Watching the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend was sad for lots of reasons.
Let’s try not to think about what’s obvious: That the O’s beat out the local team’s brains during two of the clubs’ three games of interleague play.
More depressing, still, is that the Orioles are trying to wipe a once-proud St. Louis institution off the map.
As many folks from the Midwest recall, the modern-day Orioles were known until 1953 as the St. Louis Browns. Back in the first half of the 20th century, like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles today, the city on the banks of the Mississippi had two Major League Baseball teams, one in the National League and one in the American League.
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At one point, the Browns were more popular even than the beloved Redbirds. But as the Cardinals gained momentum with their first World Series win in 1926, the Brownies faded into the second division of the junior circuit and, eventually, their crowds dwindled to nothing. So, the team moved east and set up shop in Baltimore, taking the name of the Maryland state bird and creating a new legacy.
Owner Bill Veeck wasn’t on par with the evil Stan Kroenke, who intentionally ran the local team into the ground to drive away crowds and create a false pretense to leave. It was a matter of this town not being big enough to two baseball teams that shared the same stadium and competed for the same fans’ ticket dollars.
There are no hard feelings toward Baltimore, which houses its team in a real gem of a ballpark.
It was during my explorations of that park, however, that I noticed the Orioles don’t present their franchise as if it moved from St. Louis in 1953. They act as if it was created out of whole cloth in 1954. Like it was an expansion franchise.
In places where the club celebrates its pennants and World Series it makes absolutely no mention of the 1944 AL flag the team won in St. Louis. There is a statue of Ruth, who played in the majors with the Orioles’ AL rivals the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. But no monuments exist for the greatest player in that franchise’s history, George Sisler.
My apologies to Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell and Cal Ripken Jr., but Sisler was a career .340 hitter who won the American League MVP Award in 1922 when he hit an astounding .420 with 14 strikeouts in 655 plate appearances. In 1920, Sisler set the single-season record for hits with 257 that stood for decades until Ichiro Suzuki eclipsed the mark.
Unlike the O’s who whitewash history, Ichiro made a pilgrimage to the St. Louis cemetery where Sisler is buried to pay homage to the greatest Brown.
The Washington Nationals don’t try to blot out their roots as the Montreal Expos. Why don’t the Orioles claim their Brownie legacy?
If they don’t want it, the Cardinals ought to pick it up. Let’s fly the 1944 Browns pennant somewhere at Busch III and retire Sisler’s number on the outfield wall. He is immortalized with a statue outside the ballpark along with the likes of Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter and Ozzie Smith, so that’s a good start.
I’m not offended by Baltimore’s disinterest in the Browns. I just think the club’s history is worth remembering — and somebody ought to make sure they’re not forgotten.
Why not Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.? He is, after all, a former Browns bat boy and son of the team’s one-time owner.