It will distress more than a few American sports fans to learn that the loveless Baltimore Orioles' new slogan is simply: "The Best Damn Baseball Team in the World." Because it concludes a statement of obvious fact, the period at the end of the phrase is obligatory, like the exclamation point in the musical Oklahoma! By consensus, the Orioles are not only the best team, but the best organization—with the best players, the best manager, the best system, the best front office, the best morale and, definitely, the best chances. This means that the world will have to put up with the Orioles, and Baltimore, for some time to come.
Nobody, of course, likes the Orioles—or the Colts either, for that matter—except for those strange citizens, numbering some couple of million, who live clustered about a tributary of Chesapeake Bay, somewhere along the train tracks between New York and Washington. There is a question whether even these eccentric home folks care; they would not fill Memorial Stadium to watch their heroes win the World Series or to qualify for the Super Bowl. "The Best Damn Baseball Team in the World." did not draw one million last year, although it always pulls well at the free airport reception when the victorious team is welcomed home at the end of each season. Sports connoisseurs around the country think that the Baltimore fans are undeserving, that their teams are dull or lucky or both, certainly that they are undeserving; after all, they represent Baltimore. Oriole and Colt stars do not find themselves bothered by endorsements, talk shows, Hollywood or Dick Schaap.
Nonetheless Baltimore now holds the championships of football and baseball, the big two, and should the Orioles win the pennant again this year, Baltimore dominance will be even more maddening for its legions of detractors. The Orioles would thus become only the fourth team in American League history to win a pennant three times in a row; Baltimore would become the only city, besides New York, to accomplish the feat in both leagues (the fabled old Orioles won the National League pennant in 1894-95-96). Indeed, historically, the might and reach of Baltimore baseball have been insidiously strong. The Orioles were absolutely instrumental in the great successes of three famed New York teams—Yankees, Giants and Dodgers (and the Mets as well, in another manner of speaking). There is evidence that Baltimore even was the real Mudville (Dennis Patrick Casey was an Oriole at the bat in 1884-85).
None of this necessarily makes the Orioles more popular around the land. They are, however, inordinately popular in the eyes of baseball officials who hold the Baltimore system in the highest esteem and have begun to structure their own organizations in its image. The team may or may not be a dynasty, but it is accepted as the model of a dynasty, as the Rickey Cardinals and Dodgers were, or the Weiss Yankees.
The Oriole organization, and, ultimately, "The Best Damn Team in Baseball." draws its virility from the contradictory strains of its forebears. Baltimore was presented with the Orioles late in 1953 when a local syndicate headed by an attorney named Clarence Miles bought up Bill Veeck's St. Louis Browns. Veeck, who lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland now, says that Miles played a late, inconsequential role, one powered by "political ambitions." The two men most responsible for securing the Orioles, says Veeck, were Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro, whose son, Thomas III, is the incumbent Baltimore mayor, and Jerold C. Hoffberger, the president of the National Brewing Company, who quietly guaranteed radio-TV sponsorship. No more will be heard of Hoffberger for another 12 years.
The Browns, wasted by Veeck's futile fight for St. Louis against the Cardinals, landed in Baltimore broke, and the new owners were not precipitate in pouring development money in. The Browns-in-Orioles-clothing played out the first season as a profitable, cheap curiosity. Jim McLaughlin had come over from St. Louis as farm director. For an assistant, he hired a kid just getting out of the Air Force, Harry Dalton. McLaughlin paid Dalton $47 a week, and the two of them ran the farm system. They learned thrift for sure. They also learned discipline and trust in each other and in what limited good scouting personnel there was.
The next year Paul Richards was brought in to run the whole show and to spread the '54 profits on the table—and under it—for prospects. Suddenly, after years of penury, the Orioles were playing table stakes and the flamboyant Wizard of Waxahachie (as the awed local press preferred) was in every pot. He hustled one phenom into the system under an assumed name. He paid a bundle to another, named Bruce Swango, and was required to place him on the 25-man major league roster. Unfortunately, no Richards scout had bothered to watch Swango pitch in a game, an omission of some consequence, it developed, since Swango did not care at all to perform before crowds. But even Richards' mistakes had a flair to them; he charmed the Orioles to life, and finally he made them dance.
Moreover, his own eager excesses and impulse buying produced a counterbalancing attention to thoroughness and detail that is still in evidence in the operation. Richards only played at administration, however, and it was Lee MacPhail, now the Yankee general manager, who at last was able to ride herd on the front office. Arriving in 1958, MacPhail put order in the organization and established formal lines of authority, then consistency and a winning tradition at all levels. Richards pulled out for Houston in 1961. After the last of the varied bloodlines were bred into the beast, MacPhail moved on in '65 to the commissioner's office and ultimately to the Yankees.
At that time, six years ago, the National Brewery, producers of National Bohemian beer, bought the majority Oriole stock. After MacPhail departed, Hoffberger put one of his assistants, Frank Cashen, at the head of the baseball division and Dalton in charge of all player business. The deal that brought Frank Robinson from Cincinnati was already in the works, and, overall, the Cashen-Dalton combine inherited a fine team and a keen staff. They have maintained it and nurtured it but, more important, they have given the Orioles an image within baseball and a loyalty and pride within the organization. It is not really their fault that everybody in the country roots against the Orioles and hardly anybody in Baltimore cares about them.
As a stepchild city, Baltimore has been violated in baseball as regularly as in other affairs—especially by New York. In 1899, still near their peak, most of the old Orioles were sold to Brooklyn right out from under the team in the middle of the season. Then, maintaining that the club was too weak, the National League folded Baltimore's franchise, which is rather like stripping a man at gunpoint and then arresting him for indecent exposure. Later, Wilbert Robinson, who played in a major league Oriole uniform longer than anybody until Brooks Robinson gained that distinction, also moved on to Brooklyn as manager, where he won the borough its first two pennants. In 1948 Branch Rickey pirated Roy Campanella from the Baltimore (Negro) Elite Giants and cleaned up some more.