Hundred Year Heritage: Orioles and one-time rival now leagues apart

Courtesy photo of Mike Ness from Bears.

Earlier this month, the Newark Bears of the independent Can-Am League were wilting in the Texas heat. They were on the road playing against teams from a different league, the American Association, that ranged north to Fargo, North Dakota and south to Laredo, Texas. On July 9th they dropped the fourth of four games to the Laredo Lemurs, by a combined series score of 30-6. The game time temperature at 7:35 p.m. for the finale was 98 degrees.

Despite the losses, long travel, and at times stifling heat, the interleague games helped the Bears diversify and fill out their schedule to 100 games.

“The Can-Am league only has five teams,” said the Bears’ Director of Media Relations, Daniel Frankel. “So it’s a pretty small league and you’re not going to get a lot of variety playing the same four teams every month.”

Some Oriole fans may remember the Newark Bears name, if not their current place in the baseball world. The original Bears joined the International League in 1917, where the minor league Orioles were already fixtures.

In 1918, with America actively fighting in World War I, the two finished third (Baltimore) and fourth (Newark) in the IL. They would prove the only third and fourth place minor league teams in the country that season to finish the year.

“The 1918 baseball season was in jeopardy…ten minor leagues decided to take the gamble and start the season. Of those ten, only one survived,” wrote Marshall Wright in The International League.

Following the war, the Orioles went on the greatest pennant run in Baltimore’s pro baseball history, winning seven straight titles. The Bears turned the tables on the Orioles and dominated the 1930’s by capturing or sharing in five league championships. The 1937 Bears (in a close competition with the 1921 Orioles) are considered by some to be the best team in minor league history.

The two continued to compete in the 1940’s through another war, until the last year of that decade when the Bears left Newark for Springfield, Massachusetts following the season. No minor league team replaced them in the city until the current Bears began play in 1998. The minor league Orioles were famously replaced in 1954 by the current major league team.

Nearly 100 years since they first competed, can the two flourish at opposite ends of the professional baseball world? After years of struggling, the Orioles had three starters in Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game and were in competition for first place in the American League East.

In Newark, the answer is less clear. Nearby minor league teams, a struggling national economy and a city permanently mired in revitalization efforts all make the odds long.

As with most baseball, the best hope is between the foul lines.

Newark revived slightly after the Texas heat. 6’4” Duke graduate Mike Ness, a part-time player from nearby Chatham, drove 15 miles east down the Garden State Parkway to rejoin his team on their return home on July 11. The righty yielded two earned runs in six innings to lead Newark past the Rockland Boulders of the Can-Am. The Bears went on to sweep a four-game set with Rockland.

Bears’ pitching coach Ralph Citarella summed up his thoughts on Ness’ performance and indirectly the hopes for the team. “He went out there and didn’t miss a beat. He did a fantastic job and is only going to get better.”