Top 100 Teams
International League (Triple-A)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
In 1923, the Orioles won their fourth consecutive pennant in convincing fashion. Instrumental in the team’s success this year was a dominant pitching performance from a righthander whose career would never reach this height again.
The city of Baltimore, Maryland, after fielding various minor and major league teams in the 19th century, participated in a bold experiment in the first year of the 20th. In 1900, Baltimore’s National League franchise was excised from the 12-team circuit along with Cleveland, Washington and Louisville. Seeing an opportunity, Ban Johnson and the upstart American League moved into vacated Cleveland territory. The following year, several western American League franchises moved into more populous eastern locales. One of the new teams was to be placed in Baltimore in the now major American League.
Managed by the feisty John McGraw, the Baltimore Orioles finished the 1901season in fifth place with a 68-65 record. During most of the season, McGraw was at loggerheads with league president Johnson, who espoused non-rowdy fair play, a style directly contrary to the manager’s modus operandi. In 1902, the situation escalated until Johnson was forced to suspend McGraw, whereupon the manager promptly resigned to take up the reigns of command with the New York Giants. McGraw’s accomplishments with New York’s National League team over the next 30 years are well documented. The Orioles, after finishing last, followed McGraw to New York to become the Highlanders, the forerunners of the Yankees.
Following this flirtation with the majors, the Orioles returned to the minors in 1903 - specifically the top tier Eastern League. Five years later, the team captured its first flag. In 1912, the league changed its name to the International League. In the next decade, under the leadership of owner/manager Jack Dunn, the team rose through the ranks, finally collecting another pennant in 1919 with a Top 100 team. Over the next three years, in rapid succession, three more flags adorned the Maryland city, each a Top 100 entry.
Although the 1923 Orioles eventually won the pennant by 11 games over Rochester, it wasn’t as easy as that figure might imply. The season got off to a dreadful start. As Charles Foreman, Baltimore correspondent for The Sporting News, wrote in October, “Beginning with the trip to the Winston-Salem (NC) training camp in March, the Orioles seemed jinxed. Just before the team left for camp, secretary-treasurer Jack Dunn, Jr., was taken ill and on the eve of the trip, (manager) Jack Dunn, Sr., decided to remain behind and placed (infielder) Fritz Maisel in charge of the squad. A few days after arriving in camp news of the death of Dunn, Jr., was received and also word of Dunn, Sr., being prostrated by it. A more gloomy camp than that of the Orioles, even before the sad tidings arrived, didn’t exist, for rain had kept the team idle, several players were on the sick list, and there was general depression before a ball was tossed.
“The training season proved a dismal failure. Only a few practices were held and only two of a raft of exhibition games were played. Opening day found Maisel still running the team and Dunn absent from the park. The team plodded along fairly well, but Rochester, going like wildfire, its pitchers having trained since February, and other players since early March, in sunny Georgia, was cleaning up all opposition.
“The first road trip found Dunn still among the missing, he having lost all interest in the game because of his misfortune. Added worry for the Birds came when Maisel was taken ill on the trip and had to be sent home after turning the management over to (outfielder) Otis Lawry,. Lawry later turned the management over to Charley (Butch) Schmidt, the club’s vice-president. Dunn took a peep at his team while it was on the road in mid-May. Maisel, however, took over the playing management upon the return home, but he and his mates, after much persuasion, convinced Dunn to operate the club from the bench starting June 1.
“Dunn’s first moves were to obtain catcher Joe Cobb from Jersey City and let Rochester take catcher Wickey McAvoy on waivers after a disagreement with the latter, and to sign veteran pitcher Chief Bender. The addition of the peppy Cobb put new life in the Orioles, and steadily climbing as Rochester slipped, its pitching staff having cracked, the Birds moved into first place June 20, never to relinquish it, although at times closely pressed. Rochester never quite recovered from its collapse although going very good from mid-August until admitting defeat. (Baltimore clinched the pennant on September 15, eight days before the season closed.)
