When you talk to Baltimore Orioles fans, they will all tell you the O's best team had to be sometime during the 60's, 70's and 80's."
The O's were great then and they had some fantastic players including Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Mike Cuellar, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, and Mark Belanger.
Those fans fail to mention that the Orioles of the mid-late 1890's.
In 1892 the Orioles were awful. They were 40-101 under manager George VanHaltren and assistants John Waltz and Ned Hanlon. VanHaltren and Haltz decided to step down after the depressing campaign and Hanlon would therefore have the job.
During Hanlon's first season as manager, he made moves that changed the attitude of the team. He landed John McGraw, Joe Kelley and Wilbert Robinson. That season Hanlon guided the Orioles to a very respectable season at 60-70, which was a 20 game improvement. Robinson hit .334 with 57 RBI, McGraw hit .321 with 64 RBI and Kelley had 76 RBI and a .305 batting mark.
Hanlon would make more moves in 1894.
In the 1894 off season, Hanlon landed Hughie Jennings, Wee Willie Keeler and Dan Brouthers. Jennings hit .335 with 109 RBI, Keeler had 94 RBI and a .371 average and Brouthers had 128 runs knocked in.
More importantly the O's shocked the baseball world by winning 89 games and losing just 39, which was a 29 game improvement from a year past. Everyone in the batting lineup hit .300 or better and the O's won the pennant after edging the dominant Boston Beaneaters.
The O's also had three 15-game winners with Sadie McMahon at 25, Hawke at 16, and Kid Gleason at 15. After an amazing season, everyone expected the 1895 team to resort to their old ways.
To the contrary, my friend.
The O's finished 87-43 and Hanlon guided them to another pennant victory.
Joe Kelley carried the offensive load with ten homers, 134 RBI and a .365 batting average. Hughie Jennings and Steve Brodie had great seasons as well, with 125 and 134 runs batted in. The pitching was actually better than 1894, but the team ironically did worse.
Bill Hoffer was 31-6 with a 3.21 earned run average. George Hemming had 20 wins and Sadie McMahon was 10-4. Despite a worse record, the O's managed to win their second consecutive pennant.
Another pennant came in 1896 with the best Orioles team in franchise history. The Orioles had four 100 RBI men and stellar pitching. Hughie Jennings paced the club offensively with 121 RBI and a .401 average despite zero home runs.
The pitching was led by Bill Hoffer again with a 25-7 record and a 3.38 earned run average. The O's finished 90-39, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 995-662.
The Orioles had a great season in 1897, but not another pennant. They finished 90-40, losing to the great Boston Beaneaters. The Orioles, however, would win the Temple Cup over Boston. Newbie Jake Stenzel and veteran Joe Kelley led the offense with 116 and 118 runs batted in. Both batted above .350.
Joe Corbett was 24-8 as the ace of the staff, but don't overlook another solid year by Bill Hoffer, as he went 20-10. Jerry Nops was 20-6 with a 2.81 ERA and Arlie Pond had eighteen victories and just nine defeats.
The O's had another great year in 1898 when they went 96-53. Joe Kelley hit .321 with 110 RBI, Hughie Jennings had 79 RBI and a .328 batting average. First basemen Dan McGann hit .301 with five home runs and 106 RBI. The O's finished six games behind the White Sox who were 102-47.
It was a disappointing season in 1899 when the O's finished fourth in the division, with a record of 86-62..
The team was devastated by the departures of Hughie Jennings, Joe Kelley and Wee Willie Keeler, but mostly for the loss of Ned Hanlon. Hanlon and some former O's left Baltimore for Brooklyn to play with a team Hanlon put together with major leaguers from several different teams, including Baltimore.
After 1899 the O's returned in 1901 and stayed until 1902 before becoming the New York Highlanders.