The O's and blacks

August 03, 1994|By Gregory P. Kane

DURING MY teens -- when I considered myself a loyal Orioles fan -- one afternoon I took my youngest brother to a game. A group of black boys -- who had apparently sneaked in -- meandered over to our area of the upper deck, followed by an usher who ordered the group, plus me and my brother, to leave.

I immediately showed him our ticket stubs as proof that we had paid to get in. He gave us the boot anyway.

Despite that incident, I still considered myself a loyal Orioles fan -- until they traded Frank Robinson in 1972. Since then I've noticed a pattern of unfair treatment of black athletes in Baltimore. In addition to Frank Robinson, we have the following cases:

* Lenny Moore, one of the two best running backs the Baltimore Colts had ever had, was cut by the Colts in 1968. "You don't fit into our plans," they told him. Most revealing was the nonreaction of local fans and the media.

* Reggie Jackson spent one season in an Orioles uniform in 1976, much of it to a continuous chorus of boos from local fans whenever he went to bat. He went to the Eastern Division rival New York Yankees team and led it to two consecutive World Series titles in 1977 and 1978.

* Lydell Mitchell, the other top Colts running back, was traded in 1978 after a pay dispute. Mr. Mitchell and his agent claimed that Colts managers implied that he wanted more than they were willing to pay a black athlete.

* Raymond Chester, a local hero who attended Douglass High School and Morgan State University, was traded the same year as Lydell Mitchell. Mr. Chester's crime was to say publicly that quarterback Bert Jones -- then hailed by local media and fans as "The Franchise" -- was not as good as everyone thought. (He was right. The hub of the Colts' offense was Mr. Mitchell.)

* The Baltimore Bullets, a superb team of the early 1970's who dueled perennially with the even more superb New York Knicks in the NBA's Eastern Conference, had to move to Washington because they couldn't get enough fan support here.

I suggested to Lenny Moore in a radio interview back in 1980 that the Bullets received little support because there was no white hero on the team. He didn't reply, but we both chuckled knowingly.

The perception by many local African Americans that Baltimore is less than fair with black athletes may be one of the reasons for the 1992 formation of the African-American Task Force on Professional Sports in Maryland. Its chairman is Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings.

The task force worked out a comprehensive deal with Orioles management before Peter Angelos bought the club a year ago today. The agreement was not legally binding, Mr. Rawlings admits, but insists it has a "moral imperative and was reached as a result of a good faith agreement."

Part of the agreement stipulated that the Orioles would try to attract more black fans and do business with black-owned firms. As part of the pact -- signed with former Orioles president Larry Lucchino -- the club also sponsored several activities in the black community, including youth baseball teams.

Now Mr. Rawlings says that new owner Peter Angelos is not as enthusiastic about the agreement as the previous management. When the task force met with Mr. Angelos in October 1993, he claimed no knowledge of the pact, but said he would get back to the group "in a couple of weeks," Mr. Rawlings said. But Mr. Angelos has not met with the group since, says Mr. Rawlings. "It's always 'We'll get back to you,' but we never heard from him," the delegate said.

I couldn't reach Mr. Angelos at either his law office or the ballpark. A call to the club's press relations office had not been returned by the time this article went to press. The silent treatment given the African-American Task Force on Professional Sports in Maryland by Orioles management only adds to the perception -- long held by some -- that a lingering problem exists in the matter of professional sports in Baltimore and the treatment of blacks.

Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Evening Sun.

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