-- 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.
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."
Baltimore didn't fight to keep Veeck as owner.
"The Browns were, after all, a failure," Bready said. "Veeck had to share some of the blame. The people putting up the money wanted to have control."
On Sept. 28, 1953, Major League Baseball approved the move of the St. Louis Browns. The franchise, renamed the Baltimore Orioles, would begin play in 1954.
Though it might pain Orioles fans to hear this, the franchise's first incarnation in 1901-02 helped spawn their American League East rival, the New York Yankees. From 1882 to 1899, a franchise known as the Orioles existed in the American Association and then in the new National League. A different version of the franchise entered the American League in 1901 but lasted only through 1902, moving to New York after the season. From 1903 to 1912, that franchise was known as the New York Highlanders. But in 1913, the team's name was changed to the Yankees.
Baltimore was without a major league franchise for 52 years, though a minor league version of the Orioles existed during that time and had its share of important history. On Feb. 27, 1914, 19-year-old George Herman Ruth signed with the International League Orioles for $600. During spring training that year, Ruth's older teammates referred to him as one of owner Jack Dunn's "babes." The name stuck and sportswriters began referring to Ruth as "Babe." The Orioles soon stumbled into financial hardship and Dunn was forced to sell Ruth to the Boston Red Sox for $8,500. At the time Ruth, then mostly a pitcher, was 13-6 for the Orioles, who were in first place by 51/2 games.
"He really was establishing himself as a major league player [in Baltimore], to an extent where the Red Sox knew about him," said Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum.
Bready said the city hardly loved its minor league Orioles. Attendance was sparse. But momentum grew stronger for a major league team.
The Baltimore relocation group began to worry that baseball would decide to move the Browns to the West Coast. Groups in California were pushing for expansion past the Mississippi River. But those groups had yet to firm up their bids.
"Baltimore had built a stadium," said Bready, who was an editorial writer for the Baltimore Evening Sun for 40 years. "The other cities did not have built stadiums to offer. All they had were grandiose plans."
On April 15, 1954, the new Baltimore Orioles arrived at Camden Station and were met by a sizable crowd. The 25 players got off the train and headed straight for a parade. Many Baltimore businesses and schools closed for the day.
"It was fantastic," D'Alesandro III said. "The city went crazy. The realization we were a major league city was like hitting the lottery."