A SMALL crowd of 13,443 gathered on Firefighters Night at Memorial Stadium Sept. 10, 1971, to watch the first-place Baltimore Orioles take on the fifth-place Washington Senators. But more fans no doubt would have made the trip if they'd known this was to be the last contest (at least for the next couple of decades) between the Orioles and the Washington Senators. At the end of the 1971 season, the Senators would move to Texas. For the rivalry between the two cities, there would be no next year.
Now, 19 seasons later, Washington has baseball fever. The National League has announced that it is one of six cities being considered for a franchise, and Washington fans are all shook up. The Washington Post editorialized: "There's every indication that Washington is ready -- in fact, long overdue -- for the return of big-league baseball."
Both Baltimore and Washington fans have every reason to share in the hope that Washington gets its Senators back. Washingtonians who have developed fan allegiance to the Orioles need not abandon them. With the Orioles in the American League and the new Senators in the National, fans in both cities will have a chance to see the best of both leagues. That's all to the good.
There's another potential advantage. Since there would be two major-league teams in the general region, perhaps Orioles management will get out of the business of "de-Baltimorizing" our team. Perhaps we'll go back to being the Baltimore Orioles, which we still are in the minds of everyone but the marketing geniuses of the Orioles. (At last glance, the new Camden Yards stadium is located near the heart of Baltimore.) And perhaps the Orioles-Senators rivalry, a natural one, will be re-established.
Back in 1971, incidentally, the rivalry was there, but the two teams were at opposite ends of the quality spectrum. The Orioles were a dynasty, about to play in their third consecutive World Series. The Senators were a rag-tag bunch that could only be rescued mythically in the musical "Damn Yankees." The "last game" reflected the disparity. It was the Orioles' game from the first pitch. They got three runs in the first, one in the third, one in the fifth two in the eighth. While Mike Cuellar held the Senators to three hits and one unearned run, Frank Robinson hit a homer, Mark Belanger (Mark Belanger?!) got two triples and Merv Rettenmund three singles.
Final score: Orioles 7, Senators 1.
We hope Washington gets its National League Senators. We hope, then, that some fine day soon, they'll win the National League pennant in the same year the Baltimore Orioles win the American League pennant.
Then we'll have the Chesapeake World Series.