The 1921 Orioles fielded a former or future major leaguer at every spot on the diamond, and if reserve catcher Wade Lefler was behind the plate, the Birds boasted a .300 hitter at all eight positions. Defensively, the outfield was about as solid as could be, and the middle infield of Joe Boley and Max Bishop was so legendary that Connie Mack bought both men for his 1929-1931 dream team that won three American League pennants and two World Championships. But it is pitching that Jack Dunn’s 1919-1925 Orioles are really known for.
The 1921 edition boasted no less than four major league quality starters, three of which would each post 30-win seasons in Baltimore. The undisputed ace of the ’21 club was right-hander Jack Ogden.
John Mahlon Ogden was born in 1897 in the town of Ogden, about 30 miles down the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The Ogden’s were an old Pennsylvania family, their ancestors coming to the new world on the same ship as William Penn, the man whom gave the state its name. Jack had two younger brothers, Tim and Warren (universally called Curly) all of whom played baseball in between working their father’s dairy farm and commuting to the town of Chester to complete their education. Jack began playing semi-pro ball at the age of 15, pitching in the adult Delco League. All three Ogden boys played basketball and football in addition to baseball in high school. After graduation Jack entered Swarthmore College. His two brothers followed shortly afterwards, and the three Ogden’s were mainstays of the Swarthmore football and baseball teams.
By the time Jack was a junior, he was a strapping 6-foot, 190 pounder with a legendary fastball. One of John McGraw’s scouts handed Jack a $1,800 bonus check along with a train ticket to New York and the major leagues. On June 22, 1918, Jack Ogden took the mound for the Giants and though he beaned the first batter he faced, the rookie completed his relief assignment without giving up a run. In his next three relief appearances he repeated the same no-run performance, but was tagged for three runs in four innings the next time McGraw called him in from the bullpen. All in all, it wasn’t a bad debut for a rookie that went straight from college to the majors, but McGraw had a full veteran pitching staff and Ogden was sent to Newark of the International League for seasoning.
In Newark, Ogden posted a mediocre 5-5 record, but looking beyond that, he had a sparkling 1.48 ERA. In the off-season Jack was traded to Rochester. His 1919 stats were 10 wins against 13 losses, but again, his ERA was a low 2.37. Rochester was unimpressed, but Jack Dunn, whose Orioles had faced the right-hander all season, was. When Rochester put Ogden on waivers, Dunn snapped him up for a bargain $1,000.
Jack finished up his history degree from Swarthmore, married classmate Dorothy Wills Young, and reported to the Orioles. The college grad was the exact type of player Jack Dunn preferred to have on his clubs: baseball smart, educated, mature and a winner. What most impressed the Orioles manager was Ogden’s desire to learn as much as he could about his craft. Dunn and veteran catcher Ben Egan helped sharpen Ogden’s curve ball and tutor him in being a smart pitcher instead of just a thrower. In 1920, his first season in Baltimore, Ogden pitched 318 innings, winning 27 against 9 losses, tied for most wins in the league. His ERA was a nice 3.25 as the Orioles won their second consecutive International League pennant. As good as 1920 was, 1921 would be Jack Ogden’s penultimate season.
Of Jack Dunn’s seven pennant winners, the 1921 team is regarded as the best. The team won a league record 119 games, finishing 20 games in front of second place Rochester. Three of Baltimore’s starters would win 24 games or more, with Ogden leading both the team and the league with 31 wins, a new International League record. He lost just 8 games that summer, holding the opposition to a 2.29 ERA. 18 of the 31 wins were consecutive victories, another International League record. Dunn used him in 42 games, 33 of which were complete games, and 6 were shutouts, again, both tops in the league that year. That fall, the Orioles faced the American Association champion Louisville Colonels in the Junior World Series. Though on paper Baltimore had the stronger team, the O’s suffered several injuries late in the season that sidelined many of their key offensive contributors. Louisville would win the best of 9 series in 8 games, the three Baltimore wins all turned in by Jack Ogden.
With a stunning season such as Ogden had in ’21, you’d expect him to be back in the majors the next spring. However, that wasn’t the case. Because the Orioles were an entirely independent team, Jack Dunn was free to hold on to his players for as long as he wanted. With the taste of the 1914 Babe Ruth sell-off still bitter in his mouth, Dunn refused to sell any of his stars unless his price was met. Although Ogden was held back from the big leagues, he was handsomely compensated by Jack Dunn. Besides the team being treated as good as major league teams when it came to travel and hotel accommodations, Dunn paid his stars extremely well, with Ogden pulling down one of the biggest paychecks.
At the same time Jack was rewriting the International League record book, his younger brother Curly made it to the majors as a pitcher, debuting with the Philadelphia A’s in 1922. Curly would spend five years in the American League, pitching in the World Series for Washington in 1924.
But big brother Jack Ogden stayed in the minors, playing six more seasons in Baltimore. In those years, he turned in four more 20-game seasons, led the International League in wins once more (1926) and boasted a total of 213 International League victories, a record stands unbroken. Finally in 1928, Dunn let the now 30 year-old Ogden go, accepting $12,500 from the St. Louis Browns. He went 15-16 for the third-place Brownies, then 4-8 in 1929.
He was out for the entire 1930 season with what was reported as a “a nervous ailment.” He came back the next year with Cincinnati, but battled arm injuries throughout 1931 and 1932. With the old magic gone, Ogden called it a career after splitting 1933 between Rochester and Baltimore.
Back in Baltimore where he was still a big name, Ogden took over the vice-presidency of his old club. The Orioles of the late 1930s were a miserable club, and the press soon turned against the old ace, blaming him for the lack of talent on the field. Ogden didn’t do himself any favors by coming up with several ideas that were described by tradition-bound baseball fans as being of the crackpot variety, such as subjecting umpires to mandatory eye exams and having his players wear rubber football cleats instead of metal spikes. He branched out from baseball in 1937 when he became general manager of Baltimore’s first pro football team, the Blue Birds of the short-lived Dixie League.
He returned to the majors in 1940, this time as an executive with the Phillies. He bought the Elmira Pioneers club in 1941 and promptly won the Eastern League playoffs, but sold it a year later. The old pitcher then transitioned into a successful big league scout for the Braves, Reds and Phillies, reportedly signing over 40 players who eventually made it to The Show.
Tomorrow we’ll cover the most famous 1919-1925 Orioles alumni, future Hall of Famer, Lefty Grove.
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