Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
| Lefty Grove|
By 1924, the International League was getting tired of the exploits of the Baltimore Orioles who had won the previous five flags. Alas, for the rest of the league, no change was in the wind. The Orioles would again bludgeon the league in 1924, winning their sixth pennant in a row with one of the more impressive squads of the string. Leading the way was a stalwart Orioles hurler, who some say was the greatest left-hander the game has ever seen.
The city of Baltimore, Maryland, has enjoyed a rich history of baseball dating back to the Civil War. Later, the city fielded teams in four major leagues in the 19th century, placing nines in the National Association (1872-74), American Association (1882-1890), Union Association (1884) and National League (1892-99). At the dawn of the 20th century, the Orioles played for two years in the brand new American League (1901-02). Twelve years later, after the Minor League Orioles had been playing for years in the Eastern League, another Major League team was poised to play in the Maryland city.
In 1913, a six-team minor league began play in the Midwest. Operating outside the aegis of the National Association, the Federal League placed franchises in several large markets like St. Louis and Kansas City. The following year, under the tutelage of league president James A. Gilmore, a Chicago coal merchant, the Feds announced they would play as a third major league. The outlaws went after and signed several former major league stars, including Chicago’s Joe Tinker, Philadelphia’s Tom Seaton and New York’s Hal Chase. The league also expanded to eight teams. One of the new franchises would play in Baltimore and would be known as the Terrapins.
On April 13, 1914, the Terrapins, in direct competition with the minor league Orioles, opened the Federal League season at home in front of an impressive crowd of 27,140. The Federal ballpark was located right across the street from the Orioles’ diamond and the Terrapins soon became the fan favorites at the expense of the minor leaguers. The Baltimore Feds featured former major leaguers like Harry Swacina, Otto Knabe and Kaiser Wilhelm. The Orioles countered with youngsters like Babe Ruth, who made his debut on April 22 with a 6-0 six-hitter in front of only 200 fans. The Terrapins, behind pitching sensations Jack Quinn (26-14) and George Suggs (24-14), finished the season in third, while the Orioles finished sixth, solvent only because owner Jack Dunn sold most of his players in mid-season.
In 1915, Jack Dunn and the Orioles gave up, moving the team to Richmond, VA, leaving the Terrapins in sole control of Baltimore baseball. However, the Federal League, in general, and the Terrapins, specifically, were also in trouble. With the novelty gone, baseball fans began to desert baseball’s third major league. Not helping matters, the Terrapins were terrible in 1915, dropping quickly to the cellar. Like Dunn in 1914, Baltimore’s Federal team was forced to release or sell several of its players to reduce costs. After the Terrapins finished the season with a woeful 47-107 record, the Federal League made overtures to Organized Baseball, seeking a peace settlement. In the agreement, a ten-man group headed by Charles Weeghman, owner of the Federal League Chicago Whales, purchased the Cubs and Phil Ball, owner of the St. Louis Terriers, bought the Browns. In 1914, Weeghman, owner of a chain of cafeterias, had constructed a new stadium on Chicago’s North Side, which he named Weeghman Park. When he bought the Cubs, he moved them from the aging West Side Grounds to his new facility. In 1919, one of the partners, William Wrigley, Jr., purchased Weeghman’s shares, giving him controlling interest in the franchise. The name of the ballpark was changed to Cubs Park. In 1927, the last physical legacy of the Federal League became Wrigley Field.
Dunn and the Orioles returned to Baltimore in 1916, and the talented owner/manager soon put together a powerhouse. After several first division finishes, the Orioles won the International League flag in 1919, with a 100-win, Top 100 team. Four more championships quickly followed, each earning a place on the list of the minors’ elite. In 1924, the string would continue.
