The 1896 Orioles Opossum

 “The charm of the work of the Baltimores is that every man is alive and thoroughly in earnest, playing ball for all he is worth all the time. It is a very hard club to beat, and it is the verdict that there is little wonder this club won the pennant last season.” ~ The Boston Herald, Spring 1896

Dear Baltimore Orioles,

Me, again.

I guess I don’t have to tell you why I’m writing.

At 8-25, you’re tied with the Reds for the worst record in baseball.

Last night.

You’re worse than the terrible everyone predicted you’d be.

You’re 16 games back of the AL East leading Red Sox, which is pretty nuts, because you’ve only played 33 games.

Things are terrible bad in Birdland. Horriblaciously, rottenificously, awfulmoungously bad.

So bad I have to make up words to describe the badiciousness.

This is “unbelievably bad” territory.

You blow first innings, you blow ninth innings. Those innings in-between? You blow them, too.

And, extra innings too … because …

Even when things are going right, they wind up going lousy.

 

The game-winning home run in the 12th inning came from the A’s Khris Davis, not the O’s Chris Davis.

 

“Loser” doesn’t look pretty on you.

Last night, on a rehab assignment at Triple A Norfolk, ever-smiling second baseman Jonathan Schoop was called out by fans for ducking out a side exit after the game in order to avoid a handful of children who were waiting for an autograph.

Lately you all aren’t even particularly good at that.

Let me tell you a story about an opossum. (Hear me out, would you? There’s a point.)

On May 3, 1896 – just 12 games into the season – the Baltimore Orioles were a middling bunch. The Orioles had started off meh – 5-7. That put them behind Chicago. Behind Cleveland. St. Louis, Brooklyn, Washington, Cincinnati, Boston, Philadelphia, and league-leading Pittsburg.

(Yes, Editor/Husband, Pittsburg is correct. Pittsburg didn’t become Pittsburgh until 1911.)

The 1896 Baltimore Orioles

Something wasn’t right in Birdland. It was early, but there was already talk that the Orioles – the powerhouse 1895 pennant-winning Orioles – were just not the team they used to be.

Something had to change.

And, look, I’m not saying you should try what these Birds did. (I strongly encourage you not to, in fact.)  I’m just saying  … you need to do something … fast … and maybe a little creative thinking is in order. Because, with all due respect, nothing else you’ve done has worked.

Back to 1896.

As the season began, the Orioles had an opossum delivered from the Eastern Shore to serve as the team mascot.

courtesy of the Wildlife Center of Virginia

Not the actual 1896 opossum.

Why an opossum? I don’t know why. They just did. Look, that’s not the point. Pay attention. They had an opossum sent from the Eastern Shore and it was their mascot.

No, I don’t know where it lived or who took care of it or if it sat in the dugout. I don’t know what they fed it or where it pooped. I don’t know. Again, that’s not the point.

What is the point is that the opossum was, obviously, bad luck.

“It proved itself to be most damaging to the club, as is shown by the results of the games played up to this time,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

After an especially bad outing in Boston, some players who had stayed back in Baltimore sought out the opossum mascot.

Baltimore Sun, 5/5/1896

Oh dear.

Despite the killing, the Orioles lost their game that day anyway.

But, there was a simple explanation, according to The Sun: The bad luck opossum had to be eaten “before all the malevolent effects are cleansed from the air.” And so an appropriate “colored man” was found who cooked and ate the opossum.

The Orioles won their next four games and over their next 18 – all on the road – went 11-6-1.

This is the point where I remind you that those 1896 Orioles went on to win the pennant and are still remembered as one of baseball’s greatest teams.

But, I don’t want you running around looking for opossums. Opossums are harmless and innocent creatures – America’s only marsupial.

courtesy of the Wildlife Center of Virginia

Not bad luck.

What worked in 1896 isn’t going to work now. And, you have more important things to do anyway. Like fielding drills. Bullpen practice. Learning to bunt.

And, anyway, that wasn’t what saved the 1896 Orioles.