“The final strike of Dunn’s genius in player deals was shown when he claimed (outfielder) Clarence Pitt from Rochester on waivers for $2,500 and brought the belligerent (first baseman) Clayton Sheedy into line.” When he left Rochester July 18, Pitt, who had been playing right field and batting third in the lineup, was hitting .362, fifth in the league. Rochester manager George Stallings was quoted at the time in The Sporting News saying the reason he got rid of Pitt was that “he was not the right type of player.” Dunn moved the 5’7”, 145-pound left-handed hitter into the leadoff spot and put him in center field, where Foreman said, “he learned much of the art of fielding.” In mid-August he was described as “fleet, daring, and peppy.” Pitt finished the season batting .357-7-70 in 155 games. He won the International League batting championship by the narrowest margin in baseball history over his former teammate, Rochester’s fleet 5’6” center fielder, Maurice Archdeacon. Carried to the fifth decimal point, Pitt hit .35738, Archdeacon .35736. Pitt’s lead would have been greater had he not gone 0-for-4 in the final game of the season, a seven-inning 13-0 win over Jersey City in which Baltimore collected 16 hits. Archdeacon had been sold to the White Sox and when Rochester was eliminated from the pennant chase, he left for Chicago with five games remaining. Pitt, 26, had come to Rochester in 1923 after three years with Oklahoma City (Western) where he hit .331, .327, and .339. He played three more years in the International League, moving to Newark in mid-season 1924. That franchise shifted to Providence in 1925 and Pitt was with Reading and Baltimore again in 1926. He always hit over .300 in the International League. His last pro season was 1927 with Knoxville (South Atlantic).
The Orioles lost the Junior World Series to the American Association champion Kansas City Blues, (another Top 100 team) 5 games to 4. The teams had almost identical season records: Baltimore 111-53, .677; Kansas City 112-54, .675. The series took 16 days to complete because of bad weather. During the regular season, Baltimore led the International League in batting, (.310), runs (1,069), hits (1,767), total bases (2,617), home runs (141) and RBI (962). Their home run total was 51 more than runner-up Buffalo. The Orioles were only third in fielding.
After Pitt, the Orioles’ best hitters were second baseman Max Bishop and first baseman-outfielder Jimmy Walsh with identical .333 averages. Bishop tied with Buffalo third baseman Billy Webb for the league lead in home runs (22), led the team in slugging percentage (.559) and drove in 109 runs. Bishop, a left-handed hitter, was a native of Waynesboro, PA. In 1918, when he was only 18 and attending Baltimore City College, he was signed by the Orioles. Two of his college teammates also became major leaguers and enjoyed lifelong careers in the game, pitcher Alphonse (Tommy) Thomas and first baseman Johnny Neun. In his rookie year Bishop became Baltimore’s regular third basemen. He switched to second base during the 1919 season. Following his outstanding 1923 performance for the Orioles, he was purchased by the Philadelphia Athletics. He was with the A’s for ten years, then traded to the Boston Red Sox in December, 1933. He played two more years in the majors, with Boston. He batted .271 in 1,338 major league games. Sometimes called “Camera Eye” because of his ability to judge the strike zone, Bishop drew 100 or more walks seven times (1926-27, 1929-33) and came close in 1928 with 97. He led the league in bases on balls in 1929 (128). Twice he walked eight times in a double-header, May 21, 1930 and July 8, 1934. He led American League second basemen in fielding in 1926 (.987), 1928 (.978), and 1932 (.988). In 1926 he played 53 consecutive games, handling 267 chances, without making an error. Bishop played for the Athletics in the 1929-30-31 World Series. He batted only .182 in 18 games, but handled 68 chances at second base without an error. He began the 1936 season as the manager at Portland (Pacific Coast), but was released in May and returned to the Orioles where he played 23 games, batting .281. He scouted for Detroit in 1937. In 1938, Bishop became head baseball coach at the United States Naval Academy, a position he held for 24 years. He died suddenly February 24, 1962, a week before he was scheduled to retire. The athletic director of the academy said, “Always the gentleman on and off the field, he left an indelible mark on the young midshipmen with whom he associated.”
Jimmy Walsh, a native of Killila, Ireland, was a right-handed hitter. Although he stood 5’10 ˝” tall and weighed 170 pounds, he had very small feet and wore a size 5 baseball shoe. He broke into pro ball in 1907 with Syracuse (New York State) and reached Baltimore for the first time in 1910. After hitting .354 for the Orioles in 1912, he was purchased by the Athletics in August. Walsh played for Philadelphia, New York and Boston in the American League through 1917, batting .231 in 536 games. He played for the A’s in the 1914 World Series, going 2-for-6 in two games. After military service in 1918, he played for Seattle (Pacific Coast), Akron and Newark before returning to Baltimore in 1922 for two years. In 1923 he was second in the league in RBI (134). Walsh played for Jersey City in 1924. In 1925-26, with Buffalo, he led the International League in batting both seasons. He hit .357-22-122 in 154 games in 1925, and, at the age of 41, .388-17-131 in 147 games in 1926. He was with Toronto and Jersey City from 1927-29, giving him 13 years in the International League. Walsh started 1930 with Hartford (Eastern), then was playing manager at Fairmont (Middle Atlantic) the last half of 1930 and the first half of 1931 before retiring from baseball. In his last season, at 45, he batted .336 in 68 games. In his 25-year minor league career, Walsh hit .316 with 2,696 hits in 2,385 games.