The 1924 Orioles got off to a fast start, but then it rained, and rained and rained. For seven days, April 29-May 5, all of the Orioles’ games were postponed by rain or wet grounds. Then Baltimore hit a bump in the road. On May 12, writing in The Sporting News, Charles Foreman said: “Evidence that the Baltimore Orioles are due to travel a rocky road in the attempt to win their sixth straight pennant this season is being furnished as they make their stand against Northern teams on foreign ground….Having witnessed the Orioles’ canter to the flag for five years, fans are desirous of a change. The Orioles are greatly admired for such feats, but those paying the freight are tired of seeing the Birds win in a walk and want a warmer race with their own team having a chance. It appears that their wish is to be granted. While in Baltimore the first two weeks of the season, the Orioles, a great home team, concealed their weakness through the great generalship of Dunn, winning 10 games while losing 3 and hitting the road in first place….At present they are in a slump, a bad one.” Baltimore lost five of seven games, and, for only the fourth time in six years, dropped four in a row, falling to second place behind Buffalo. However, the Orioles recovered, won seven of nine and were back on top to stay, dashing the hopes of the rest of the league. As the season progressed, Baltimore kept pulling farther ahead. At one point from July 20-August 17, the Orioles won 29 and lost only 6, including one stretch in which they went 15-2. Dunn made one trade that strengthened the Birds even further. He was obviously displeased with the performance of the 1923 league batting champion, right fielder Clarence Pitt. Foreman said Pitt was hitting horribly and his fielding was even worse. On June 21, Dunn was able to trade Pitt to Reading for outfielder Tommy Connolly. Connolly batted .312-19-98 and hit five home runs in three games, August 6-8. Although Baltimore was “only” 15-8 in September, they finished with a 117-48, .709 record, 19 games ahead of second place Toronto. The Orioles particularly feasted on the Buffalo Bisons, winning 22 of 24 against the third place team. Only Toronto gave the Orioles much trouble in head-to-head competition, winning 11 of the 24 matches.
For the first time since 1919, Baltimore did not lead the league in batting. They hit .300, ten points behind Toronto. The Orioles did, however, lead in runs with 1,061, 112 more than runner-up Rochester, total bases (2,625), RBI (929) and home runs (166). The homer total was a league record at the time.
In their fifth appearance in the Junior World Series against the American Association champions, the Orioles were slated to meet St. Paul, whom they had defeated in 1920 and 1922. As the International League season closed more than a week before the American Association, Baltimore played a three-game series against Eastern League champion Waterbury to keep in shape. They lost all three games to the Class A team by scores of 5-1, 5-0 and 7-2. That may have been a portent of things to come. The best-of-nine Junior World Series opened in Baltimore October 2 and the Orioles came from behind to win 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth on Merwin Jacobson’s two-run homer with one out. Lefty Grove struck out 11. The Saints won the second game 6-0 on Howard Merritt’s three-hitter. St. Paul got off to a 6-3 lead in the third game, scoring five runs in the fourth off Cliff Jackson on four walks, two errors, a wild pitch and only three hits. The Orioles tied the score at 6-6 in the sixth and that’s the way it remained until the game was called because of darkness at the end of the 13th inning. Tommy Thomas pitched 9 2/3 shutout innings for Baltimore. The Orioles won the next two games 6-4 and 10-1 behind Grove and George Earnshaw, who pitched a three-hitter and struck out 10. The teams left for St. Paul with the Orioles leading the series 3 games to 1. The Saints won their first game at home, beating Grove, who walked eight batters, 5-3. Thomas continued his shutout string with an 11-strikeout three-hitter as Baltimore won game seven 4-0. That put the Orioles in the series lead, 4 games to 2, needing just one more victory. It never came. St. Paul won the next three games, 3-1, 3-2 and 6-3, to win the series and avenge their earlier defeats.
Jack Dunn was in his 18th season as Baltimore’s manager and his sixth as the grand marshal of the Orioles’ pennant parade. Dunn’s career is covered in detail in the report of the 1919 Orioles, Top 100 team number 35.
