Top 100 Teams
International League (Triple-A)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
In 1919, the Baltimore Orioles won their first International League title in over 10 years with a dominant Top 100 champion. The next season, proving the title was no fluke, the Orioles came back with an even better club. Helping push Baltimore to the top was a hard-hitting outfielder and a pitcher who would stay with the team for several years.
The city of Baltimore fielded several fine amateur nines in the years following the Civil War. When the first professional league--the National Association--was formed in the 1870s, Baltimore was an integral part. In 1872, in the league’s second year of operation, the team finished 35-19, a strong second to the perennial champion, Boston. Baltimore’s leading batter that year was Davy Force (.418), a diminutive infielder whose career spanned over two decades - from the era of the amateur to well into the 1880s. The following year, the team also did well (34-22) but slipped a notch to third. In 1874, the Baltimores plummeted to the cellar, finishing with a woeful 9-38, .191 record. Following the debacle, the team dropped out of the league.
During the rest of the 19th century, the city was represented in a variety of leagues. From 1882-1891, a team called the Orioles played in the American Association before moving on to the National League (1892-99). Also, in 1884, a team called the Monumentals played a year in the Union Association. In addition, two different Baltimore teams played in the minors during this period. In 1884, while the Monumentals were struggling in the Union Association, another Monumental team went 3-10 in the Eastern League before disbanding in early May. Six years later, a team called the Orioles (77-24) ran roughshod over the Atlantic Association, before being enticed to the American Association to fill out the disbanded Brooklyn team’s schedule.
After playing two years in the brand-new American League, the Orioles were relocated to New York to become the forerunners of the Yankees. The next year, a new Orioles nine returned to the minors, this time for a fifty-year stretch in the same league - the Eastern, which later became the International League. The team finished in the doldrums for a few years before winning its first pennant in 1908. Playing second for the team was Jack Dunn, who also served as the team’s manager. A few years later, he became the team’s owner as well. Dunn’s career is detailed in the report on the 1919 Orioles, top team 35.
After Dunn’s first pennant winner in 1919, he made only one change in his starting lineup, but there were some key additions to the pitching staff. Baltimore started the 1920 season slowly. They lost three of their first five games, won five in a row, then lost five of seven. After the first month, the Orioles were fourth with an 18-13 record. Buffalo took the early lead with Toronto second. Baltimore went 22-10 in the next month to climb into second place. For the next two months, first one, then another of the top trio was in first place. From July 17 to the end of the season Baltimore won 56 and lost 13, an .812 percentage. Four of those losses came in the week of August 22-29 and dropped the Orioles to second place, a few percentage points behind the Maple Leafs. From then until the last day of the season, September 19, Toronto won 22 and lost only 2, but Baltimore was perfect, winning all 25 games to tie the then-existing league record for most consecutive victories by a minor league team. Baltimore finished with 110-43, .719, 2-½ games ahead of Toronto’s 108-46, .701. The 1920 Maple Leafs are one of only two second-place teams to achieve Top 100 status.
Baltimore led the league, whose official name was the New International League, in batting (.318, 13 points better than Akron), runs (992), hits (1,706) and triples (100). Eight Orioles batted over .300. Only second baseman Max Bishop (.248) was below .308. The Orioles were second in fielding (.960).
