Essay: The Quiet Oriole in Annapolis

The infield at Max Bishop Stadium ( photo / T. Flynn)

There’s a brick baseball stadium on the banks of College Creek, named for a man who spent his career anonymously and fittingly doing yeoman’s work as he helped propel his teams to heights they would have only glimpsed without him.

Terwilliger Brother Field at Max Bishop Stadium, Navy’s home baseball field, draws the latter part of its name from a teenager who broke in with the minor league Baltimore Orioles while still a senior at Baltimore’s City College (High School). Jack Dunn, the Orioles manager and owner, had a penchant for finding young local talent, signing George Herman Ruth to a contract just four years earlier in 1914. Dunn was forced to sell the Babe that same season as his team faced financial insolvency and he struggled to save it. By 1918 he was well on his way to building back the powerhouse that had its foundation swept out in ’14.

Bishop was 5’8″ and perhaps 140 lbs. soaking wet when he first trotted out to play third base for Dunn’s Orioles. Bishop didn’t hit for power, but he had a good eye and the 1918 club was built around pitching and could carry a light-hitting third baseman. Rube Parnham won 22 games and their ace Ralph Worrell, another teenager in his first year, dominated the league with 25 wins. With Worrell and Bishop now in the fold, Dunn had back a young nucleus around which to build.

That all changed that fall when the worldwide flu epidemic ravishing the globe struck the Orioles and took the life of Worrell. For the second time in four years, Dunn had lost his brightest star, this time tragically. The 1919 club would not be the team he envisioned.

1919-1923 Bishop Paces Five Pennants
Dunn contacted third baseman Fritz Maisel of Catonsville in the off-season, his former star now in the American League with the hapless St. Louis Browns. Fritz agreed to return. He would move Bishop to second base and partner him with another kid, Joe Boley, at shortstop. Max didn’t have the range he wanted at second but Boley covered for him and the two together solidified the middle infield. It all came together in ’19, with the Orioles winning 100 games and dropping just 49 to easily win the International League. Maisel was outstanding, hitting .336 and stealing 63 bases, and it was often Bishop crossing the plate out in front of him.

From 1919 through 1925 the Orioles repeated as champs; an unprecedented seven straight International League pennant winners. In 1920 the powerful major league Yankees, led by Babe Ruth en route to a record 54 home run season, stopped in for an exhibition game against the Orioles. They were sent packing without a win, or a run, by their hosts.

Bishop was too good to be around for all seven. In 1923 Max played in 159 games, batted .333 and laced 179 hits, including 10 triples, 35 doubles and even 22 home runs lofted over the wooden fence in Oriole Park’s rightfield. Philadelphia A’s owner Connie Mack had seen enough and offered Dunn $25,000 for Max’s contract. Dunn sold and the native Pennsylvanian was off to Philly.

A Thousand Walks, Three Pennants, Two World Championships 
In Philadelphia, Bishop continued to do what he did best, set the table. For the A’s he was often on base for the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane and Al Simmons. He was later joined by former Oriole teammate Lefty Grove and his old double play partner, Joe Boley. Once Boley arrived in 1927 Bishop and the A’s began to take off, nearly catching the Yankees in 1928 and passing them en route to World Championships in ’29 and ’30. Bishop played in the majors through 1935, compiling over 1,100 walks in the process and playing for a total of eight pennant winners in his professional career.

On to Annapolis 
Bishop spent time with Orioles organization in ’36 and the Tigers as a scout in ’37 and then arrived in Annapolis for perhaps his greatest baseball achievement. From 1938 through 1961, the quiet, unassuming leader piloted the Navy Midshipmen to 306 wins against just 143 losses for a .681 winning percentage over 24 seasons. In 1961, his last as head coach, the Mids went 24-2. Just prior to announcing his retirement, Bishop passed away at the age of 62, leaving behind an impressive legacy at the major, minor and collegiate baseball levels.