When the Anniston Rams hired Dick Porter as their manager in the spring of 1941, they gained a pilot who’d played in the Major Leagues and managed in the minors. He also brought a side benefit: a Johnston Field game against the Baltimore Orioles.
These mid-century O’s weren’t descendants of the franchise that left Baltimore and eventually morphed into the New York Yankees, or predecessors of the modern-day Orioles who started in Milwaukee as the Brewers and moved to St. Louis as the Browns before relocating to Maryland. These Orioles were the International League O’s, who nonetheless made headlines when they came to Anniston in April 1941.
Porter, a native Marylander, played the role of dealmaker.
Years before, Orioles Manager Tommy Thomas, former Anniston Manager Lena Styles and Porter were minor-league teammates in Baltimore. (Styles and Porter were roommates.) The ’41 Rams didn’t have a Major League affiliate — the 1940 Rams were a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team — so Porter visited Thomas in Baltimore when he made his mid-March trek south from his Saulsbury, Maryland, home for spring training. On his agenda was securing an unofficial working agreement between the Rams, who needed players, and the Orioles, who presumably had a few who could stand additional seasoning in Class B.
Thomas and Porter spoke in Baltimore and again on the phone once the Rams’ manager reached Anniston. By March 21, the deal was set. The Orioles would alter their exhibition schedule and stop at Johnston Field after they broke camp in Haines City, Florida.
Anniston didn’t stage a baseball game. It threw a party.
Since 1917, the U.S. Army’s Fort McClellan had sat a few miles north of downtown, serving as one of the military’s main infantry and artillery training sites during and after World War I. The Rams often played spring exhibitions against military teams and trained on the post more than once. “Army Day” events, in which the Rams invited soldiers to attend and military dignitaries to through out first pitches, were popular features. Instead of separating the two events, the Rams’ management that spring made a wise choice — scheduling “Army Day” for the Orioles’ visit on Sunday, April 6. “Special ceremonies are being planned for Army Day and for as many 27th Division boys who can cram themselves into the stands,” sports writer Lynne Brannen Jr. wrote in The Anniston Star.
Brannen wished aloud that the Rams would invite Maj. Gen. William N. Haskell, commander of the 27th Division, to throw out the first pitch. (They didn’t. Anniston City Commission member Percy A. Quinn got the nod.) More than 2,000 soldiers and baseball fans filled Johnston Field’s grandstands and bleachers, The Baltimore Sun estimated. J. Kemp Bartlett Jr., the Orioles’ director, gave a pregame pep talk to fans, during which he predicted the Rams would shine under Porter’s leadership, though the Baltimore official didn’t mention that expectations for the ’41 Rams were muted at best. “He won plenty of games for us as manager of the Syracuse Chiefs during the past two years, and I predict that, if you give him real support, he will win plenty more games this year for Anniston,” Bartlett said. Quinn, a longtime Anniston bank president and politician, thanked the 27th Division trainees for spending their Sunday afternoon with the Rams.
Baltimore prevailed, 6-1, before hopping on a train for Atlanta. But for seven innings, those soldiers watched the Rams go toe-to-toe with the bigger-market Orioles behind lefthander Frank Papish, who’d won 20 games in 1940. Papish, just 20 years old, allowed only one run, scattering six hits and three walks, over six innings. The Rams and O’s were tied, 1-1, entering the eighth, an impressive performance that Anniston’s bullpen squandered in the final two frames.
“The game itself was a joy to most Anniston supporters who realize that Manager Dick Porter has the makings for a really scrapping team, even at this early date of the season,” The Star wrote. Baltimore’s newspaper credited the Rams’ starter — “The Flock couldn’t do a thing” against Papish, it said — and highlighted the fact that it took a late Baltimore rally to upend an under-manned Southeastern League team.
What no one knew that afternoon was that the game would offer a rare highlight for both the Rams and the Orioles. As expected, Anniston finished 64-76 and in seventh place in the SEL. Baltimore was just as putrid, 58-94, one spot above the IL’s cellar.