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Yankees roots don’t extend to Baltimore: historians

Hilltop Park, New York Yankees

It will take a few years for the New York Yankees to reach 10,000 wins, as the game’s historians have determined that the team’s history doesn’t include what had been considered a predecessor, the 1901-1902 Baltimore Orioles.

When the American League launched in 1901, the league lacked a New York City team — an omission that league officials were working hard to correct before the 1902 season. John McGraw, signed as manager of the Baltimore Orioles, was working to organize investors, find a ballpark location and organize a franchise. His efforts came to naught after he was dismissed as Orioles player-manager — in fact, he was tossed from the circuit by American League founder Ban Johnson for his on-field histrionics — and a fit of pique he joined the National League’s New York Giants and poached the best Orioles players. With those defections, the Orioles ownership threw in the towel, forcing Johnson to run the team with players from other teams. Rights to the franchise were eventually Frank Farrell and Bill Devery, who set up shop at Hilltop Park. 

And while the Yankees have never claimed any Baltimore roots, baseball historians have and counted the 116 wins compiled by the Orioles into team records, which would have put the Yankees at 10,000 wins on June 25. But that stance changed after reconsideration from other baseball historians, particularly the influential, per the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s certainly not a decision I [made] unilaterally,” said Baseball-Reference founder Sean Forman, who added that he relied on the consensus opinions of a number of experts of that time period in baseball, including Major League Baseball’s official historian John Thorn, author of Total Baseball, the last official MLB encyclopedia, and Gary Gillette, co-editor of ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. The pronouncement is harmonious too with the opinion of the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician for MLB, as well as that of the Yankees….

Thorn said that he considers the Baltimore franchise to have ended on July 17, 1902, and that the subsequent cobbled-together roster was a “walking-dead shell-operation.”

[American League founder Ban] Johnson eventually sold the rights to the franchise to Frank Farrell and Bill Devery, New York City’s former chief of police, for $18,000. The franchise relocated to New York and was named the Highlanders in part because they played in Hilltop Park in Washington Heights. The stadium was situated next to the Polo Grounds, where McGraw managed the Giants. Ten years later, the Highlanders were renamed the Yankees.

It’s a logical decision. The business of baseball was considerably looser in those days, and while there is a clear line between the Orioles and the Highlanders, it’s not a strong or particularly taut one.

Photo: Hilltop Park, New York Highlanders, 1911 Opening Day, Library of Congress.


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