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Charm City

Baltimore Got Its Shot Back in 1954

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page D10

BALTIMORE -- Once, a city starved for major league baseball hoped to be given a team seeking a new home but found itself at the mercy of an owner trying to protect his territorial rights.

Yes, the cities were Washington and Baltimore. But more than 50 years ago, the roles were reversed, with Charm City seeking help from the nation's capital.

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In 1953, Baltimore needed the approval of Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith to give the St. Louis Browns a new home. A half-century ago, that decision came quickly and fairly painlessly.

Griffith relented and in some ways even supported Baltimore's bid. When the team finally arrived in Baltimore, Griffith attended a citywide parade, welcoming a new baseball team to the area. All he received was a small monetary payment that came through television sponsorship.

"They were different eras," said Thomas D'Alesandro III, son of former Baltimore mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. The two areas "were not as closely knit as [they are] today. Some businessmen made concessions. But it wasn't a major item."

D'Alesandro Jr. and lawyer Clarence Miles worked to bring a franchise to Baltimore. The two blended social and political agendas to perfection. D'Alesandro Jr. helped stir community support; Miles focused on the finances.

"They sort of read each other and talked by the look of their eyes and the nods of their heads," D'Alesandro III said.

The Browns, considered one of the worst teams in the majors, had been looking for a new home for several years. Owner Bill Veeck had tried every conceivable way to attract fans, including using 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel in a game. None of Veeck's plans worked.

Ultimately, Veeck realized Baltimore was the best possible site for his Browns. The city was starved for a major league team. City leaders believed a franchise could provide a substantial boost to the city's economy.

"It was important for the city," said D'Alesandro III, who also served as mayor of Baltimore. "The acquiring of a major league franchise gave major league status to the city. It was a big boost for us to get a major league team in trying to attract other businesses to the city. That's the reason [my father] fought so hard. You'd be surprised how many people identify a city by an athletic team. Everybody can relate to it. Everybody is listening to the game."

But Veeck found resistance when he tried to move the franchise; he was not well liked by his peers.

"He didn't do everything the way it had been done," said James H. Bready, author of "Baseball in Baltimore: The First 100 Years." "Veeck was regarded as a loose cannon."

Soon, Baltimore officials realized the biggest obstacle in trying to acquire a team was not money, or lack of interest or even leaguewide support. Instead, it was Veeck. Though it pained Veeck to do so, he ultimately sold his interest in the Browns to a group of Baltimore investors.

"They didn't want that kind of involvement" from Veeck, D'Alesandro III said. "To Bill Veeck's credit, he took himself out of the deal. He wanted to see the team come here. When he realized he was a stumbling block, he volunteered to step down."

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