Most of the 1923 championship team returned in 1924, but there were some roster changes. Second baseman Max Bishop and catcher Lena Styles went up to the majors and first baseman Jimmy Walsh was sold to Jersey City, where he became manager of the Skeeters. After the season started, reliever Harry Frank, showing some signs of physical problems, and outfielder Otis Lawry, the 1919 batting champion, also went to Jersey City, Lawry in a trade for outfielder John Jacobs. All of the starting pitchers came back, but Rube Parnham went from his record 33-7, 3.18 season in 1923 to 6-5, 4.84 in 1924 and was gone by mid-season.
For the fifth time in six years the International League batting champion was an Oriole. In 1924 it was 22-year-old, left-handed hitting second baseman Richard Twilley (Twitchy Dick) Porter. He hit .364-23-125 in 129 games with a .625 slugging percentage. He was tied for third in home runs and was fourth in RBI. On August 23, at Rochester, he suffered a serious leg injury when he was spiked in a play at second base and was sidelined for a month, recovering just in time to return to the lineup for the Junior World Series. The Sporting News said that, “Anyone who ever saw Porter bat would never forget him. He had one of the oddest stances in baseball. He wiggled, waved his bat and employed other gyrations. ‘It’s a wonder he ever hits the ball,’ said Jack Dunn.” In a 1933 interview with sportswriter Harold (Speed) Johnson, Porter said, “Dunn helped me a lot. He told me to go ahead and bat the way I wanted to when everyone else tried to change my hitting style. What is the difference how you swing a bat or what you do with your feet as long as you can make base hits and bat better than .300 every season?”
Porter was another Maryland product, a native of Princess Anne, a tiny town about 15 miles south of Salisbury, and went directly from St. John’s College in Annapolis to the Orioles late in 1921 at the age of 19. He hit .321 in 16 games and batted .279-8-70 in 136 games in 1922. During his remaining six seasons with Baltimore he never hit below .316. In addition to 1924, Porter led the league in batting in 1927 (.376-25-152 in 155 games). In ’27, he also led in home runs and was second in runs (128), hits (225), doubles (43), triples (18) and total bases (379). He had a .633 slugging percentage and struck out only 29 times in 661 plate appearances. Porter was versatile, playing second, third, shortstop and the outfield for the Orioles. Interestingly, his two batting titles came in the only years in which he concentrated on one position, second base in 1924 and the outfield in 1927. Dunn finally sold him to a major league club, Cleveland, for $40,000 after he hit .350-12-97 in 1928. Porter was a .300 hitter in the first four of his five years with the Indians. His best season was 1930 when he batted .350-4-57 in 119 games. He was traded to the Red Sox early in 1934, his last major season. Porter batted .308-11-284 in 675 major league games. In 1,472 minor league games, he batted .328-123-918. He returned to the International League with Newark in 1935-36 and Syracuse in 1937-38. Porter succeeded Jim Bottomley as Syracuse manager during the 1938 season and led the Chiefs to second place. He managed Syracuse again in 1939-40, finishing fifth and seventh, playing a few games each year. He managed Anniston (Southeastern) in 1941. Although he was 40, he enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1942 and served for three years. Porter returned to managing in 1945-46 with Wilkes-Barre (Eastern), finishing in the first division both years. He piloted Birmingham (Southern) in 1947, Utica (Eastern) in 1948, Fall River (New England) in 1949, St Petersburg (Florida International) in 1950 and Salisbury (Interstate) in 1952 before retiring from the game.
