Cleveland expatriates harbored here There's a lot of migration between rival AL cities, blurring lines of loyalties

October 15, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

In an Orioles Extra article Wednesday about people who share Baltimore and Cleveland connections, Mark Shapiro's title was incorrectly reported. He is the director of minor-league operations for the Cleveland Indians.

The Sun regrets the error.

She's a Cleveland native who holds a powerful position with a prominent Baltimore sports team. So when Lisa Bercu attended last Wednesday's Orioles-Indians game, she was wisely discreet about her rooting. No Indians shirts. No Indians caps. Not even a tacky Chief Wahoo pin.

"I'm a very diplomatic fan," said Bercu, an Indians fan by birth and director of Ravens broadcasting by employment. Her desk at the Ravens' downtown headquarters is decorated with a Cleveland All-Star Game cap and wooden model of Jacobs Field.


"Obviously, I take pride in a Maryland organization doing so well. But when you put that much blood and sweat and tears into an organization, a little bit of it always stays with you," she said.

Bercu is one of a large group of Cleveland transplants occupying top positions in Baltimore sports who are finding their professional rooting interests at odds with their roots this week.

Many came with the Ravens, nee Cleveland Browns. But others found their way to Baltimore independent of that franchise relocation, following career opportunities that naturally flow between two cities that have invested so much in stadiums and sports in recent years.

Mike Lehr, for example. He is Orioles executive director of marketing and broadcasting. Before last year, he spent six years working in Cleveland for the station that broadcast Indians games.

"Playing Cleveland in the playoffs last year was strange. But not so much this year. Your heart is with the team you are with. I have great friends and memories in Cleveland. But I'm not torn. My loyalties are 100 percent Orioles," Lehr said.

But when the conversation around the office turns to great Cleveland restaurants, Lehr has plenty of people offering reviews. Other Orioles personnel with Cleveland roots include the team's director of public relations, John Maroon, and the play-by-play man employed by Home Team Sports at the team's urging, Michael Reghi.

"There are quite a few of us here, aren't there?" said Maroon, formerly the Indians' chief spokesman. "I've never had any kind of conflict. I am an Oriole."

Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag -- who has relatives in Cleveland -- has noticed the surge of Ohio expatriates. He said Cleveland has long been a hotbed of the sports industry, and is where International Management Group, one of the world's largest sports marketing, event planning and player agency firms, is headquartered.

"There are lots of Clevelanders in sports, period," Moag said.

Former Baltimore Colt Tom Matte, now a Ravens radio broadcaster and Channel 45 analyst, grew up in Cleveland. So did Robert Leffler, head of the Leffler Agency, a Baltimore-based sports marketing firm that counts among its clients the Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals.

"The Indians and Browns had two of the most progressive marketing operations in sports, so a lot of people have come through Cleveland," Leffler said.

With the Ravens, the population of Ohioans exceeds that of some Cleveland suburbs. Franchise managing partner Art Modell was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but moved to Cleveland when he bought the team in 1961. Among the Clevelanders who migrated with him: his son, David, executive vice president of the team with oversight of marketing, and Jim Bailey, the team's executive vice president/legal and administrative.

The interstate runs both ways, of course. The Indians' front office includes many former Baltimoreans. General manager John Hart was the Orioles' third base coach before taking a job with the Indians in 1989. Director of baseball operations Dan O'Dowd was previously the Orioles' assistant director of player development and scouting.

The Indians' director of scouting, Lee MacPhail IV, spent six years with the Orioles and is the grandson of Lee MacPhail Jr., an Orioles general manager in the 1960s. Cleveland's director of minor-league scouting, Mark Shapiro, grew up in Baltimore and is the son of local agent Ron Shapiro, who represents Cal Ripken, among others.

Ravens vice president of public relations Kevin Byrne was born in Cleveland and sounds ambivalent about the Indians' success.

"I'll have to admit that I was born and raised in Cleveland, but the Indians lost for 41 years of my life and they got stadium money that I thought should have gone to the Browns," Byrne said.

He went to one of the games last week with his 15-year-old son, Conor, who was not so circumspect. Conor cut a Chief Wahoo logo off an Indians cap and wore it on his shirt. "He was conspicuous when he stood up to cheer," Byrne said.

So, is Dad an Orioles fan?

"I can't say that. I don't think you ever lose your boyhood team," he said. "There is a hometown loyalty you have. I think both franchises are very good in terms of putting together a good team."

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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