After World War II, the urban centers of the West Coast, Texas and Midwest saw tremendous population growth. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Minneapolis and Kansas City all set their sights on becoming “big league” sports markets. So, naturally, the American League moved the failing St. Louis Browns to Baltimore before the 1954 campaign.
Several factors went into the decision to “go East,” not the least of which involved the desire to rid the league of Browns owner, Bill Veeck. Ultimately, the AL only allowed the Browns to move if Veeck was out of the picture. Thus, Veeck sold the Browns to a Baltimore ownership group, and the “Charm City” embraced the major league Orioles.
Since the announcement of the transfer occurred on September 28, 1953, Topps and Bowman had ample time to prepare Baltimore Orioles cards for the ’54 sets. Topps included cards with players/coaches wearing the new uniform and cap, but Bowman did not. Both brands went with the minor league Orioles “body bird” on the cap, which was adopted by the major league team. I’m not sure if this was a guess or known at the time.
It is appropriate that Bobby Young was the first Orioles player in the Topps set, since the back of the card informs the reader that he is a Baltimore native. The airbrushed black cap and positioning of the bird is not a bad representation of the actual cap. Bobby’s uniform is clearly airbrushed in the action pose.
Topps colorization process creates issues when attempting to determine the authenticity of the cap and uniform. The artist or the printer inexplicably used blue for the cap color. The natural inclination is to assume all the photos are ersatz Orioles. However, a closer examination reveals that at least four of the card photos are from ’54 spring training. The “body bird” is correct on all, and three of the four cards have “in action” black and white photos featuring ’54 Orioles uniforms.
Jehosie Heard’s card provides the conclusive evidence. The photo is the exact one used by the Orioles for the ‘54 team issued, picture packs. Also, the photos were colorized and used for the ’54 Esskay Hot Dog set. I couldn’t locate an Esskay card for Heard, even though the “Trading Card Database” lists one. Dick Kryhoski and Harry Brecheen have card photos that look as if they were taken in the same photo session. Also, coach Tom Oliver is wearing the ’54 livery.
At first, I was perplexed by the fact that the striping on the stirrups didn’t match that worn in the regular season. This conundrum is explained by examining photos from spring training in Yuma, Arizona, which clearly shows players sporting wide stripes.
William “Billy” Hunter’s card demonstrates that Bowman’s artists had some interesting takes on how the uniforms might look. He has ORIOLES painted in orange block letters with a bird above the “O” on his jersey front.
Most of the Bowman’s Orioles feature the “two birds on a bat” concept employed by the AAA International League Orioles. This is rendered well on the Don Lenhardt and Duane Pillette cards.
On the other hand, Clint “The Toy Bulldog” Courtney and Johnny Groth have lettering and bat size issues. Also, it must be noted that the Bowman artist used questionable punctuation, since he put in an apostrophe before the “s” in Orioles.
The classic ’55 “Color TV” card of Joe Coleman leaves no doubt as to who the first player is to wear Orioles togs on a Bowman card. Joe’s first year with the Orioles was ‘54 and he is clearly clad in ’54 Orioles garb.
Let me know if you have evidence that disputes my findings. I will not be driven to Homicide: Life on the Street” if proven wrong.
I know most of you would like to hang me on the “wire” for continuing this series. But, after walking the streets of Baltimore, I’m goin’ to Kansas City. Kansas City here I come!