Guest post by Mike Gesker
“Well, it was the Mardi Gras. It was New Year’s Eve and it was the 4th of July all wrapped into one. I never remember during my time in Baltimore a more joyous occasion.” That’s the way the venerable sports reporter John Steadman recalled the gala celebration of April 15, 1954, when the Baltimore Orioles paraded through town and headed to Memorial Stadium for the first major league Opening Day since the demise of the old Federal League Baltimore Terrapins in 1915.
Legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell was there 60 years ago, too. He fondly reminisced, “It was a great thrill in 1954. The Orioles had played a couple of games in Detroit. They split two. . . their first two games in their modern history. And then they got on the train and came to Baltimore. We had a big parade. They got off the train in their uniforms, got into automobiles, and went through the downtown streets of Baltimore and paraded to the stadium. And I can remember coming into the stadium and the workmen were still working on the stadium. And it was a threatening day. It looked like it might rain out the home opener.
“We had a jam-packed crowd. And the Orioles won that game, I think it was 3 to 1 over the Chicago White Sox. Clint Courtney and I think Vern Stephens hit home runs. And it was a gala day for Baltimore and the beginning of the modern era for the Orioles.”
The arrival of the modern Orioles was such an occasion that even the New Yorker magazine dispatched a footloose correspondent to scribble down his observations. In the May 1, 1954 issue, John McNulty noted, “In the seventh, the Orioles’ first baseman, Eddie Waitkus, laid down a bunt that was as close to perfection as a bunt can be. It seemed to me that the crowd of 46,354 shouted louder and went daffier over that bunt than over the two home runs—maybe because this was Baltimore, where, as I said, they either invented or perfected the bunt more than sixty years ago.”
Jimmy Dykes, a veteran of Connie Mack’s powerful Philadelphia Athletics, was the Birds’ skipper that day. Here is the lineup that took the field to the delight of the tens of thousands of cheering Oriole fans: Bobby Young 2b, Eddie Waitkus 1b, Gil Coan cf, Vic Wertz rf, Sam Mele lf, Vern Stephens 3b, Billy Hunter ss, Clint Courtney c, Bob Turley p.
One year later, the only member of Jimmy’s lineup who would be starting Opening Day was Eddie Waitkus. Even Mr. Dykes himself was gone in 1955. The new manager and general would be Paul Richards. The “Wizard of Waxahachie” did his best to shed the last remnants of the old St. Louis Browns and create a new winning tradition in Baltimore. “The Oriole Way” was born.
Opening Day is not unlike a blind date: brimming with hope, wonder, and maybe a few expectations. You’ve heard nothing but nice things about the club. Yes, it really is good looking and has a wonderful personality. If you have a good time, and all goes well, you hope to meet again and again with visions of a World Series—or least the playoffs—dancing in your head.
So here’s to Manager Buck Showalter and his charges. With a little luck and Manny Machado’s happy return, we’ll have a date in late October. Let the games begin!
Baseball fan Mike Gesker is the author of The Orioles Encyclopedia and the Emmy award-winning producer, director, and writer of Maryland Public Television‘s Baseball, the Birds on 33rd. He is a writer-editor for Catholic Relief Services and freelance writer whose work has been published in the Baltimore Sun, Sport magazine, and the Army Times.