1921 Orioles: Dick Porter

By the end of August, 1921, Jack Dunn’s Orioles were head and shoulders above the rest of the league, usually maintaining a 20+ game league. However, injuries to several key regulars and a dispute with his right fielder made Dunn look for outside help. Fortunately, the Orioles manager maintained a vast local web of scouts that scoured everywhere from dusty Baltimore sandlots to prestigious Maryland universities. One of the gems that the scouts discovered was Dick Porter, a hard-hitting versatile infielder and outfielder who would spend eight years as one of the Orioles key members.

Like several other players on the 1919-1925 pennant winners, Dick Porter was a Maryland boy, having grown up in Princess Anne on the Eastern Shore. His play on the St. John’s College varsity nine and his hometown Princess Anne club got the interest of Jack Dunn’s scouts, and soon the 19 year-old found himself playing for a pennant-bound Orioles team.

Dunn used the college kid as a spot outfielder throughout September, and soon found that he had a potential star on his hands. In 16 games, Porter hit a credible .321 which included a 6 for 9 doubleheader on September 18 against Reading. No doubt it was Porter’s brief but promising late season hitting that made Dunn’s decision to get rid of his troublesome right fielder Bill Holden at the end of the season.

The next year, 1922, Porter made the team out of spring training. One of the first things that one noticed about Dick Porter was his unusual batting stance. Well, it wasn’t so much his stance, but what he did while standing awaiting a pitch – he wiggled and twitched – non-stop. While on other clubs this fidgetty ritual would have been brutally coached out of him and replaced with an orthodox stance, Dunn’s response was very different.

In a time when most managers were nothing short of totalitarian oligarchs, Jack Dunn took a much more relaxed approach with his boys. Since he was also owner of the team, Dunn made sure that he only signed players who he felt were mature enough to thrive under his laid-back leadership. If a player was suspected of being immature or found to go berzerk under the lack of strict rules, Dunn got rid of him fast. When it came to Porter’s bizarre batting exhibition, Dunn was hands-off. In his mind, as long as Porter produced, he could do whatever he wanted at the plate.

And produce he did. Dubbed “Twitchy Dick” by the fans, Porter hit .279 with 8 homers for the pennant-winning O’s. He played every spot on the field except first base, pitcher and catcher. The next year he hit .316 with 18 home runs, then .363 with 23 homers the next, winning the batting crown. That year, 1924, Twitch Dick and his wiggly stance went 16 for 21 in a series against the Syracuse Chiefs. Now playing primarily third base, Porter continued tearing up International League pitching. 1927 saw him winning his second International League batting crown, this time with an even more majestic .376 average.

It goes without saying that several big league teams were salivating at the thought of getting a hold of Dunn’s latest star. But of course, there was always that specter of the 1914 Babe Ruth sale that haunted the Orioles owner. Dunn hung a $65,000 price tag on Porter and waited for someone to pay it. While other players might have been angered at being held in the minors, it doesn’t look like Porter had a problem with it. He was a local boy, had a family by now, and was cashing a good check from the Orioles each week. When it looked like the Cleveland Indians had secured the third baseman’s contract, Porter was considering staying put in Baltimore because the salary they were offering him was less than what he made with Baltimore. Eventually the Indians came to terms with Porter, and at the age of 27, Porter, now sporting the nickname “Wiggles,” became a major leaguer.

The former Oriole didn’t become a superstar, but one can’t say he had a disappointing big league career – far from it. From 1929 to 1934 Porter hit .308 for Cleveland, topping out with a nice .350 in 1930, 7th best in the American League. He was traded to the Red Sox at the tail end of the 1934 season, then was dealt back to the International League, playing for Newark and Syracuse through 1940. Porter then managed well into the 1950’s, with time out for service in the Coast Guard in World War II. He later returned home to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, dying of heart failure in 1974.

“Twitchy Dick” is one of those unique characters you find in baseball: a guy who is unfazed at becoming a major leaguer. His breaking into The Show at the age of 27 with eight years spent in the high minors no doubt cost him a much longer, and possibly more successful career. But then again, “Twitchy Dick” hit over .300 in his six seasons in the majors – not many former big leaguers could say that.

On Friday we’ll check out another one of Dunn’s valuable utilitymen, a kid known as “Little Ben Egan,” Ducky Davis.

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