Baltimore Orioles L.P. History

Address:
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
333 West Camden Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
United States

Telephone: (410) 685-9800
Toll Free: 888-848-2473
Fax: (410) 547-6277

Website:
Private Company
Founded: 1953
Sales: $129 million (2003)
NAIC: 711211 Sports Teams and Clubs

Company Perspectives:

Oriole Park is state-of-the-art yet unique, traditional and intimate in design. It blends with the urban context of downtown Baltimore while taking its image from baseball parks built in the early 20th century.

Key Dates:

1902:
American League Milwaukee Brewers move to St. Louis, becoming St. Louis Browns.
1944:
Browns win only American League pennant.
1953:
Browns move to Baltimore, becoming Baltimore Orioles.
1966:
Orioles win first World Series Championship.
1992:
Oriole Park and Camden Yards opens.

Company History:

The Baltimore Orioles L.P. is the operating company for the professional baseball team of the same name. As a member of the Eastern Division of Major League Baseball's American League, the Orioles play at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, situated in the heart of Baltimore. The opening of Oriole Park in 1992 ushered in a new era of baseball-only stadiums that paid architectural homage to the ballparks of an earlier era. While the popularity of its home field led to high attendance, success has not transferred onto the diamond in recent years. A team that was a consistent contender for decades has fallen into an extended period of mediocrity. The club is owned by a group of investors headed by attorney Peter Angelos, a gadfly among baseball's generally conservative group of owners. Minority owners of the Orioles include such celebrities as novelist Tom Clancy, political commentator and columnist George Will, filmmaker Barry Levinson, former tennis player Pam Shriver, and legendary sportscaster Jim McKay.

Early 1900s Roots

The Orioles were originally the St. Louis Browns before the franchise was transferred to Baltimore in 1954. Both St. Louis and Baltimore boasted rich traditions in major league baseball during the final decades of the 1800s. The Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s was one of the era's most notorious and celebrated teams, both for its roughhouse ways and adherence to "scientific baseball," which emphasized the use of guile in playing the game. St. Louis originally fielded a team called the Brown Stockings, initially in the National Association, which folded after a single season, then for two seasons in the National League, which was established in 1876. The St. Louis club then joined a rival major league, the American Association, where it won several championships before returning to the National League, along with the Baltimore Orioles, as part of a merger in 1891. The Browns were owned by controversial beer baron Chris Von Der Ahe, who fell out of favor with his fellow owners; St. Louis was stripped of its franchise in 1899. After three years without major league baseball, the city would land an American League franchise three years later. The American League was originally a minor league, the Western League, that changed its name and declared it was the equal to the National League, launching its first major league season in 1901. Baltimore was awarded an American League franchise and the new incarnation of the Orioles played two seasons before the franchise moved to New York City, where the club was renamed the Highlanders and eventually became known as the New York Yankees and emerged as one of the most successful sports franchises in the world. As a result of the Oriole's defection, Baltimore would be without major league baseball for the next half century. St. Louis, on the other hand, would land a National League club, via the 1999 transfer of the Cleveland Spiders, as well as one from the new American League.

Following the 1901 season, the Milwaukee Brewers franchise of the fledgling American League was bought for $35,000 by 33-year-old Robert Lee Hedges, who moved the club to St. Louis, renaming it the Browns. He cleaned up Sportsman's Park where the club played and the Browns over the next dozen years drew well and were profitable. Another rival major league, the Federal League, was formed in 1913, and after completing two seasons it agreed to disband. As part of the settlement with Major League Baseball, Hedges sold the Browns to one of the owners of the St. Louis Terriers, Philip Ball, for $525,000. Hedges made a tidy profit on his investment in the team, becoming the last owner of the Browns to make money on the club. He also held the distinction of giving Branch Rickey his start as a baseball executive, naming him the Browns' manager. Rickey would one day revolutionize baseball by refining the minor league farm system of developing big league talent while with the St. Louis Cardinals, and by breaking down baseball's racial barriers when with the Brooklyn Dodgers by signing Jackie Robinson, the first African-America to play major league baseball in the modern era.

The Brown's new owner was a hard-drinking, gruff ex-ballplayer, as well as erstwhile cowhand and construction worker, who made a fortune manufacturing ice machines. Rickey, a teetotaler, campaigned for a national prohibition of alcohol and was promptly shown the door by Ball. It was only the first of many mistakes Ball would make while running the Browns. In 1920 he allowed the National League's Cardinals to share Sportsmen Park, which permitted his local competitor to sell its own park and invest the money in Branch Rickey's farm system. As a result, the Cardinals went on to win several World Series while the Browns became a perennial loser; St. Louis went from being a "Brown's town," to a city that adored the Cardinals. Ball even paid to increase the seating capacity of Sportsman Park, a move that did little to help the Browns, whose attendance declined steadily, but proved a windfall for the immensely popular Cardinals. When Ball died in 1933 the club drew just 88,113 fans for the entire year. One game that season attracted just 34 paying customers. It was no wonder that nobody wanted to buy the team.

