Baseball: In Baltimore and Cleveland, cities with so much in common, familiarity does not breed contempt, even with the pennant at stake. Where are the Yankees when you need them?


October 08, 1997|By Ken Fuson | Ken Fuson,SUN STAFF Sun theater critic (and Cleveland native) J. Wynn Rousuck contributed to this article.

We have the bay. They have the lake.

We have "Homicide." They have "Drew Carey."

We had the Colts. They had the Browns (and will again some day).

This is difficult. The cities of Baltimore and Cleveland have so much in common that tonight's first game of the American League Championship Series resembles a family reunion softball game.

We're the 18th largest metropolitan area. They're the 20th.

We have Fells Point. They have The Flats.

We have Roberto Alomar. They have his brother, Sandy.

This is hard. Where's the hatred, the bile, the accumulation of grievances, large and small, real and imagined, that attend the true sports rivalries?

To be blunt, where are the damn Yankees?

"We were waiting for them," says John Maroon, the Orioles' director of public relations. "If they didn't want to show up, that's their problem."

This is why it's so easy to hate the Yankees. You want them to lose, they win. You want them to win, they lose. Nothing against Cleveland -- in fact, that's the whole problem -- but many Orioles fans were dreaming of a showdown with the big, bad pinstripers from Gotham.

"It was really weird," says Ed Kurland, a bartender in the Orioles Bar at the Sheraton Inner Harbor. "Nobody's a Yankees fan, yet people were rooting for them last night. You had mixed emotions. It's like your mother-in-law driving off a cliff in your new Mercedes."

Orioles vs. Yankees. The forces of good vs. the agents of evil. David vs. Goliath. Rocky vs. Apollo. Popeye vs. Bluto. The winner gets a trip to the World Series.

Vengeance from last year would be ours, sayeth the fans, preferably in the form of a four-game sweep. That little truant Jeffrey Maier would find himself back in school so fast it would make his Yankees cap spin.

That was the dream, anyway, and we were ready for them, so eager to demonstrate the superiority of our team and our town.

We have steamed crabs, they have steam grates.

We have Fort McHenry, they have Fort Apache.

We have the Inner Harbor, they have the East River.

We have Mary Beth Marsden, they have Kathie Lee Gifford.

Babe Ruth was born here, Babe Ruth died there.

All season long, Orioles fans obsessed about the Yankees. On the night Baltimore defeated the Seattle Mariners and pitcher Randy Johnson in the first game of the Division Series, a local television station sent one of its pretty boys for a live shot at a bar in Cockeysville. While he talked, the fans in the background chanted something that rhymed with "Yankees yuck!"

But something happened during Baltimore's dream season. The script got changed. Cleveland knocked off the Yankees before the Orioles could.

Baltimore vs. Cleveland.

This is like hearing that Congress declared war on Sweden.

What's there to hate about Cleveland?

"It's a great city, I love it," says Maroon, who worked for the Indians before coming to Baltimore three years ago. "The people are pleasant, with a real Midwestern attitude. I was rooting for Cleveland. It's probably a better atmosphere to play in there."

We're known for crabs. They're known for walleye.

We have Oriole Park at Camden Yards. They have Jacobs Field. (Both were designed by the same architect.)

We have the National Aquarium. They have the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. (Both buildings look the same at night.)

We have Art Modell. They used to.

"Baltimore's not loved up here, especially with the Ravens situation," says Denny Sanders, program director at WMJI, the top-rated radio station in Cleveland. "They have a very fresh memory of Art Modell and his crew jumping ship."

Now we're talking. This has some of the they-did-us-wrong qualities required for a rivalry. In 1995, Modell moved his football team to Baltimore, leaving the Browns name and the uniform colors in Cleveland. Although the NFL has promised to put another team in Cleveland by 1999, fans there have not forgiven him.

"Those feelings are anti-Modell, not anti-Baltimore," says Mike Starkey, metro sports editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I don't think there's a hatred toward Baltimore."

But what about last year? The Indians compiled one of the best records in baseball. The Orioles made the playoffs as a wild-card team, then upset Cleveland by winning three out of four. Surely they must hate us for that?

"There's a little bit of a revenge factor there," Starkey acknowledges.

Even so, the Orioles will have to go some to earn the kind of hatred Cleveland fans reserve for -- who else? -- the Yankees. Starkey says old-timers still recall the 1950s, when the Indians finished second to the Yankees in the American League five out of six years.

"I heard somebody say that no matter what else happens, Cleveland won the World Series because they beat the Yankees," Starkey says. "It was like they finally exorcised the ghosts."

We have Brooks Robinson and Johnny Unitas. They have Bob Feller and Jim Brown.

We have Johns Hopkins Hospital. They have the Cleveland Clinic.

We have the Baltimore Museum of Art. They have the Cleveland Museum of Art. (Both have statues of Rodin's "Thinker.")

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