Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 10/31/14
Today in the 1898-1899 offseason, a remarkable thing happened: as the ownership groups in Baltimore and Brooklyn swapped part shares in each other’s clubs, the Orioles effectively merged with the Dodgers, with the class of the two ballclubs going to Brooklyn and the dregs staying in Baltimore — with the exception of star Baltimore third baseman John McGraw, who refused to leave. (Imagine if Jeffrey Loria traded a stake in the Marlins to Rogers Communications to obtain a stake in the Blue Jays, and you begin to get the idea.) The super-team in Brooklyn, formerly called the Trolley Dodgers, became known as the “Superbas.” Up to that point, the Orioles had been arguably the best team in the National League for much of the decade, which is to say, the best team in baseball, because the National League was the only major league at the time. The Orioles finished first out of 12 teams from 1894-1896, and second in 1897-1898. The majority of their starting lineup — catcher Wilbert Robinson, shortstop Hughie Jennings, third baseman John McGraw, and outfielders Joe Kelley and Wee Willie Keeler, not to mention manager Ned Hanlon — went to the Hall of Fame. (Hanlon, Robinson, and McGraw largely made the Hall on their reputations as managers, though McGraw was also a superb player.) Then their team was eviscerated, and the Orioles disappeared through contraction the following year. Ned Hanlon, known as “Foxy Ned,” managed the Orioles and then the Dodgers, but most importantly, he had an ownership share. So he was involved in the deal that brought the two clubs together, and when he went to Brooklyn he had his virtual pick of the Baltimore roster. The Orioles retained a few of their players — specifically McGraw, who immediately became the manager, and Robinson, later a longtime manager in Brooklyn. And they came up with Joe McGinnity, a Hall of Fame pitcher who debuted for the squad. (McGinnity was 28, old for a rookie, but as Burt Solomon writes in “Where They Ain’t,” he had previously “left baseball to open a saloon in Illinois because his wife was an invalid.”) Still, all in all it was a disspiriting year for the Baltimore club, which finished in fourth place. The 1899 National League season was a year of haves and have-nots. Brooklyn finished first, 101-47, eight games ahead of Frank Selee’s 95-win Boston Beaneaters, and nine ahead of the Phillies. Baltimore was fourth with 86, but was closer to the ninth-place Louisville Colonels, who had 75 wins, than to the top of the division. At the bottom came the soon-to-be-extinct Senators, with 54 wins, and the infamous Spiders, who went 20-134 in the worst season of professional baseball ever played. The Senators, Spiders, Colonels, and Orioles were all contracted at the end of the season, as the National League shrank from 12 teams to eight. The shrinking of the league paved the way for Cleveland, Washington, and Baltimore to be reborn in two years as American League cities. Hanlon may not have been a brilliant clubhouse man, according to Sam Crawford, who was a rookie on the Reds in 1899: He was a bench manager in civilian clothes. When things would get a little tough in a game, Hanlon would sit there on the bench and wring his hands and start telling some of those old-timers what to do. They’d look at him and say, “For Christ’s sake, just keep quiet and leave us alone. We’ll win this ball game if you only shut up.” But Foxy Ned was still a towering figure in pre-1900 baseball. His teams were built around fundamentals and smallball. It was his Baltimore Orioles that originated the “Baltimore Chop.” The Superbas were even named after him. Brooklyn’s team had been called the Trolley Dodgers for fairly obvious reasons, as trolley lines crisscrossed the borough. But there was a popular vaudeville troupe in Brooklyn called Hanlon’s Superbas, and when Ned Hanlon came from Baltimore to Brooklyn, sportswriters jokingly began to call the baseball team the Superbas too. The name stuck, and that’s how they were known for years afterwards, even after Ned had left the club. The shady business deal that consolidated the clubs was actually not uncommon for the time, though the practice was banned after 1899. It was sneeringly referred to as “syndicate baseball,” as a similar thing happened in Cleveland and Louisville and led to the demise of those clubs as well. As Benjamin Rader writes in “Baseball: A History of America’s Game”: In the late 1890s three NL franchises became virtually the farm clubs of three other league franchises. When Cleveland Spiders owner Frank Robison obtained control of the St. Louis Browns in 1899, he transferred stars Jesse Burkett and Cy Young from the Spiders to the Browns, and when Barney Dreyfus, owner of Louisville, purchased control of Pittsburgh, he moved Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke to the Pirates. [But] Perhaps no interlocking ownership reflected a more cynical disregard for hometown fans than the Baltimore-Brooklyn nexus. Baltimore fans may have been more cruelly served at the time, but Louisville fans assuredly had it worse in the long run, as 1899 was the last season that there was a major league team in their city. The other three cities, Washington, Baltimore, and Cleveland, all gained a new team in 1901, the year that the American League was founded to compete with the NL. Cleveland’s team is the only one that actually stayed in place, one of just four of the original eight American League clubs to do so, along with the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, and the Boston Red Sox. (The Baltimore Orioles of 1901 moved to New York in 1903 to become the Highlanders, now known as the Yankees, while the Washington Senators of 1901 moved to Minnesota in 1961 to become the Twins. Baltimore finally got a new team in 1954, the former St. Louis Browns. They were not Frank Robison’s Browns, though. That team, which took Cy Young from the Cleveland Spiders, is now known as the St. Louis Cardinals. The Browns team that became the Orioles had begun life in 1901 as the Milwaukee Brewers, and moved to St. Louis in 1902.) So take heart, Miami fans. Giancarlo Stanton, the one good player who stayed in Miami, may become one of the greatest managers of all time. Jake Marisnick could open a very successful saloon. And in a hundred years, you may draft Manny Machado and make the playoffs.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: Athletics trade Derek Norris to Padres

Dodgers not happy with Padres GM over Matt Kemp trade

Mario Balotelli banned match for offensive Instagram post

Marc Trestman: Benching Jay Cutler could revive QB's career

Rob Gronkowski jokes about Tom Brady saying he's grown up

Rajon Rondo traded to Mavs for three players, picks

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Washington Post has perfect description for Titans-Jaguars

Wilbon angry at DC for not supporting Wizards

Urban Meyer says Tim Tebow still wants to play in the NFL

Keenan Lewis: Saints preparing 'funeral' for Falcons

Chris Christie defends being a Cowboys fan

Celtics co-owner: 2024 Olympics would be 'boon for Beantown'

Extremely rare set of Air Jordan 7s selling for $45,000

Five reasons why Alabama will win College Football Playoff

Hugh Freeze proud of Ole Miss’ record 2.57 team GPA

Youngstown St. addresses Bo Pelini's profanity-laced rant

It's been almost 40 years since NFL's last untelevised game

The NHL has finally fined a player for diving

Ben Roethlisberger: Le’Veon Bell is having an MVP season

Jim Harbaugh comments on the reported offer from Michigan

Michael Jordan's college Converse shoes sell for $33,387

Week 16 NFL game watchability rankings

Game of the week: Indianapolis Colts vs. Dallas Cowboys

The Chicago Bears are the Monstrosity of the Midway

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Gronk jokes about Brady compliment

In Matt Kemp, did the Dodgers find a pigeon in Padres?

Why the Saints are legit playoff threat

Impact of U.S.-Cuba relations on MLB

Andrew Hawkins, other athletes gain support for social statement attire

NBA's most underrated players

Michael Vick nearly debt-free

Dolphins CB rips Brady's career plans

Biggest winners of the MLB offseason

Brian Billick owns Browns fan

Pelini has profane words for Nebraska AD

When bowl results mean more for one school than another

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.