The leader of the pitching staff was 24-year-old Robert Moses (Lefty) Grove, with a 26-6, 3.01 record, striking out 231 and walking 108 in 236 innings. Grove led the International League in wins, winning percentage (.813), shutouts (5), strikeouts and lowest opponents batting average (.192). Grove stood 6’3”, very tall in an era when few pro players topped the six-foot mark. He weighed about 170 pounds at the start of his pro career and later filled out to 190-195. Lefty, also known as Bob or Mose, was called Groves until after he reached the majors. As mentioned in the report on the 1920 Orioles, Top 100 team number 9, Jim Kaplan, in his book “Lefty Grove, American Original,” says the family name really was Groves, so calling him that was no mistake. Grove came from Lonaconing (pronounced Lone-a-CONE-ing), in the coal mining region in the western panhandle of Maryland. He played no baseball until he was 17 years old. He started as a first baseman for his hometown team, then began pitching and joined a semi-pro team in Midland, MD. He worked at various jobs after leaving school, very briefly in the mines, in a silk mill, a glass factory and, finally, for the B & O railroad. In May, 1920, Grove was signed by Martinsburg, WV, in the Class C Blue Ridge League. He pedaled his bicycle from Lonaconing to Martinsburg to report for his first pro baseball job. After going 3-3 with 60 strikeouts, 24 walks and only 30 hits allowed in 59 innings, he was purchased by Baltimore for a reported $3,000-$3,500. Kaplan says that Martinsburg was reluctant to part with Grove, but the club needed money for a fence that would complete the building of their new ballpark. According to Baltimore sportswriter Charles Foreman, two hours after Jack Dunn, Jr., the Orioles secretary, closed the deal for Grove, a telegram was received by Martinsburg from the New York Giants making an offer of $5,000 for the young southpaw.
Grove made his Baltimore debut on July 1, defeating Jersey City 9-3. During the rest of the 1920 season he went 12-2, 3.81 striking out 88 in 120 innings, but walking 71. In 1921, his first full season, he went 25-10, 2.56, pitching 313 innings and leading the league in both strikeouts (254) and walks (179).
Observers began comparing Grove to Rube Waddell, the left-handed strikeout artist of the first decade of the 20th century. He became known as “The Wild Oriole.” In 1922, he missed a month because of a broken finger and his win total dropped. He finished the year with 18-8, 2.80, again leading the league in both strikeouts (205 in 209 innings) and bases on balls (152). In 1923, he was 27-10, 3.12 and led the league in shutouts (6). Grove set the International League record in strikeouts with 330 in 303 innings, but once more had a league-high 186 walks. His wildness kept major league teams from making what Dunn would have considered a good offer for Grove. In 1924, Dunn acquired veteran major league catcher Lew McCarty as a backup for Joe Cobb. McCarty caught only 47 games, but made an invaluable contribution. Foreman wrote: “Not until McCarty began working with him did Grove show signs of increasing control.” The result was obvious. Lefty cut his walk total from 186 in 303 innings to 108 in 236 innings and no longer was the league leader. In August, in two exhibition games against major league teams, he struck out 13 White Sox and 14 Athletics. The serious bidding for Lefty Grove began. Kaplan reports that a Philadelphia Evening Ledger story said both the Cubs and Dodgers had offered $100,000. However, in October, Dunn sold Grove to his old friend and benefactor, Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics, for $100,600. Dunn wanted the additional $600 to make the purchase price the highest ever paid for a minor league player. Until then, the record was the $100,000 San Francisco received from the White Sox in 1922 for third baseman Willie Kamm.
After the transaction, in the October 30 edition of The Sporting News, Dunn told Foreman that Grove is “the greatest left-hander I ever saw…Connie Mack will find him a big winner.” Grove had a well-deserved reputation for having a fierce temper, yet Dunn added, “Grove is the easiest man to handle I ever had. I never saw a player more willing to work out of turn or more dependable. Grove never gave us a minute’s worry. He reported to training camp each spring without an extra pound of flesh and was always the first pitcher in shape to work a full game. After that he was never out of condition.”
