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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Baltimore's Crying Shame - What the Orioles Used To Be

I read something today posted by East Coast Bias, guys who I like to think of as my kindred spirits in the sportsblogosphere (can that possibly be a word?). The headline is what made me read it: "The Orioles Moving from Baltimore." When I passed through my knee-jerk reaction stage and realized it was just a playful story, I really thought about how I felt when I heard that.

Look, anyone who knows me knows that baseball hasn't really flagged my interest in recent years. I think the sport is slow-paced and kind of boring as it is, and it doesn't help that my favorite childhood franchise, the Baltimore Orioles are lost as a team and a franchise. We have no "rebuilding" years - all of them are crummy and we aren't getting better, only further mired in Baseball Franchise Hell.

I'm sure baseball fans are very familiar with the Orioles and their place as American League bottom-feeders. Some of you may be familiar with what Peter Angelos, one of the ugliest men in the world, has done to it. But the ECB story made me think of something that happened a few months ago that I can't really get out of my mind.

I was channel flipping in my room one night when I came across something very strange. It was clearly old footage, and I saw a bunch of old guys in O's uniforms trotting out onto the diamond. The film was a little grainy and the announcers were talking about people I didn't know about, like "Oh, and of course Dusty Dingwallop, who fans will never forget. And here's Monroe Mugglesnot who was on the World Series team! A classic fan favorite!" The whole time between watching old people struggling to get on the field and the announcers talking about every single one of them like they were all related, I was wondering what the heck the event was.

And then, someone said, "Yes, the Orioles sure leave a lot behind in this ballpark." I realized that this was the Orioles' final game at Memorial Stadium, Oct. 6, 1991. Fans had packed the stands to say goodbye to the stadium and pay tribute to their heroes. I watched Orioles legends Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer and both of the Cal Ripkens jog onto the turf among other players who were legends, but whose names are lost on my generation. Once everyone was on the field, the players formed a giant ring and it seemed as if they might have been praying silently in honor of their old ballpark, the place where they had fought so many battles, the place where they had become a proud franchise. And after that, one of the old fan favorites, perhaps old Dusty Dingwallop himself, led the entire stadium in a cheer, "O-R-I-O-L-E-S, ORIOLES!!!"

I almost cried.

I'm not old enough to remember that day, but I'm old enough to remember how much I used to love the Orioles. When I was in elementary school, baseball was the only sport I was interested in, and the Orioles and Cal Ripken Jr. were my only heroes. I watched 2131. I watched when that little punk Jeffrey Maier caught that ball and the ump was the only person in the stadium who thought it was a home run. The next day I remember how all anyone was talking about was how we heard the Yanks took him out for steak the next day. I remember when Roberto Alomar spit in an ump's face and got himself ejected. Those were the good days - all anyone could talk about was the Orioles.

To show you what I mean about this spirit, this wonderful passion Baltimore had, watch this:

Look how lovable the players are in this commercial:

Other evidence lies in how O's fans still feel about Cal.

This is the kind of thing I'm talking about, the kind of thing that made Baltimore a great baseball town. People cared, people were proud to cheer for the O's, especially when the Washington Senators collapsed. The fan base stretched well into Virginia, just because there was no competition.

Now being an Orioles fan is shameful. I'm actually slow to admit it. Sometimes I try to reason it out by saying to myself, "Well, I loved the Orioles before an evil man took control and ran our team to the ground." But there is no Orioles version I and Orioles version II, just one team that has been ruined by a frugal owner who sold away our youth for flashes in the pan and settled on our team being non-competitive as long as they were profitable. That's why we haven't been to the postseason in a decade. That's why the stadium is only full when we play the Yanks or the Sox - because only their fans come to watch. I hate watching glory die. It's pitiful.

As for Memorial Stadium, here's what happened to it:

And here's the final result:

An ignominious ending for a place full of memories and pride. Truly ironic, given the franchise's similar demise.


Anonymous said...

I still get chills watching that clip about Cal. It truly is a shame how far the team has fallen and how little hope I have for the future.

Anonymous said...

My first Oriole game was in memorial stadium when Eddie Murray was a rookie. I always say the Orioles were the first team I ever loved as a kid. Now, I'm indifferent to them.

J-Red said...

I might have teared up a bit. Especially when the man at the end said "It's history as well as heart."

smitty said...

In college, I spent two years on the grounds crew at Memorial Stadium. It was a very special place. The ballpark and the team were very much a part of the Waverly neighborhood.

In their glory years, a lot of the O's lived in the neighborhood. There was a rowhouse out beyond the center field fence where Boog Powell would fire up the barbecue after games and the O's and their buddies would drink beer and eat ribs all night.

Don't despair of the O's. They've sucked for 11 years - and they might suck again this year - but there's every reason to believe that Angelos is going to allow Andy MacPhail to do his job. Look at the Tejada trade and look at the names being discussed for Brian Roberts and Erik Bedard. The days of knee-jerk deals are gone. (Though fans are still stuck watching human money-sucking contracts like Aubrey Huff and Jay Gibbons for a few more years.) But look at some of the young talent in the O's system. It won't be in 08 and it might not in 09, but I really believe that good days are not far away.