1921 Orioles: Bill Holden

The way a typical Orioles inning went in 1921 was for the one and two men, Fritz Maisel and Rabbit Lawry, get themselves on base. Once on first, their speed allowed them to swipe a base and get into scoring position. That would bring up Merwin Jacobson, a talented contact hitter, who would move the runners further along. That would bring up Big Bill Holden, a power hitter whose career straddled the period between the slap-hit Deadball Era and the home run hitting Roaring Twenties.

Bill Holden was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1889 and raised in Georgia. Considered big for his time, a bit over six feet and 190 pounds, the slugger had played in the majors in 1913-14 with the Yankees and Reds before he was sent down to the International League. The Orioles had played against Holden for several summers and owner-manager Jack Dunn knew of the veteran’s powerful bat first hand. When Dunn was in the market for a hard-hitting outfielder, he leapt at the chance to grab Bill Holden. The big outfielder hit .352 and led the league in doubles his first season in Baltimore, quickly becoming a fan favorite.

Holden slowed down a bit at the start of the 1921 season, and though his numbers were not on the same par as his 1920 stats, he never dipped below .300 and remained one of the more popular Birds. Then he made a very poor decision.

On July 4, Jack Dunn was making out his lineup for the Independence Day doubleheader against Reading when he was informed by several of his players that his cleanup hitter refused to play. The reason for Holden’s one-man strike was never officially announced, and Dunn, for his part, claimed not to know what Big Bill’s beef was. The press opined that it was over money. The week prior to the strike, Rabbit Lawry had gone on the disabled list when he was hit by a ball. One might guess that Holden may have taken this opportunity to angle a raise for himself. Holden’s absence led to Dunn scouring the minors for a replacement. Interestingly, one of the players he was trying to acquire to replace Holden was a young outfielder who was tearing up the South Atlantic League – none other than future Hall of Famer Goose Goslin. Holden agreed to return three days later with a $100 fine and and Goslin never donned an Orioles cap.

Though he finished 1921 with a .302 average and his 19 homers was second-best in the league, Dunn would not stand for any troublemaker on his ball club and sold him to Atlanta after the season ended. The 33 year-old Holden’s offensive numbers quickly declined and he managed Knoxville and Pensacola Pilots before retiring in 1927.

Though Dunn lost his big power hitter, he happened to have an even better one on the bench…

On Wednesday we’ll check out one of Dunn’s valuable utilitymen and future Bill Holden replacement, Dick Porter.

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