Dunn’s prediction of major league success was, of course, right on the mark, although it came slowly. In his rookie year, 1925, Grove went 10-12, 4.75 leading the American League in strikeouts (116 in 197 innings), but also first in walks (131). That was to be the only year he led in bases on balls. In 1926, he improved to 13-13, 2.51, leading the league in ERA and strikeouts with 194 in 258 innings while reducing his walks to 101. He never again walked more than 83 batters in a season. In 1927, he reached the 20-win mark for the first time in the majors, 20-13, 3.19. He won 20 or more for seven straight years. Statistically, his best season was 1931 when he won 31, a modern major league record for left-handers, and lost only 4, leading the American League in winning percentage (.886), complete games (27), shutouts (4) and strikeouts (175). Grove helped pitch Philadelphia to three consecutive pennants, 1929-30-31, and World Series championships in 1929-30. In the 1929 Series, Connie Mack did not start either Grove or lefty Rube Walberg, Kaplan says, fearing the Cubs’ right-handed hitters, especially Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler. Grove pitched twice in relief as the A’s won, 4 games to 1, working 6 1/3 innings of three-hit shutout ball, striking out 10 and walking 1. In the 1930-31 Series, Lefty made six starts, going 4-2, 2.00, striking out 26 and walking 5 in 45 innings. The vicissitudes of the Great Depression forced Mack to dismantle the great A’s juggernaut, bit by bit, just as he had to do after 1914. On December 12, 1933, Grove, along with former Orioles teammate Max Bishop and Walberg, went to the Red Sox for $125,000 and two players.
Grove’s first year with Boston was a disaster. From the start of spring training he had a sore shoulder, a problem that was traced to abscessed teeth. After they were extracted, Grove was still ineffective. Next, his infected tonsils were removed. By the end of July he had won only four games. He pitched more often the last two months of the 1934 season, but was ineffective. He finished with the worst year of his long career, 8-8, 6.50 with 32 strikeouts and 32 walks in 109 innings. In 1935, Grove, now 35, bounced back with a 20-12, 2.70 season, leading the league in ERA. He won 15 or more in each of the next four years and led in ERA three times. His final year was 1941, 7-7, 4.37. Grove had a minor league career record of 111-39, 2.90 with 1,168 strikeouts and 720 walks in 1,243 innings. His major league record was 300-141, 3.06 with 2,266 strikeouts and 1,187 walks in 3,941 innings. He was the only pitcher to win 300 games between World Wars I and II.
Grove set the major league records for: Most years leading league in lowest ERA (9) and most years leading league in highest winning percentage, 15 or more victories (5). He set American League records
for most years winning 20 or more games by a left-handed pitcher (8), most consecutive years leading in lowest ERA (4) and lowest career ERA by a pitcher winning 300 or more games (3.06). In 1928 he twice tied a major league record by striking out three batters in one inning on nine pitches, August 23 against Cleveland and September 27 against Chicago. In 1931, he won 16 games in a row from June 8 to August 19, tying what was then an American League record. He led the American League in strikeouts seven consecutive seasons, 1925-31, one short of Walter Johnson’s major league record. Grove was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1931, the first year the Baseball Writers Association presented the award. He pitched in three Major League All-Star Games, 1933, 1936 and 1938, starting the game in 1936, and was 0-1, 2.25 in 8 innings. He was named pitcher on The Sporting News Major League All-Star Team five consecutive years, 1928-32. Grove was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947. He died in Norwalk, OH, on May 22, 1975.
In 1920, Grove had joined the Orioles in mid-season as a raw rookie and was successful. Four years later, another rookie followed suit. He was 24-year-old, 6’4”, 210-pound right-hander George (Moose) Earnshaw. Like teammate Jack Ogden, Earnshaw was a graduate of Swarthmore College. In 1924, throwing a blazing fastball, he went 7-0, 3.38. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Baseball says, “Earnshaw, a man born into wealth, cared little for baseball achievements. Writer Ira Smith described him as ‘sociable, a fine dresser, (and) a good story-teller…proficient at billiards, tennis and golf. All in all, a type of man rarely encountered in a sport which he took very lightly at first but which brought him fame and success when he fully applied his brain and talent to it.’ Born on New York’s Riverside Drive and listed in ‘The Social Register,’ Earnshaw attended Swarthmore and excelled in baseball, basketball and football, serving as the school’s basketball captain (in his last two years)…Although he signed a contract with Jack Dunn’s Baltimore Orioles as a sophomore, he did not join them until two years later. He simply didn’t need the money.”