The International League’s batting champion was center fielder Merwin (Jake) Jacobson, one of five Orioles to lead the league in the seven-year pennant winning streak of 1919-25. Jacobson, a 26-year-old left-handed batter, hit .404 in 154 games with 35 doubles, 16 triples and 7 home runs. He was the International League’s first .400 hitter in the 20th century. Jake also led the league in runs (161) and hits (235) and was second in total bases (323). In the lineup he regularly batted third behind the speedsters, third baseman Fritz Maisel and left fielder Otis Lawry. Jacobson, a native of New Britain, CT, broke into pro ball in 1913, playing for Portland and Lynn (New England) and St. Croix, NB (New Brunswick-Maine). After two years with Brockton (Colonial), he made his major league debut September 8, 1915 with the Giants, batting .083 in 8 games. In 1916 he was with Rochester and, for four games, the Cubs where he hit .231. Jacobson played for International League champion Toronto in 1917 and worked in a war-related industry in 1918. He returned to baseball in 1919 with Baltimore, batting .351, third in the league, with 37 stolen bases. (Teammate Lawry was the batting champion.) Jake, a fan favorite, was with Baltimore for six years. In 1922 he was beaned and missed almost six weeks of the season. In his book, “The Home Team,” James H. Bready writes, “Dunn thought Jake was through and traded him - only to watch him become a major-leaguer.” Jacobson was dealt to Jersey City after the 1924 season and batted .316-8-90 for the Skeeters in 1925. Brooklyn bought his contract and he was with the Dodgers all of 1926, batting .247-0-23 in 110 games, and the early weeks of 1927. He returned to the International League in 1927 with Toronto, playing for the Maple Leafs and Newark through 1929. After he retired from baseball in 1933, he lived in Baltimore and was a Maryland government official. During his minor league career, he batted .315 with 2,395 hits and 301 stolen bases in 2,091 games. He played 12 seasons in the International League.
Jack Bentley, the 25-year-old left-handed first baseman-pitcher, batted .371-20-161 in 145 games, first in the International League in RBI and total bases (354), third in batting and home runs. On the mound, he was 16-3, 2.11, leading the league in ERA and won-lost percentage (.842) and second in shutouts (5). He struck out 97 and walked 29 in 167 innings. Bentley’s career is covered in detail in reports on other Baltimore Top 100 teams.
The only newcomer to the Orioles starting lineup was right fielder Bill Holden, who replaced Johnny Honig and batted fourth in the order. Holden, a 32-year-old right-handed hitter and a native of Birmingham, AL, batted .352 in 148 games with a league leading 49 doubles. That was a big improvement over his 1919 performance when he hit .282 in 110 games for Toronto and Binghamton. Holden had played in the majors in 1913 with the New York Yankees and in 1914 with New York and Cincinnati, batting .211-0-21 in 79 games. He played one more year with the Orioles, dropping to .302 in 129 games, although he was second on the team in home runs (19). After the 1921 season he was sold to Atlanta.
Baltimore’s number one catcher was 36-year-old Arthur Augustus (Ben) Egan who hit .331 in 81 games, third best on the team. Egan, a native of Augusta in upstate New York, had been with the Orioles off and on since 1910. A right-handed hitter, he was 6 feet tall, weighed 195 pounds and as described by Bready as “big and gawky.” He broke in with Utica (New York State) in 1908 and played in two games with the Philadelphia Athletics at the end of the season. He was with Baltimore in 1910-11, then returned to the Athletics in 1912. Back with the Orioles in 1913-14, Egan was sold to the Red Sox in July, 1914,
along with Babe Ruth and pitcher Ernie Shore, but was traded to Cleveland before ever appearing in a game with Boston. He finished the ’14 season with the Indians and was with Cleveland all of 1915, his final big league season. His major league career average was .165 in 122 games. Egan was with Newark in 1916-17, then started his third tour of duty with the Orioles in 1918. In 1922, less than two weeks before the start of the International League campaign, he was appointed manager of Jersey City.
The Sporting News reported the circumstances: Veteran manager Patsy Donovan, who piloted the Skeeters in 1921, was gone and the team was working out in early April under an acting manager, Billy Holland. “Egan, who is getting along in years as the baseball world figures, has been yearning to become a manager for some time. When the Jersey City vacancy presented itself, the backstop attempted to secure his release from Dunn, as he was offered the reins of the Jerseys by owner Joseph Moran. Just at that time both of Dunn’s other catchers acted up and it looked as if they would depart from the Birds. Egan being the only catcher left, Dunn told him that he would be unable to let him go before next year, and Egan went back to the ranks of the Orioles. Then Wickey McAvoy signed his contract and reported, and George Owens, a recruit, looked promising, while Lena Styles, suspended for breaking training rules (i.e., he was drunk again) promised to be good. With his staff again looking healthy, Dunn decided in view of the excellent service rendered by the veteran Egan, and the pleadings of owner Moran, to let the catcher go and he released him. This came as a joyous surprise to Egan, who had not counted on leaving the Orioles this year. Ben Egan is probably the most popular player who ever played in Baltimore. Already there is talk of holding a ‘Ben Egan Day’ in his honor when he brings the Skeeters here the first time. Without the ‘Human Pepper Box,’ as he was dubbed by the fans, behind the bat, Oriole Park will not look natural for quite a while.” Egan led Jersey City to a fourth-place finish in 1922, but the Skeeters dropped to the cellar in 1923. He caught 41 games in 1922, batting .224, but appeared in only game in 1923. He was a coach for Washington in 1924, Brooklyn in 1925 and the Chicago White Sox in 1926.