The executor of Ball's estate finally turned to Rickey, who recruited Bill DeWitt, Sr., the Cardinals team treasurer, and Donald Barnes, president of American Investment Company, to buy the Browns for $325,000. Barnes put up $50,000, DeWitt $25,000, and the club raised another $200,000 by selling stock at $5 a share. Under new ownership the Browns fared no better on the field or the box office, so that by 1941 Barnes sought permission from the American League to relocate the franchise to Los Angeles. The meeting was held on December 8, 1941, one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor that precipitated the United States' entry into World War II. Because of the sudden uncertainty in the world, Barnes was turned down, but the war did lead to the greatest moment in the Brown's history. In 1944, when the level of major league talent was severely diluted because so many players were serving in the military or alternative service, the Browns were able to win its only American League pennant. Even this moment of glory, however, failed to help the club improve its image in St. Louis. The Browns had the misfortune of meeting the Cardinals in the World Series, losing to their tenants in six games.

Control of the Browns changed hands once again in 1945 when board member Richard Muckerman, along with Bill and Charlie DeWitt, took over the running of the club. The team continued to draw poorly, prompting Muckerman in 1945 to sign and play Pete Gray, a one-armed outfielder, as a gate attraction. The move only succeeded in solidifying the Browns' reputation as baseball's pathetic country cousin. Because the team drew poorly during the postwar years, it had to sell off what little talent it possessed to stay afloat, resulting in teams that even fewer fans wanted to pay to watch. In 1951, Bill Veeck, the former owner of the Cleveland Indians and renowned maverick, bought the Browns with the ambitious goal of driving the Cardinals out of town. The Cardinal's owner was enduring some income tax difficulties, but Veeck's hopes were dashed when millionaire brewer August Busch bought the rival club. Veeck's best known moment while running the Browns came just one month into his tenure, when he had a midget named Eddie Gaedel brought into a game to pinch hit--after jumping out of a cake. With such a compact strike zone, less than two inches after assuming a crouch, Gaedel walked. The next day, the American League banned Gaedel and announced that all future player contracts had to be approved by the league office. Veeck tried others stunts, such as Grandstand Manager's Night, when the fans were able to vote on the starting pitcher and strategic decisions by using placards that said "Yes" on one side and "No" on the other.

Major Moves in the 1950s

With his genius for marketing Veeck was able to improve annual attendance from 293,790 in 1951 when he took over in mid-season, to 518,796 a year later. Still, the Browns remained last in the league in attendance, and Veeck lacked the money to make the team a true contender. With Busch now in charge of the Cardinals, he looked to move the club, but some of the conservative owners despised his iconoclastic ways and prevented him from returning the Browns to Milwaukee. He was forced to keep the team one more season in St. Louis, and with the fans knowing that the team was slated to leave, attendance collapsed. During a meeting held in September 1953, American League owners voted against Veeck's request to relocate the Browns to Baltimore, which was building a new ballpark and had first made known its interests in procuring the Browns in 1947. The owners knew Veeck was in desperate financial condition: the Browns brought in no money from television or radio; to stay in business during the 1953 season Veeck had been forced to sell his better players; and Veeck could not keep up the mortgage payments on Sportsman Park, so he sold the facility to Busch for $1.1 million. According to some sources, the owners who disapproved of Veeck were determined to keep the Browns in St. Louis until he went bankrupt, at which point the league could dispose of the franchise. Realizing he had no choice, Veeck sold his 70 percent interest in the Browns to a group of some 100 Baltimore investors led by Charles W. Miles for $2,475,000. Once Veeck was out, the American League unanimously approved the transfer of the Browns to Baltimore.

The owners of the new Baltimore Orioles set about the task of building a competitive ball club by hiring a brilliant executive named Paul Richards to serve as general manager. He wrote down in an unpublished manuscript the philosophy and tenets that would guide the club, from operating a farm system to making a relay throw. It would become known as the Oriole Way, and it would serve as a roadmap for excellence that the Orioles would enjoy for a generation. The farm system developed into the premiere breeding ground for baseball talent for some 20 years, resulting in the Orioles contending for its first pennant in 1960, its first World Series championship in 1966, and having many successful seasons throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

In 1956 James Keelty, Jr., succeeded Miles as president, followed by Leland S. MacPhail in 1960. Ownership changed hands in 1966 when Jerold C. Hoffberger, who headed the National Brewing Company, bought the club. Despite their winning ways, the Orioles failed to draw as well as might be expected, forever placing second in the hearts of Baltimore sports fans, who had developed a passionate following for the Baltimore Colts football team. During Hoffberger's 15-year tenure as Orioles owner, the franchise was essentially a break-even investment, but the Orioles proved to be an excellent promotional vehicle for National Brewing to sell its beer in a very crowded marketplace. When the Hoffberger family sold the company to Carling Brewery in 1976, however, there was little incentive to continue ownership of the Orioles.