At least I don’t think so because …

“The club stands badly in need of an Irish setter dog. That’s our true mascot,” Orioles “Ground Keeper Murphy” told The Sun. “We had one in 1894 and another in 1895, and while it is true that this dog tried to bite pieces out of [second baseman] ‘Kid’ Gleason, he was certain good luck.”

William “Kid” Gleason. Disliked by dogs.

The good-luck dog, named “Trim,” had died in March, The Washington Evening Times reported. Murphy was certain that was the problem.

“I think that if some good friend of the Orioles will send an Irish setter out to the grounds we will have the right sort of luck – now that the plaguey oppossum’s dead.”

I can’t tell you if someone ever turned up with a dog. But, the season turned around, so I’m just going to go ahead and say, yes, I’m absolutely certain, based on nothing more than the Orioles post-opossum record, that they did.

Wikicommons

Not the actual 1896 Irish setter.

The bad luck mascot situation reappeared briefly in June.

Baltimore Sun, 6/23/1896

Jimmy Kilfoyle, a 12-year-old runaway from Macon, Georgia, emptied a family bank account of $25, hopped a train, and came to Baltimore to see his heroes – the Orioles and, especially, shortstop Hughie Jennings. “Jimmy The Mascot” had been their bat boy that spring in Macon.

Back in 1896, no one much cared when a 12 year old skipped town to run off with a baseball team. A few players took him out for a steak dinner and let Little Jimmy, their lucky mascot, carry their bats at their next game.

Baltimore Sun, 6/26/1896

They lost that game, so it was a good thing Little Jimmy’s brother showed up that afternoon to fetch him.

The Orioles, rid of “Jimmy The Mascot,” won their next six.

(Dear 1896 Orioles, Thank you for not killing Little Jimmy.)

After that horrid start, the 1896 Orioles got their act together, finished 90-39 – a .698 win percentage – won the pennant handily and swept the Cleveland Spiders to win the Temple Cup.

Baltimore Sun, 10/9/1896

In the four years that the Temple Cup championship was played, 1894-1897, (these were the days before the World Series) the Baltimore Orioles played in all four series and won two.

You can do that, too.

You can’t beat the Cleveland Spiders, but you know what I mean. You can identify the bad luck. And, fix it.

Sacrificing an opossum isn’t the point. Seriously. Just shut up about that.

I’m just asking you to look deep inside yourselves and see what the hell it is you did to jinx our season. Because I didn’t do it. So, it must have been you.

We will not be sacrificing an opossum.

But, we better do something soon. And, by “we,” I mean “you” because you need to straighten this mess out.

Here’s one other bit of advice from the 1896 Orioles.

During that opossum-cursed losing skid, the Orioles had a day off between games in Boston.

Look what they did.

Baltimore Sun, 5/2/1896

Practice!

There’s six more months of baseball and you’re on pace to lose 120 games. Don’t ruin my summer.

Your Concerned Friend, The Baseball Bloggess

P.S. Be nice to opossums.

courtesy of the Wildlife Center of Virginia

 

20 thoughts on “The 1896 Orioles Opossum

  1. Morning, Bloggess,

    As someone who had more than one Irish Setter in my youth, and as one who also on more than one occasion saw bumper stickers which advised me to “Eat more ‘Possum “ I find lots to digest here (although never opossum). The Floorioles could try another opossum on the condition that no harm come to it. It would at least rid them of ticks, etc. (if they’re suffering from this as well). I doubt it’s any consolation, but the O’s woes are making me aware that the Twins inconsistency and injury issues could be even more frustrating. I feel your pain.

    • Floorioles? You’re breaking my heart! Don’t worry … the only reason the Tigers are sitting in 2nd in the AL Central — ahead of the Twins — is that they rolled over the O’s for four wins last month. Cleveland can thank us for three wins last month, too. Without us … the Twins would be #1!

      And, thank you for the reminder that opossums helpfully hoover up ticks … another plus for opossums!

