Baltimore Sports History: Oriole Park 4 & 5

April 11th, 2024 by The Professor

by Andrew Ciofalo, host of After The Whistle

Today we all know and love Oriole Park at Camden Yards, its revolutionary design, the inclusion of the warehouse and much more make this Oriole Park feel like the great ballpark that it is. This isn’t the first Oriole Park however… It’s the sixth. The name Oriole Park has a great history and legacy that is often overshadowed.

In the 1880s, the Baltimore Orioles played in the American Association, the league most competitive with the National League. Commonly known as the AA, the winner of both leagues would play in a sort of World Series style championship. That was until the AA folded in 1891 after four of its teams moved to the more competitive National League, including the Orioles.

The Orioles first season in the National League was also their first season in their new home, Union Park. Naturally the park took the nickname of Oriole Park, becoming the third host of the club. The Orioles would find its greatest success to date at Union Park and in the National League. The first two years were rough though, finishing in last and 8th out of 12 teams. In the 1894 season, the Orioles would turn their 8th place finish from the previous year into a pennant win. It was the franchises’ first pennant win and the first of three in a row in a dominant run in the National League from ’94 to ’96. In the ’97 and ’98 seasons, the Orioles would finish 2nd to Boston. In their 8th and final season in the National League, the Orioles finished in 4th before they fell victim to the National Leagues cutdown from 12 teams to 8.

After leaving the National League, the Orioles Franchise had a short hiatus while there wasn’t a league for them. In came a gentleman named Ban Johnson who was the president American League, formerly a minor league called the Western League. Johnson became president of the Western League in 1894 with the goal of making his league a Major League. When the National League had its cutdown, the 4 teams were left to join this new American League.

When joining the American League, of course the Orioles needed a new field. Enter American League Park, or Oriole Park IV. The American League experiment didn’t go well for the Orioles as they only played 2 seasons. The first season was plagued by barely .500 play along with debate between then Oriole manager John McGraw and league president Ban Johnson. Arguments stemmed from the fact that Johnson originally wanted to place the team in New York City, but the New York Giants denied them from doing so. In the second season there was rumors that McGraw was wanting to try again to re-locate the team to New York but ultimately ended up leaving the team mid-season to join the Giants of the NL. Many players went with their manager to the Giants, leaving the Orioles very empty handed and leading Johnson to step in and take control. Safe to say baseball in Baltimore was not in good shape and that was evident when the club disbanded at the end of the season. Eventually the franchise would be re-located to New York as originally intended and the team’s name was changed to the Highlanders and then to what we know them today as; The New York Yankees. You’re welcome, Yankee fans.

After the Oriole major league franchise folded, the Oriole name was used for a new minor league team of the Eastern League. The minor league Orioles played at Oriole Park IV, where baseball legend Babe Ruth got his start. The minor league Orioles would continue to play at Oriole Park IV till 1914. The next Oriole Park was first called Terrapin Park where shortly a team called the Baltimore Terrapins played. After only 2 seasons, the Terrapins and the Federal League folded, and the minor league Orioles took over in Terrapin Park. The Orioles would continue to play there until 1944 when a fire destroyed all of the Park. The team would play the rest and future games at Municipal Stadium. The Stadium was known as other names such as Venable Stadium and Baltimore Stadium. It was renovated and reconstructed to be able to host baseball and football and was renamed to Memorial Stadium. Memorial Stadium would be the host of two teams that were new to Baltimore, the incoming St. Louis Browns and Dallas Texans.

Memorial Stadium wouldn’t be the sixth Oriole Park because it was a shared facility, the sixth wouldn’t come until after Memorial Stadium had been past its prime and heyday. The building of Camden Yards for the sole purpose of baseball caused it to inherit and bring back the Oriole Park name.

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