If the Orioles bought Baltimore

WILEY A. HALL 3rd

June 16, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

"Suppose they sold the city to the Baltimore Orioles," said my friend, Will B. Humble.

Lock, stock and barrel?

"Lock, stock and barrel," said Humble. "The city would become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Baltimore Orioles Baseball Club Inc."

Never happen.

"Don't be too sure," said Humble ominously. "Don't be too sure."

We had been talking about what appears to be a slow auctioning off of city assets, mostly to the state.

For instance, Maryland has taken over the former Baltimore City Jail and the Community College of Baltimore. At various times, the city library system, the state's attorney's office, the District Courts and most of the city's cultural institutions were on the bargaining table.

And just last week, city officials "sold" off eight of its elementary schools and one middle school to a private company from Minneapolis that has pledged to improve those schools and make a profit.

"Once the city starts selling its assets to private firms, things could get out of hand," Humble said.

Well, it's understandable, I suppose. The city has a declining tax base and growing needs. What else can it do but sell pieces of itself to the highest bidder?

"But no one," insisted Humble, "has gotten a better deal from the city and the state than the Baltimore Orioles."

Well, could be.

"The powers that be took an industrial site at Camden Yards, chased away the existing businesses and their employees, exterminated the rats who had made comfortable homes in the area for decades, and then erected a spanking new stadium at taxpayer expense," Humble said.

"The powers that be also improved the roads leading to and from the new stadium -- again, at taxpayer expense. They bought the Orioles nice new electronic traffic signs for directions. They built a light-rail line that stops practically on the stadium's doorstop.

"And on Opening Day, the Police Department assigned over 300 officers to traffic duty and crowd control around the stadium -- reportedly more than the total number of officers on patrol throughout the rest of the city," Humble railed.

"The Orioles even had the audacity to demand that the taxpayers' expensive new stadium be named after the ballclub. Eventually, the team compromised with the governor, agreeing to call the place Oriole Park at Camden Yards," Humble said.

"To top it all off, when Oriole brass said they were too busy to pay last year's rent on Memorial Stadium, the city generously agreed to wait until the end of this month. The city also agreed not to impose any late penalties or fines because of the late payment," he fumed.

On the evidence, if the Orioles were to shout, Jump!, city and state officials would shout back, How high?

"But it's not just the city," Humble said. "The Oriole logo is beginning to spread like a plague to bars and restaurants downtown, a graphic example of Oriole fever. Just yesterday, you and I had stopped in at our favorite watering hole only to find that the owner was planning to change the name to the Oriole Bar and Grill."

Outrageous, changing the name of the Wiley Bar and Grill (which is named for a handsome local journalist). OK. I agree. Officials would probably sell us out, but why would the Orioles want us?

"Are you kidding!" exclaimed Humble, and he ticked off reasons on his fingers. "They could knock down more homes and businesses for additional parking. They could assign the entire Police Department downtown for additional security. They could redirect the transit system for their benefit. They could impose mandatory attendance at home games. Best of all, they could raise taxes so that the team can keep pace with player salaries."

I guess, we'd all agree to an extra 10-cents on the property tax if it meant we could keep Cal Ripken in Baltimore.

"Why, the school system could offer two career tracks -- an athletic track and a track for unskilled stadium workers," said Humble.

The Orioles will need front office personnel, too, won't they?

"I'm sure the team would prefer to recruit front office workers from the suburban school systems," said Humble.

I'm sorry to say, you're making terrible sense.

"The only question is what to call the city after we're sold."

That's easy. We'll still be Baltimore, of course, in honor of our proud 196-year history.

"I am sure the team would favor Oriole City," said Humble firmly.

Maybe they'll agree to a compromise. Maybe they'll agree to Oriole City at Baltimore.

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