Fans young and old

Fans young and old show their glee at Mount Royal Station, as Baltimore became one of the 16 major league teams. (Sun file photo / September 30, 1953)

First in a series of occasional articles on the Orioles' five decades in Baltimore.

In a March 1953 meeting in Tampa, Fla., the owners of the eight American League franchises rejected Bill Veeck's plan to move his downtrodden St. Louis Browns to Baltimore.

That was strike one.

Six months later, the owners convened for three days of meetings at New York's Commodore Hotel. Veeck's latest plan for moving to Baltimore was put on the table at the first session.

The owners again said no. That was strike two.

Baltimore Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro Jr. and lawyer Clarence Miles, leaders of a two-year drive to return baseball to Baltimore, were desperate to avoid strike three.

In New York for the meetings, they spent the next 48 hours in a frenzy of fund-raising and deal-making, determined to acquire a team at the meeting.

Their hard work paid off when a reconfigured plan to move the Browns was approved and the modern Baltimore Orioles were born -- 50 years ago tomorrow.

"It was a major turning point in Baltimore's development," said Thomas D'Alesandro III, the mayor's son, who later served a term as mayor himself. "The achieving of a major league baseball franchise was tantamount to the arrival of Baltimore as a big league city.

"Not only was it important economically, but also in terms of the spirit of the city. It provided common ground. White, black, fat, thin, healthy, sick: Everyone could relate to them."

The Orioles have become an institution in the past half-century, winning three World Series titles, six American League pennants, eight division titles and 4,128 of 7,888 regular-season games for a .523 winning percentage.

They have sold 88,695,636 tickets to 3,648 games at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards, averaging 24,313 fans per game.

Eleven members of baseball's Hall of Fame have been associated with them either as a player, manager or executive.

Although they will complete their sixth straight losing season today, only the Yankees, Dodgers and Athletics have won more World Series since 1954.

Before the Orioles' arrival, Baltimore went 51 years without major league baseball.

After the turn-of-the-century Orioles moved to New York in 1902 (and later became the Yankees), a minor league team also called the Orioles served the city's baseball interest, competing from 1903 to 1953 in what came to be known as the International League.

A team called the Terrapins also played here in 1914 and 1915 as part of the Federal League, a rival major league that failed, and a Negro leagues team, the Elite Giants, played in town from 1938 to 1948. Another Negro leagues team, the Black Sox, played here on and off from 1923 to 1934.

The arrival of an NFL franchise earlier in 1953 had excited local sports fans, but pro football wasn't nearly as popular and the Colts drew fewer than 28,000, well short of capacity, to their inaugural game at Memorial Stadium.

"Having a football team didn't have the same effect back then," said lumber executive Lou Grasmick, who was just starting out as a Baltimore businessman in 1953 after playing baseball in the minors and majors. "Baseball was unquestionably the national pastime then. There were only 16 major league teams, and they were hard to come by. If you had one [in your city], it said a lot."