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Once Upon a Time…When “Orioles” Meant Football Too

Kevin Gausman of the Orioles throws a football.
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In the beginning was baseball. Did you know that the first American League of Professional Football in the United States was created by… the owners of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs? Yes, the National League. That was a long, long time ago. In 1894, to be precise. Eons before anyone could even dream that there would be anything like online football betting some day, there was already a clear business case for the move: baseball stadiums were empty during the winter, so additional activities were needed. There was also a promotional reason, and that was to keep public attention somewhat on baseball even during the off-season.

This is wise strategy. Now, Baltimoreans were even wiser. Guess what? They did it first. The F.C. Baltimore Orioles was founded even earlier, in 1883. It was short-lived, just one season. The baseball club, the first, 19th-century Baltimore Orioles, was born in 1882 and lived through 1899. A short but very successful life, starting from the flamboyant three consecutive first places in the League, in 1894, 1895 and 1896. And the victories in the “Temple Cup” national championship series in 1896 and 1897.

Then something went awry. The National League reduced its number of teams and franchises from 12 to 8, concentrating on the northeastern United Stated. The Baltimore Orioles were contracted out of the League after the 1899 season. After reorganizing, they became a prominent member of the Western League, which in turn evolved into the American League.

But what about the Orioles football club?

They were actually very successful. There were remarkable crowds that gathered to attend their matches, as many as 8,000 people. This stirred some jealousy in the owners of other clubs. They started to campaign against Baltimore on allegations that the Orioles were illegally employing British players. This in turn caused the U.S. immigration services to investigate the situation. But this was only part of the story.

Before the professional football League was created, the sports American Football Association had been in operations since 1884, in an effort to standardize rules and procedures. They did not appreciate at all that a new, professional league had been created and started to encroach on their territory. The stage was set for a frontal clash, and happen it did: the AFA banned players of the ALPF from playing in their tournaments. As a result, the season that had been planned for 1885 collapsed and the American League of Professional Football fell apart.

Actually, what really tanked the Baltimore football adventure was business. Baseball was much more successful and lucrative. The average public for National League games at that time was in the range of 6000, while the only season organized by the American League of Professional Football in 1984 had a weak turnover of 500 spectators on average. A total of 23 games with six teams were played, and the club owners tried to make them more attractive with very low ticket prices (about 25 cents), but to no avail.

This is why the Baltimore Orioles in the end dropped the football.

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