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credit Library of Congress
Aug 12 Cardinal Baseball storyCardinal Gibbons, c. 1886
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Official Oriole Profile, Photo and Data Book, Baltimore Orioles, 1956; JGHowes, Wikimedia Commons
Aug 12 1896 Orioles1896 Baltimore Orioles official team photo
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credit Boston Public Library, Print Department, Flickr
Aug12 Orioles playersCaption: Standing, left to right: Outfielder Wee Willie Keeler and third baseman John T. McGraw. Seated: Outfielder Joe Kelly and shortstop Hugh Jennings.
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credit Library of Congress
Aug12 Orioles Team Manager, Ned HanlonNed Hanlon, team manager
Aug 12 Cardinal Baseball story
Aug 12 1896 Orioles
Aug12 Orioles players
Aug12 Orioles Team Manager, Ned Hanlon
Baseball came late to the life of James Cardinal Gibbons, archbishop of Baltimore. Though he claimed to the press that he’d had an interest in the sport for some time, at age 62, he had yet to see a professional game.
All that changed in August 1896.
There and then, he decided the time was right to correct that shortcoming. And to do so, he made overtures through some of the Irish Catholic players on the Baltimore Orioles, requesting what might best be called a command performance.
That he could have traveled a few blocks through Charm City to the corner of Huntingdon Avenue (now 25th Street) and Barclay Street and watched a game in the Orioles' Union Park seems not to have been agreeable.
Perhaps the archbishop felt it unseemly to visit a ballpark. Or perhaps he wanted more control over the experience or a bit more interaction with the players than would be available at a regular game.
Or perhaps he just wanted to get out of the city for the day.
Whatever his motivation, the Orioles were more than happy to oblige. The date for the game was set for September 14, 1896, and the site chosen was St. Charles College in Howard County, off the north side of Frederick Road (Route 144) west of Ellicott City.
Cardinal Gibbons had attended the all-boys school in the 1850s prior to entering St. Mary's Seminary. Built amid rolling farms on land across the road from—and once part of—Charles Carroll's Doughoregan Manor, the school offered a welcome retreat from the hectic pace of Baltimore for players and clergy alike. (All that remains today is the stone shell of one portion of one of the main building's wings.)
On the morning of September 14, the players took the 8:05 train out of Camden Station and soon arrived at the elevated station at Ellicott City. At the time, the Orioles were members of the National League and fielded a strong lineup that mixed a wealth of talented players, a never-say-die attitude, and on-field tactics that were alternately described as brainy or crooked depending on whether you were a fan or an opponent.
The core of the team was the pugnacious and shrewd third-baseman John J. McGraw; the small-but-brilliant place-hitting outfielder Wee Willie Keeler; the law-student/shortstop and former coal miner Hughie Jennings; the burly and jovial catcher Wilbert Robinson; and the Irish outfielder (and ladies' favorite) Joe Kelley. They were managed by "Foxey" Ned Hanlon.
All six were among the best at their positions, all at the top of their game, and all destined for a place in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. The team had won the NL championship in 1894 and 1895 and was battling Boston for the 1896 title. In short, they were the darlings of Maryland.
It should come as no surprise, then, that a large crowd greeted their arrival in Ellicott City. Three carriages, the lead pulled by a team of six horses, were put at their disposal for the five-mile ride out Frederick Road. Reaching the college, they drove between two cheering lines of a couple hundred students and a host of the region's clergy, some from as far away as Washington, DC.
A quick lunch in the school refectory followed. Then the players changed into their uniforms and adjourned to the field for the intra-squad game. The specific location of this field may be lost to history; the Baltimore Herald mentioned only a "skin [dirt] field" with a short outfield, while the Baltimore Sun wrote simply that several hits were "fly balls hit into the woods that surrounded the field."