Back when there were only 16 major league teams and all were located east of the Mississippi River, the minor leagues were often a baseball fan's only option to see professional baseball. During the 1910's and 20's most minor league teams were unaffiliated with major league teams and because of this autonomy were able to keep players longer than just a year or two like today. The Baltimore Orioles were in the International League, arguably the highest and most professional of the minor leagues. Owned by Jack Dunn the Orioles created a powerful dynasty starting in 1919 that saw the O's win 7 straight league championships. It got to the point where in 1923 the other International League team owners forced Dunn to start selling off some of his players to the majors or else they would all sign a contract with major league baseball giving them the right to purchase any player at a flat fee. They were willing to sell short their profits rather than continue to keep losing to Baltimore! How good was the Orioles of the early twenties? Maybe not as great as the Yankees or the Giants, but they were certainly able to compete with the lower ranked major league teams at the time. Baltimore would often play exhibition games against major league all-star teams and win, so they were definitely up there in the talent department. Those Oriole teams had some great players back then, most of whom were eventually sold off to the Philadelphia Athletics, forming the nucleus of their dynasty of the late twenties and early thirties. George Earnshaw, Joe Boley, Max Bishop, Jack Bentley, Tommy Thomas, and others all went to the majors. The pitching on those teams were amazing, John Ogden going 31-8 in 1921, Jim Parnham winning 33 games in 1923, Tommy Thomas winning 32 in 1925 and of course the unrivaled Lefty Grove who lead the league in strike outs for 4 years in a row.
Signed by the independent Baltimore Orioles in 1920, Lefty Groves became a starter the next season and led the International League in strikeouts for the next four years. He quickly became an integral part of the great Baltimore Oriole dynasty and the team finished in first place every year he played with them. Oriole owner Jack Dunn refused to sell Grove to a major league team until after the 1924 season when he made the Philadelphia Athletics pay a record $100,500 for his services. It was around this time Lefty dropped the “s” at the end of his last name because newspaper sportswriters continually used “Grove” instead of “Groves”.
Anyone wanting to learn more about the Baltimore Orioles from 1903 to 1953 should pick up a copy of Jimmy Keenan's book called "The Lystons" about his grandfather who played on the 1921 Orioles and is a great narrative of the minor leagues and semi-pro circuit during the 1920's. Available at www.keenanbaseball.com