There were two important additions to the Baltimore pitching staff, one before and one during the season. In the 1919-20 off-season, Dunn purchased the contract of Jack Ogden, a 22-year-old right-hander, from Rochester where he had a 10-13, 3.92 record. Under Dunn’s tutelage, Ogden blossomed in 1920, going 27-9, 3.25, tying for the International League lead in wins, and leading in complete games (31) and innings pitched (321), and as noted earlier, winning two of Baltimore’s five Junior World Series victories. Ogden’s career is detailed in the story of the 1922 Orioles, Top team number 15. Right behind Ogden in the win column was little right-hander Harry Frank, a hometown product, with a 25-12, 3.87 record. He led the league in games pitched (48). Frank’s career is covered in the report on the 1919 Orioles, Top 100 team number 35.
The mid-season addition was a 20-year-old left-hander named Robert Moses Groves, acquired from Martinsburg, WV of the Class C Blue Ridge League after pitching only 6 games in professional baseball. He was not called Grove until he reached the majors. Jim Kaplan, in his book “Lefty Grove, American Original,” says that the family name really was Groves and calling him that was no mistake. Grove, from Lonaconing, MD, did not play baseball at any level until he was 17 years old. He was signed by Martinsburg in 1920 and made his debut on May 21. After going 3-3 with 60 strikeouts and 24 walks in 59 innings while allowing only 30 hits, Grove was purchased by Baltimore. He had been recommended by an ex-Oriole and that evaluation was confirmed by Dunn’s son, who was sent to look at the young southpaw. Kaplan writes that Martinsburg was reluctant to part with Grove, but the club lacked money to pay for the fence needed to complete the building of their new ballpark. The purchase price for Grove has been estimated at between $3,000 and $3,500. Grove pitched his first game for the Orioles on July 1, beating Jersey City 9-3. During the rest of the season he went 12-2, 3.80. In the next four years he won 96 and lost only 34 before going on to a Hall-of-Fame career in the American League. There will be more about Grove in another Baltimore Orioles story later in this series.
Rube Parnham, the Bad Boy of Baltimore, a-28-game winner in 1919, was 5-0, 3.00 in the early weeks of 1920 when he jumped the club to play in an industrial league in Pennsylvania. His career is detailed in the report on the 1923 Orioles, Top 100 team number 18.
The Orioles went on to win five more straight titles under Dunn and all but the 1925 winner finished on the Top 100 list. In succeeding years, the team wasn’t nearly as successful, winning only two more titles before leaving the league in 1954, a victim of the St. Louis Browns’ move to the east. Today, the major league Orioles remain an important part of the American League.
The 1920 Orioles, although only one-seventh of one of the greatest minor league dynasties, stands apart for two important reasons. One, the team showcased one of only two .400 hitters in the modern International League and, two, the club finished with a .318 batting average, which still serves as a benchmark of excellence for the league, yet to be broken.
|1920 International League standings|
|1920 Baltimore batting statistics|
|Jack Bentley||1B, P||145||622||109||231||39||12||20||13||.371|
|Wade Lefler||C, 1B||94||280||39||94||13||3||4||2||.336|
|Joe Casey (Buf-Syr)||C||85||258||28||75||16||0||4||4||.291|
|1920 Baltimore pitching statistics||PITCHER||W||L||PCT||G||GS||CG||SH||SV||IP||H||BB||SO||ERA|