      • Here I had thought the only black-and-orange team causing me anguish would be the one out West. 😖 If the site allowed the attachment of pictures to the comments, I would submit for your consideration the MN ZooMobile education Eastern Box/Woodland turtle 🐢 Pokey (named, as befits baseball nicknames, because he isn’t). Not only could he qualify as a Terrapin cousin, Pokey seems dedicated to World Domination-his determined red-eyed glare gave Raina at WCV pause- an attitude the O’s could use. That, and of course, “practice work”

    • I think you’re on to something here. If the Os sucked in 1896 with a ‘possum and were great without it, there’s clearly *something* about the critters that has a deep and important connection to baseball. So now here we are in 2018 and they suck without a ‘possum. What can it hurt to bring one in on a week’s trial?

      (Remember: I’m not just some random lunatic. No, I’m the lunatic who predicted the Orioles would win at least seven games this year. *Correctly* predicted.)

      If that doesn’t work, I’ve got a backup prediction. The Os are historically bad now, right? Right. What other team was historically bad? The ’62 Metropolitans. If a ‘possum doesn’t help, the Os should kill and eat Mr. Met. That’ll break the curse for sure. One way or another!

      • >>What can it hurt to bring one in on a week’s trial?

        I’m not sure a single opossum can fix this … it might take a passel of opossums … dozens and dozens and dozens of them to make a dent in the O’s current bad-luckedness.

        And, anyway, I think that the Seattle Mariners have first dibs on opossum’ing … since their minor league affiliate, the Arkansas Travelers, has Otey the Possum as it mascot.

        • We may be on to something here. *O*tey. *O*rioles. Clearly he’s working for the wrong team.

          Update: I just looked at some pictures, and holy [expletive deleted] is that critter scary. The Orioles need to sign Otey ***NOW*** because as soon as he walks onto the field before games, the opposing team is going to flee in terror!

  2. A GREAT post, and have to say “Floorioles” is sadly apt right now. Still laughing, and crying!

    Love to you and Randy,

    Lynne

    “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed.” William Faulkner (1897-1962)

    >

  3. Maybe they could revive the spirt of John McGraw (he’s sitting 2nd from the left on the front row of the picture at the top). He seemed to know how to win. I have no idea his views of either opossum or retrievers.
    Lottsa luck from a Dodgers fan who feels the pain.
    v

    • Oh, v … I just heard about Clayton Kershaw. That’s no good. Not good at all.

      In all of the stories about “Little Jimmy” and the mascot situation in Baltimore that year, McGraw is notable only by his absence in the discussion. Your blog series on 1908 has inspired me to pull out (again) Charles Alexander’s book on McGraw … and this go round I’ll keep an eye out for any mention of opossums. :)

  4. This, too, shall pass….does that help?
    Let them find their mojo quickly…
    And keep the animals out of the equation!
    I have found myself watching Baltimore’s stats and hoping for better results. Please let the slide end, soon.
    Enjoyed this one, rings so close to recent years.

    • I’m not sure there’s enough mojo in the world for the Orioles this season. Seasons and seasons of systemic front office mistakes compounded by new mistakes, injuries, and just overall badness, have all come together in a tsunami of futility. Ahh well …

  5. Fictitious Baltimore homicide detective Frank Pembleton opined that Irish Setters have brains the size of a peanut. Then again, the character was supposed to be from NYC.

    I know, because all 7 seasons of Homicide: Life On The Street were released a few months ago and I scarfed them up recently. I have done little else but binge watch since. Perhaps not coincidentally, Miguel Cabrera is on the 10 day disabled list. Nick Castellanos and Jaimer Candelario have the flu. I can’t drum up interest in watching nine opossums take the field. My Tigers aside, nine opossums might be better than the current Orioles. I’m certain an opossum could hit lefties better than Chris (not Khris) Davis. I take no pleasure in saying this. Those of us who loathe the Red Sox depend heavily upon the Orioles to do some damage.

    • I loved “Homicide: Life On The Streets” … and “The Wire” is my favorite ever.

      I”m certain that an opossum could hit lefties — and righties — better than most everyone in the current Orioles lineup. It’s the opossum’s opposable thumbs that make this statement true.

  6. Pingback: The Orioles, Opossums, And Poetry | The Baseball Bloggess

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