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Yankees history: The Highlanders were born on this day

The Baltimore Orioles were bought on this day in 1903, and the rest is history.

New York Yankees Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images

Happy birthday to the New York Yankees! Well, more like happy birthday to what would eventually become the New York Yankees.

On this day in 1903, the baseball franchise known as the Baltimore Orioles was in a swoon. I know, I know, some things don’t change, not even after 116 years. The failing franchise sparked opportunity for Frank Farell and Bill Devery. The two New Yorkers grew close while Farrell operated one of his saloons, and eventually, Farrell and Devery opened a number of other saloons while organizing a bookmaking and gambling ring for horse races. In short, the two made some good money together.

Farrell and Devery’s biggest gamble came after the bankrupt Orioles became a thorn in the side of American League president Ban Johnson, who was scrambling to solve his new crisis. The 1903 season was just months away, and without the O’s, Johnson had just seven teams in the American League. Enter Farrell and Devery, armed with $18,000 as an investment to bring another baseball team to the Empire State.

The New York Giants didn’t want another team in New York, but Johnson was desperate, and Farrell and Devery had political ties in New York due to their growing business excursions. So, the team now belonged to the pair of New Yorkers for under 20 grand. To put that into context, the most recent Forbes update valued the current Yankee franchise at four billion.

Local businessman Joseph Gordon was named figurehead president of the franchise. He rewarded Farrell and Devery with a spot in Manhattan for a ballpark that seated 15,000 fans that would root for the team that would be unveiled as the New York Highlanders. Of course, the Orioles would get a franchise back in Baltimore soon enough, but the dysfunction came back with it.

Just five players from the 1902 Orioles took the field for the 1903 Highlanders, and in 2014, Sports Reference officially disassociated the old Orioles teams from the current Yankee franchise in terms of historical notes and stats. It was a new beginning, and one that didn’t start off bad at all, as the Highlanders finished 10 games over .500 in their first season of existence. They drew the second-smallest crowd total in the American League, but Farrell and Devery laid the groundwork for history. Farrell assumed the majority of the day-to-day roles of the franchise, while Devery remained a silent partner. In fact, when he passed away years later, his involvement with the Yankees was not even mentioned in his obituary, according to SABR archives.

You probably know the rest. The Highlanders became the Yankees in 1913, bought a pitcher-turned-slugger named Babe Ruth a few years later, and a decade after being renamed to their current title, won their first of 27 World Series championships. It all started when two guys from New York sat down at one of their saloons and said, “Hey, we like horse racing, but let’s buy this baseball team.”