In “The Home Team,” Bready labored to preserve Baltimore baseball history

Because of a death in the family, I reconnected with an old friend this morning. Seeing news that longtime Baltimore newspaperman and author James H. Bready had died at 92 on Saturday made me long for the pre-Internet days when baseball hungry minds had to crack open a book if they wanted to learn a batting average, ERA or the principals in a trade.

Bready wrote one of the best tomes to Orioles baseball, “The Home Team,” an oversized paperback - thin by today’s standards - that holds a permanent and reachable place of honor on my home office bookcase. It was first printed in 1958, when the O’s were still in their Charm City infancy, and reprinted at least three more times. The 1984 version is the one I’m thumbing through now, in between hunting and pecking a computer keyboard, and it’s still a compelling read. The original version was a centennial celebration of Baltimore baseball in 1959; Bready was convinced to add yearly supplements because of the book’s popularity, and other editions were soon born.

If you wanted to know something about the O’s back in the day, this was your go-to resource. Mind you, there was no, no, no Baltimore was blessed to have three thriving daily newspapers - The Sun, The Evening Sun and The News-American - but those pesky deadlines always got in the way and you had to wait for the afternoon editions for anything west of the Mississippi River.

But as historical compilations go, “The Home Team” was gold. Each season was explained in brief, full of the kind of nuggets - what, you thought Buck Showalter invented them? - only an astute baseball mind could mine. Investing time to pore over well-read pages, you learned how Bob Boyd’s broken arm while throwing a ball ruined 1956, that the Birds played in all four East Coast openers in 1963 and that Earl Weaver once sported hair that wasn’t gray. It was packed with photos and information that wasn’t available elsewhere at the time. From the Orioles dynasty of the 1890s to 1984, when Wilde Lake’s own Jim Traber sang the national anthem before a September home game, everything important that happened in orange and black was duly noted.

My passion as a kid was the numbers players wore. I stayed up late, straining through the broadcasts on my transistor radio, to glean every batter’s jersey number. “The Home Team” listed them, year-by-year. It’s one of the reasons - well, that and a well-trained ear - I knew that Terry Crowley wore Nos. 10, 11, 12, 36 and 37 as an Oriole.

The copy I’m now looking at cost a whopping $7.50 retail when it was published, and less than that when I plucked it from a pile at the old Bird Feed Room at Memorial Stadium one winter when the O’s held a public sale of odds and ends. My best friend combed through uniform nameplates; I got a couple of those, but I was just as happy to have scored “The Home Team” (1984 edition), since my original copy, purchased at Gorden’s Booksellers at Westview Mall, had literally been read to death. I’d turned the pages so many times that the binding finally gave way, sprinkling pages to the floor. I tried to glue - then tape - them back into place, but finally gave up. But until a replacement was secured, those pages were kept, just in case I needed to check into something Orioles related.

Bready was more than a wonderful chronicler of baseball history in Baltimore. He was a genuinely nice man. In 1981, when I was taking an American Studies class taught by the late James Arnquist at UMBC, I fulfilled the research requirement of the syllabus by penning a paper on the 1890s Orioles of Hall of Famers Wee Willie Keeler, John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson. I went out to New Cathedral Cemetery, where all three are buried and took photographs to accompany my work (New Cathedral has one more Hall of Famer interred there, 1890s Oriole Joe Kelley, and longtime Oriole and later manager and umpire Ned Hanlon rests there in eternity). My dad, seeing me deep into “The Home Team,” suggested I call the author because he could probably add a different dimension to my paper.

I looked Bready up in the white pages, dialed the number at his Homeland residence and explained to his wife who I was and what I wanted. She called him to the phone and we spoke for almost an hour. Well, it was a pretty one-sided conversation. He talked and I listened, rapt at every detail he offered, every tale he told. Before he hung up, he thanked me for buying his book and encouraged me to follow my dreams of being a sportswriter.

All these years later, I still remember that conversation - and I still use “The Home Team” from time to time. Sure, it’s easier to research old statistics on the Internet. But a mouse-click can’t compare to the labor of love that Bready’s devotion for the Orioles and his determination to preserve their history.

For those, Baltimore is eternally grateful.

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