Jim Henneman pitched to Al Kaline, cooks a terrific crab cake, and has seen more Orioles games than anyone else.
It’s that last fact that makes him the perfect person to write “60 Years of Orioles Magic,” the club commissioned book that’s now available.
Henneman, who turns 80 on July 10, was 18 when the Orioles came to Baltimore from St. Louis, a journey artfully described in this mammoth book.
The Orioles’ home opener came after the team played two games in Detroit, and players dressed on the train trip. When the train arrived at Camden Station, next to the current ballpark, cars were waiting, and there was a parade up Charles Street to 33rd Street.
Henneman watched the parade, attended the Orioles first home opener, and he’s believed to have missed only one since.
As a youngster, Henneman worked as a clubhouse attendant for the minor league Orioles and then as an usher and press box attendant.
He rose to become the most respected baseball writer in Baltimore, covering the Orioles for both the News American and Sun. And, 61 years after the Orioles came here, he’s still at the ballpark, writing for pressboxonline.com and as the official scorer.
Henneman was an excellent high school player, though obviously Kaline had a slightly more successful major league career.
He celebrates each Orioles home opener by wearing an orange tuxedo, and popularized the use of the reverse lock.
What’s the reverse lock? That’s when a huge underdog pulls off a stunning upset—except it should have been obvious beforehand.
Henneman loves history, and his chapters on the early days of the Orioles are outstanding. He explores the early origins of the team and writes about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 setting the stage for the birth of modern Baltimore.
The current ballpark, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, is not the first Oriole Park. There were actually five, and when Oriole Park V burned down in July 1944, the International League Orioles moved to Municipal Stadium, less than a mile away.
Municipal Stadium was a precursor to Memorial Stadium, but it was a football stadium, and as Henneman tells us, the left field stands were 260 feet away from home plate. The right and center field stands more than 500 feet away.
Bill Veeck, who owned the St. Louis Browns wanted to move his team to Houston or Los Angeles, but the American League refused to allow the move.
For the 1954 season, the team came to Baltimore. In its early years, Memorial Stadium was a pitcher’s park. The book is packed with dozens of gorgeous photos, and there are several of Memorial Stadium in the early years showing no box seats and hedges instead of an outfield wall. The intimacy of the 33rd Street park didn’t come until later.
Jimmie Dykes was the team’s first manager, but late in 1954, it was revealed that Paul Richards would replace him and also assume general manager duties. After the dismissal was announced, the fired Dykes received a day in his honor.
Henneman does a great job writing about Richards’ building of the ballclub and organization. He pulled off huge trades, and had the second longest tenure of any Orioles manager.
Not only are there great photos, but there are some neat attachments, too. There’s the scorecard from the first game, the team’s certificate of membership from the AL, and a 1955 letter to Richards recommending he sign Brooks Robinson. Fortunately he did.
My favorite photo is of “Mr. Oriole,” a grotesque bird, which briefly served as the team’s first mascot. An attractive young woman is holding the mascot’s hand as they walk in front of the Orioles dugout. Several players are staring and smiling—but not at Mr. Oriole.
Henneman writes about the more well-known events, too. The champions of 1966 and 1970, Jim Palmer, who wrote the book’s introduction, Brooks and Frank Robinson as well as Earl Weaver.
And naturally, there’s lots on Cal Ripken, and the Orioles of today. Henneman includes the scorecard from Ripken’s final game in 2001, which he scored.
The book is $50, and though it may weigh down your coffee table, it’s worth it.
I especially enjoyed the section on the 1991 closing of Memorial Stadium. Henneman grew up nearby and attended Calvert Hall High School.
Old Orioles trotted out on the field without a spoken introduction, like in “Field of Dreams,” and then made a huge circle. It’s hard to believe that 24 years have gone by.
For Henneman, 61 years have gone by, and he’s still hale and hearty, and full of stories.
I will share one of his secrets. To make a great crab cake, you need mustard--not mayonnaise. Here’s to many more years of Henneman’s crab cakes and stories.