have been possible were it not for 18-year-old John McGraw’s 1891 arrival in Charm City.

Initially describing Baltimore as “a dirty, dreary, ramshackle sort of place”, McGraw—having seen most of his family wiped out by diphtheria—was in town for one thing only: baseball. Paired with “Wee” Willie Keeler, Hughie Jennings, and Joe Kelley, the 1890s Orioles of the American Association were baseball’s hottest commodity. Capturing league pennants from 1894-1896, the O’s practically invented the hit-and-run, suicide squeeze, and “Baltimore Chop”—beating the ball into the purposely-tall grass and outpacing the relay to first base. Sort of a reverse-Cristian Guzman (bouncing balls off the Metrodome turf) approach to hitting.

Baltimore Orioles
McGraw circa 1891
Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

From 1893-1899—his prime as a ballplayer—McGraw hit at a .345 BA & .886 OPS clip. He was clearly the heart and soul of the Orioles—but in roguish fashion. Said a sportswriter of the era: “[McGraw] adopts every low and contemptible method that his erratic brain can conceive to win a play by a dirty trick”. With often only one umpire patrolling play, McGraw was accused of grabbing baserunners by the belt to slow their progress. Seeking definitive proof of such restraint, on one occasion a runner loosened his belt and left McGraw holding it after passing by! Skipping bases when the ump’s back was turned and engaging in fisticuffs also proliferated. Essentially, McGraw was a combination of Nick Punto, A.J. Pierzynski, and the 2017 Astros.

In 1901, the Orioles joined the new American League. Limited by injury to 232 AB, McGraw still put up a .349 BA & .995 OPS. But clashes with appropriately-named AL President Ban Johnson—striving to remove rowdyism from baseball and make it more family-friendly—drove McGraw to the National League’s Giants by 1902.

John McGraw Christy Mathewson At The Dugout
McGraw and Christy Mathewson (known as the “Christian Gentleman”) formed an unlikely friendship as Giants
Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Somewhat remarkably, McGraw’s legacy was just getting started, as he managed the Giants to the third-most victories in MLB history (behind Connie Mack & Tony La Russa). But before his friendship with Christy Mathewson and epic clashes with Babe Ruth’s Yankees, McGraw made a definitive mark on Baltimore baseball.

Though doubtful any belts will be grabbed or umpires socked this morning/afternoon, let’s see if the Twins can Chop their way to a sweep…

Today's Lineups

Carlos Correa - SS Gunnar Henderson - 3B
Donovan Solano - 1B Adley Rutschman - DH
Byron Buxton - DH Anthony Santander - RF
Kyle Farmer - 2B Austin Hays - LF
Willi Castro - LF Cedric Mullins - CF
Ryan Jeffers - C Ramon Urias - 1B
Jose Miranda - 3B Jordan Westburg - 2B
Michael Taylor - CF Jorge Mateo - SS
Alex Kirilloff - RF Anthony Bemboom - C
Sonny Gray - RHP Cole Irvin - LHP