Big-league sports city? Not today

April 13, 1995|By BILL TANTON

With the Orioles in spring training and their American League opener two weeks off there's a tendency to think all's right with the sports world in Baltimore.

Wrong!

In our town, there's a lot more wrong than there is right.

Even in the one area that seems to be all right -- baseball -- there's plenty wrong.

The end of the players strike, which came at 11:59 p.m. on, appropriately, April Fool's Day, didn't settle a thing.

There was no settlement. There was only a truce -- and an uneasy truce at that. The game is back where it was last Aug. 12, when the players struck.

In fact, there is no assurance that there won't be another strike this year.

"Another strike this year is unlikely," says players association head Don Fehr. "But anything is possible."

It's unlikely, Fehr says. Anything is possible, he adds.

Sound comforting to you? It doesn't to me.

The owners and players have made no promises to avoid a lockout or strike this year. The distrust between the two sides is enormous. Believe it when Fehr says anything can happen.

So don't get the idea things are OK on the sports scene. Even if there is no further work stoppage in baseball, we still have a long way to go in Baltimore.

We have only one major-league franchise. That's the Orioles, shaky labor status or not.

We need a lot more than that to be the major-league city we used to be -- and that we deserve to be once again.

The announcement this week that the American Hockey League is returning here may cheer the 2,500 hard-core local hockey fans but it reinforces our status as a minor-league sports town.

Baltimore and Lexington, Ky., come into the AHL together. That says it all.

One thing we need here is a National Football League team.

You have to admire what owner Jim Speros accomplished last year with his CFLs here. They drew people to Memorial Stadium and they won the league's Eastern Division championship. In their first year, they went to the Grey Cup.

The CFLs are gearing up for another season. They'll soon go to training camp at Towson State. The season opens here June 17.

But the Canadian Football League is not going to make Baltimore a big-league city once again. Like the return of the AHL, it does the opposite.

It puts us in a category with some American cities that have never been deemed acceptable by the NFL and with some Canadian cities that are practically indistinguishable to the average fan.

Quick -- can you name one CFL coach besides our own? Can you name ours? (Don Matthews).

The people who have adopted the CFLs here are an admirable lot. They love pro football. They wanted football back here. They say, with flawless reasoning, that the CFL is better than nothing.

But if the National Football League were to come back here, 99 percent of our CFL fans would switch allegiance to the NFL team in a heartbeat.

The NFL is huge now with 30 teams, including clubs in Jacksonville and Charlotte that will begin play this year. It's an outrage that a city our size and with our history is not part of it.

Attorney John Moag, the bright, young Loyola High and Washington College graduate who is now chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, is considering a suit against the NFL that would bring a team here.

The other day Moag told me he is talking to some of the best antitrust lawyers in the land about this. He thinks the suit has a chance.

It seems to me we have a better chance of getting back in the NFL by adopting a team that's unhappy elsewhere and wants to take advantage of the great financial package -- including a new football stadium -- that's available here.

The Bengals keep talking about moving because Cincinnati won't build them a new stadium. Don't hold your breath waiting for that.

Baltimore, with its open arms, is merely leverage for the Bengals in dealing with their own city.

Al Davis keeps popping up in the headlines, saying he's going to move his Raiders out of Los Angeles. Recently he said Baltimore was on top of his list.

That's the trouble with Davis. He has said stuff like that so many times and for so long that people don't take him seriously anymore.

But Davis does have the guts to move and to take on the NFL. He's done both before.

Another thing we need in Baltimore is a new arena -- a big, state-of-the-art indoor sports palace with a capacity of at least 20,000.

Until we get that, we're doomed to an endless diet of indoor soccer and indoor lacrosse and minor-league hockey.

Go to our neighboring big-league cities, to Washington or to Philadelphia, and it's enough to break your heart.

They have big-league franchises galore. In college basketball, which is probably the hottest sport in America, they have Big East teams.

They have the best. They see the best.

Why should D.C. and Philly have all that and not us?

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