Flashback Friday: One of the "Forgotten Birds"

Newspaper profile of Al Cihocki invites curiosity about Baltimore’s forgotten baseball past

by Matthew Taylor

Happy Flashback Friday, O’s fans. It may as well have been Flashback Week at Camden Yards.

On Tuesday evening, the team celebrated Wild Bill Hagy Night, a throwback to the team’s glory days at Memorial Stadium.

On Wednesday, following the Birds’ 2-1, 10th inning win, I found myself whistling the tune of “Orioles Magic” on the concourse at Camden Yards, only to realize that the guy next to me was doing the same thing.

These are indeed good times in Baltimore.

This week’s Flashback Friday item also harkens back to the Birds’ glory days, though this collection of days came well before Orioles Magic, before the city even had a major league team. Today, Roar from 34 remembers Al Cihocki and the International League Orioles.

Earlier this week, NewsItem.com ran a feature on former International League O Al Cihocki. Cihocki, 86, had a brief stint in the majors with the Cleveland Indians; however, some of his best baseball years came with the Orioles. The article identifies Cihocki as an Orioles Hall of Famer, though his name doesn’t appear on the Oriole Advocates’ official list.

Cihocki spent seven years with the Orioles’ organization, all before the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the major league Orioles in 1954.

He was a fan favorite and is enshrined in the Orioles’ Hall of Fame. He was dubbed Baltimore’s Ironman, years before a fellow named Cal Ripken Jr. would take that mantle. The second baseman played every inning of all 154 games in 1946, despite the lingering pain in his eye.

He played the most games (850) in Class AAA Oriole history. He remembers seeing full-size cardboard cutouts of himself throughout the city, and seeing his face on the sides of city busses.

His grit and determination which won him fans, and his ability in the field which won over his teammates.

And still, whenever Cihocki finds himself in Baltimore, he’s recognized and gets special treatment, according to Al, Jr.

“One time he took me and my buddy, Jerry, to a game,” Cihocki Jr. said. “Jerry liked (Hall of Famers) Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio with the (Chicago) White Sox. Dad took us down to a game in Baltimore. We met Aparicio right on the field, and he and Fox signed balls for my buddy.”

Among Cihocki’s claims to fame is that he appeared on the field for the Indians on Aug. 24, 1945, Bob Feller’s first game back from the war. Cihocki’s own service includes time in the Coast Guard, as detailed on the Baseball in Wartime web site.

More of Cihocki’s story will be told in “The Forgotten Birds: The True Story of the International League Orioles.” An April 11, 2007, article from the City Paper provides details about the filmmakers’ shared quest to rekindle Baltimore’s collective memory of its once dominant minor league franchise.

The Forgotten Birds will be received like a lost ark of local sports history when they (hopefully) complete it this June. “Why were they forgotten?” Johnson asks rhetorically. “I’m doing this because I love the game. It’s so obvious what they did for this state and brought [major league] baseball back [to Baltimore].” Johnson points out that it was the minor league Orioles’ robust following that helped Baltimore convince major league baseball to sanction the move of the St. Louis Browns here to become the modern incarnation of the Baltimore Orioles.

Unfortunately, the International O’s were stranded in Baltimore between the current franchise and the Champion Orioles, regarded as one of the top teams of the 19th century. The International Orioles were equally successful; apart from their seven-pennant winning streak, the team also won pennants in 1908 and ’44. It took titles by 20 games in 1920 and 19 in ’24. Babe Ruth, pitcher Lefty Grove, and five other future Hall of Famers wore the International Orioles uniform.

[Image Source: Tribecards.blogspot.com. Click photo for original.]


About mptaylor11

Roar from 34, a Baltimore Orioles Blog. Humor. History. Homerism. Since 2006.
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