Rookie first baseman Clayton Sheedy came out of Georgetown University, where he had been team captain, to hit .359 in 34 games in the closing weeks of the season, batting fifth in the order. Sheedy, 23, a right-handed hitter, also was a track star in college. In his history of the Orioles, “The Home Team,” James Bready said that “it took his long legs just 13 seven-foot double strides to gallop from third to home.” His best year was 1926 when he hit .364-19-118, leading the Orioles in batting, RBI and doubles (45), and tying for the lead in homers and triples (10). He was with Baltimore through 1927, then played for Toronto, Buffalo and Jersey City, retiring after the 1931 season. Sheedy returned to Georgetown to coach the baseball team, then became an FBI agent. He returned to baseball in 1947 to manage Lancaster (Interstate) and piloted the Red Sox farm club at Milford (Eastern Shore) in 1948. He was a special assignment scout for Boston from 1949 until his death in May, 1967.
Baltimore’s best pitcher was the talented, but temperamental and erratic James Arthur (Rube) Parnham, a 29-year-old, 6’3”, 185-pound right-hander from Heidelberg, PA. The 1923 season was his best. Parnham won 33 and lost 7 with a 3.18 ERA, setting a 20th century International League record for most wins while setting an overall league record for consecutive victories. Rube won his last 20 decisions, capping the performance by winning a complete double-header at Jersey City on the last day of the season. In the first game he pitched a nine-inning 5-1 six-hitter and in the second game a seven-inning 13-0 three-hitter. The only run off him came in the second inning of the first game. He won his first two starts in 1924 to run his winning streak to 22 overall. Parnham started his pro career in 1914 at Huntington (Ohio State) and in 1915-16 pitched for Raleigh and Durham (North Carolina State). In 1916 he had a 2.38 ERA in a league-leading 314 innings, but his record was only 17-19 and he led in losses. Nevertheless, he was purchased by the Athletics and he was 2-1, 3.93 at the end of the season. After going 0-1, 4.09 to start 1917, he was released to Baltimore. That began his decade-long, often volatile relationship with Jack Dunn. In 1919 he went 28-12, 2.44 for the first of Dunn’s string of champions, leading the International League in wins, innings pitched (350) and strikeouts (187). He was 5-0, 3.00 early in 1920 when he jumped the club to pitch in an industrial league in Pennsylvania, where he remained in 1921. He returned to the Orioles in 1922. Following his great 1923 campaign, Rube dropped to 6-5, 4.84 in 1924 and after 15 games he was gone again. He sat out the 1925 season, then came back to the Orioles again in 1926, going 13-7, 5.05. After a 2-8, 6.00 season in 1927 for Reading and Newark he retired for good. Of Parnham, Bready wrote “The greatest character of them all, the small-town fellow who talked back to the city slickers in the stands, the Rube …Often skipped spring training; his own worst enemy; ‘dumbest man off the field - and the smartest on.’” When he pitched the season-ending double-header in 1923 he had just returned from still another episode of being AWOL. A typical item in The Sporting News in July of that year reported “Rube Parnham of the Baltimore Orioles went on another rampage last week and Jack Dunn again declared he was done with him, star though he may be. Parnham blamed Otis Lawry for failure to make a play and took a punch at the little fellow, who is about one-half the pitcher’s size. Dunn suspended him on the spot and fined him $250. In a week’s time, Rube was in there pitching as usual.”
Lefty Grove was 27-10, 3.11, set the International League record for most strikeouts in a season, 330 in 303 innings and also led in bases on balls (186). He fanned 59 batters in his first four starts. (Grove’s career is detailed in another of the Top 100 team reports.) Together, Parnham and Grove accounted for 60 victories, more than half the team’s total of 111.
In the next two years, the Orioles went on to win another pair of flags before bowing to a Top 100 team from Toronto in 1926. Following the string, pennants were few and far between for the Orioles. The team squeaked out a flag in 1944 over Newark and won a playoff championship in 1950 before making way for the major league Orioles in 1955.
The 1923 Orioles kept Baltimore’s incredible string going with a fine championship club. Typical of the other six pennant winners, this Orioles club relied on a handful of stellar performances - none better than the 33-win season of Rube Parnham - a shining performance in a career that burned out way too quickly.
|1923 International League standings|
|1923 Baltimore Orioles batting leaders|
|Joe Cobb (Jersey City)||C||115||397||72||127||80||19||12||15||46||55||8||.320|
|Clarence Pitt (Rochester)||OF||155||582||130||208||70||26||9||7||76||32||19||.357|
|Wicky McAvoy (Roc.)||C||107||314||43||97||54||15||5||7||36||29||4||.309|
|1923 Baltimore Orioles pitching leaders|