Earnshaw blossomed in 1925 with a 29-11, 3.52 record, second in the International League in wins, striking out 200 and walking 113 in 332 innings. This edition of the Orioles was Dunn’s seventh consecutive championship team, and his last. Moose was the pitching star of Baltimore’s victory in the Junior World Series. The Series had been shortened to a best-of-seven affair and the Orioles won 4 games to 3 to gain revenge for their loss to the Colonels in 1921. Earnshaw won three complete games. He was the victor in game two at Louisville. The Colonels took a 3-2 lead when the series moved to Baltimore and the Orioles were on the verge of defeat. Earnshaw beat Louisville 5-3 on a five-hitter in the sixth game and, after the series was delayed by weather, came back with only two days rest to defeat the Colonels 5-2. Moose was 22-14, 4.52 in 1926 as the Orioles dropped to second place behind Toronto. He went 17-18, 3.77 in 1927 as Baltimore fell all the way to fifth place. Dunn had received bids for Earnshaw from major league clubs, but the offer never was enough. Finally, during Moose’s worst year, 1928, when he was only 3-5, 6.15 after 13 games, Dunn sold him to the Athletics for a reported $75,000. Earnshaw had a 7-7, 3.81 record for the Athletics the rest of the season. In 1929, he led the American League in wins (24-8, 3.29) and followed that with 22-13, 4.44 in 1930 and 21-7, 3.67 in 1931. In the 1929-30-31 World Series he went 4-3, 1.87 in eight starts, striking out 56 and walking 17 in 61 2/3 innings. In 1930, against the Cardinals, he was 2-0 in three starts and pitched 22 consecutive shutout innings. Moose was 19-13, 4.78 in 1932, but plunged to 5-10, 5.95 in 1933. On December 12, 1933, the same day Mack dealt Grove to Boston, he sold Earnshaw to the White Sox for a reported $20,000. Earnshaw had one good season left, going 14-11, 4.52 in 1934. He started 1935 going 1-2, 9.00 and was sold to Brooklyn May 15. He finished 8-12, 4.12 with the Dodgers and in 1936, his last season, he had a 6-10, 5.72 record for Brooklyn and the Cardinals. After Pearl Harbor, Earnshaw, despite his age (41), enlisted in the Navy, eventually being promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He received a Commendation Ribbon from Admiral Chester Nimitz for his performance during a carrier strike on Truk Island in the South Pacific in April 1944.
At the end of the 1924 season, five Orioles were named to the International League All-Star team by sportswriters in the league cities: Dick Porter, 2B; Joe Boley, SS; Joe Cobb, C; Lefty Grove and Jack Ogden, P. In addition, Jack Dunn was chosen Manager of the Year. Dunn and Grove were the writers’ only unanimous selections.
The Orioles won their seventh straight title in 1925, then fell to the Maple Leafs in 1926, ending their magnificent skein. In future years, the team won a smattering of flags including an unlikely flag in 1944.
Here, the Orioles backed into the pennant by one percentage point when Newark lost a twinbill on the final day of the season. Ten years later, the minor league Orioles made way for the major league Orioles when the St. Louis Browns relocated east.
The 1924 Orioles, although only a part of a magnificent group of champions, can stand on their own laurels. Only one other International League team won more games than the ’24 Orioles, giving this version of baseball’s greatest dynasty its own unique place on the list of baseball’s best.
|1924 International League standings|
|1924 Baltimore batting statistics|
|Thomas Connelly (Read.)||OF, 2B||157||599||110||187||98||38||10||19||86||62||15||.312|
|John Jacobs (Jersey City)||OF||155||617||94||175||70||33||4||14||56||98||15||.284|
|Otis Lawry (J.C.)||OF, 2B||135||511||91||155||35||18||9||3||55||42||24||.303|
|Clarence Pitt (New.)||OF||121||479||107||148||48||25||4||5||45||29||35||.309|
|Harry Frank (J.C.)||P||35||52||5||9||4||1||0||0||6||21||0||.173|
|1924 Baltimore pitching statistics||PITCHER||W||L||PCT||G||GS||CG||SH||SV||IP||H||BB||SO||ERA|
|Harry Frank (J.C.)||6||12||.33||35||10||1||159||208||50||42||5.10|