Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Billy Martin's brownshirts meet the St. Louis Browns...

                                              The Baltimore Orioles, who begat the New York Highlanders, who begat the New York Yankees...wait, what? That's right, the franchise that we now know as the Yankees, actually started life as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901, then moved to New York the following season.  As for the franchise that is NOW known as the Baltimore Orioles, well, they of course also started in the Milwaukee Brewers, who are not to be confused with the current Brewers, who started life in 1969 as the Seattle is confusing...but before the original Brewers became the Orioles, they spent 50 years as the St. Louis Browns, and that's where our story begins...sort of...

                                   In their 52 year existence, The St. Louis Browns produced only 8 winning seasons.  The most notable player they had by far was Hall of Famer, George Sisler, who had set the major league records for hits in a season in 1920 with 257; a record that stood for 84 years, before being broken by the Seattle Mainers' Ichiro Suzuki. Sisler still however holds the record for highest batting average with more than 600 bats in a season that year (.407), and had an even better year in 1922, when he hit .420, while leading the league in 4 other categories.  That year also marked one of the Browns best, as they were barely beaten out by the Yankees (of course) for the AL pennant. In fact, the only pennant the Browns ever won, was in 1944, a year people called a fluke because of all the players in the majors still fighting in the war. In the series they would lose in 6 games to the team they shared Sportsman park with, the St. Louis Cardinals.

                     The next year, 1945, would be their last winning one, and was memorable mostly because of Pete Gray, a one armed outfielder that played half a season for them.  After that, it was pretty much downhill.  The country was expanding, and the need for 2 teams in St. Louis was becoming more and more superfluous.  Bill Veeck bought the team in 1950, after he had helped the Cleveland Indians be the first AL team to break the color barrier in 1947 with first Larry Doby and then a 42 year old rookie named Satchel Paige the next year.  Cleveland won it all that year, so Veeck decided to go to to less greener pastures in 1950, becoming the owner of the Browns.  The most significant moment during the Veeck Brown years is when he hired a midget named Eddie Gaedel to pinch hit in a game against the Tigers.

                  By 1953, the jig was up, and the Browns moved to Baltimore.  Success eluded the Orioles for the first ten years or so...meanwhile, the original Orioles, AKA, the Yankees, became the greatest team of all time, winning pennant after pennant, until the mid '60's, that is.  Then the Orioles started to make their mark; first with a World championship in 1966, then 3 straight pennants from 69-71.  The manager for the latter three was the legendary Earl Weaver.  Of course, there were Hall of famers on these squads, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson ( no relation) and Jim Palmer. Weaver fielded strong teams throughout the '70s, never finishing below 3rd place during the decade, as his "pitching, defense , and the 3 run homer" strategy proved most effective.  As for the Yankees, it wouldn't be until 1976 before they won another pennant.  That team, managed by Billy Martin was called
'Billy Martin's brownshirts", by the Red Sox Bill Lee, in reference to the attire that certain employees of Adolf Hitler used to don.

               After the Yankees won pennants in 76, 77 and 78, the Orioles then captured it in 1979, and won it all in 1983.  This was near the beginning of the Bronx Bombers biggest playoff drought, which lasted from 82-94 (not counting the years before they won their first pennant in 1921).  Baltimore also slid into mediocrity soon after 83, ...both teams, however would actually meet in the playoffs for the first time in 1996, thanks to the new Wild card format.  The evil empire would go on to success for the next decade and a half, while the Orioles were lucky most years to stay out of last place.  That is , until now.  As of this writing, the Orioles are only 2 games behind the Yankees in the standings for the AL east...hell, even if they can't catch New York, they'll probably qualify for the playoffs anyway.  It'll be just like 1970's all over again, but instead of  Billy Martin and Earl Weaver, it's Joe Girardi and Buck Showalter...which is good news for the Orioles;  the last 2  of the last 3 teams Showalter managed won everything the year after the team fired him ( the aforementioned 96 Yankees, and the 2001 Diamondabacks), so no matter how far the O's make it this year, one thing is certain; Buck better watch his back...


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