In 1979, the Hoffberger family sold the Orioles for $12 million to Edward Bennett Williams, a Washington, D.C., lawyer, prompting some fear that the club might be relocated to a city that would provide better fan support. A former press secretary for Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, along with two area bankers, at the behest of the mayor, organized a group of volunteers to help sell season tickets. The group became known as the Designated Hitters Club. Following the Orioles' 1983 World Championship, the Club sold 8,200 additional season tickets. The team appeared secure, but in order to take attendance to the next level, to achieve consistent sellouts, it was clear that the Orioles needed to replace antiquated Memorial Stadium with a new ballpark. Both Bennett and Mayor Schaefer were eager to build a new facility, which became especially important to the latter after the beloved Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 and the Bullets National Basketball Team move south to Washington D.C. before that. The loss of the Orioles would be a crushing blow to the pride of Baltimore, which would no longer be view as a "big league" city and likely suffer economically. To keep up the pressure, Williams insisted on short-term leases for the use of city-owned Memorial Stadium. Moreover, the team negotiated a no-rent contract. Rather, the Orioles' rent was a percentage of profits, after taxes and expenses were deducted.

While public funding for a new ballpark gained approval, Williams died of cancer in August 1988. In June 1989 New York investor Eli Jacobs and two partners--Orioles president Larry Lucchino and former politician R. Sargent Shriver--bought the franchise for a reported $70 million. Schaefer had become Maryland's governor and was in a much better position to deliver a new ballpark to the Orioles. After much maneuvering in the state legislature, Schaefer was finally able to push through a bill to provide funding for the facility, to begin construction in 1990. The site chosen would be an old railroad depot and warehouse district in Baltimore, an area in desperate need of revitalization.

A New Venue in the Early 1990s

In 1992 the Orioles played it first game in its new 47,000-seat facility, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was considered an success even months before the first pitch. The architects chose to ignore the previous generation of American stadiums, multipurpose facilities that were neither well-suited to baseball or football, opting instead to draw inspiration from the baseball-only parks that were built in the early decades of the 20th century, such as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, perennial fan favorites. They wanted a retro look but with all the modern conveniences. A massive warehouse visible beyond right field provided charm as well as space for executive offices, ticket sale booths, concession kitchens, and a souvenir shop. The critics were first to weigh in with their approval of the new ballpark, and the baseball fans of Baltimore--and the world--concurred, as Oriole Park became a tourist attraction in itself and the club now enjoyed consistent sellouts and attendance topped the 3.5 million mark.

Jacobs began to experience financial difficulties and as early as 1991 began to talk about the possibility of selling the Orioles. In 1993 Jacobs filed for bankruptcy, and the franchise was put on the block. During the course of a spirited, 15-round auction, former Baltimore city councilman and wealthy attorney Peter Angelos, and Cincinnati oil executive William DeWitt, Jr., whose father once owned the Browns, joined forces to bid $173 million and outdistance rival buyers for the club.

Angelos became managing partner of the Orioles, but other than making the playoffs in 1997, the team found it increasingly difficult to compete in the American League's Eastern Division, where the New York Yankees appeared to have an unlimited budget on acquiring players and the Boston Red Sox were desperate in their need to keep up with their fiercest rival. The one bright spot during this period was Orioles player Cal Ripkin's pursuit of Lou Gerhig's seemingly unbreakable record for consecutive games played, which captured the interest of the entire country. The Orioles got away from building the team from within, choosing instead to make costly investments in free agent players, most of whom failed to pan out. Moreover, for several seasons the team had only inexpensive and marginal talent, offering no threat to the division leaders. Some of the charm of Oriole Park also wore off, as many retro-looking ballparks opened up around the country and eclipsed some of its glory. As a result, attendance dipped somewhat, but the franchise was still quite valuable, and in 2004 management again invested in high-priced free-agent players. Should Baltimore Orioles L.P. be able to once again assemble contending clubs, the team would likely return to the days of regular sellouts.

Principal Competitors: New York Yankees Partnership; The Boston Red Sox; Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club.

Further Reading:

  • Cohen, Charles, "Baltimore's Beer and Baseball Baron," Baltimore Business Journal, November 26, 1999, p. 25.
  • Goldreich, Samuel, "Orioles: The Stuff of Legends," Baltimore Business Journal, August 6, 1993, p. 1.
  • Golenbock, Peter, The Spirit of St. Louis, New York: Avon Books, 2000, 651 p.
  • Patterson, Ted, The Baltimore Orioles, Dallas: Taylor Publishing, 2000, 24 p.
  • Smith, Fraser, "If You Build It, They Will Come," Regardie's Magazine, January-February 1995, p. 73.
  • Thorn, Jon, et. al., Total Baseball, New York: Total Sports, 1999.
  • Verducci, Tom, "Losing their Way," Sports Illustrated, April 26, 1999, p. 42.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 66. St. James Press, 2004.