This time around, there's nothing to worry for -- really

Experts and civic leaders say the city and the O's have a niche all their own

Baltimore Vs. Washington

Baseball Returns To Washington

September 30, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

They had the gall to win the Super Bowl when we were about to lose the Colts. They took our basketball team, threatened to take our baseball team and then adopted the Orioles when we got a dazzling new ballpark.

These are just a few things you might hear when a Baltimorean gets to ranting about Washington. And with the Montreal Expos scheduled to become its neighbor, Baltimore may have to worry that Washington will have a richer baseball team and a flashier ballpark.

Or not.

"I don't begrudge any city anywhere in America for getting their own team," Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said. "We didn't like it when people were telling us we couldn't have the Ravens. We wouldn't like it if people told us we couldn't have the Orioles."

The mayor's casual acceptance of Washington's new franchise is one echoed by many who know and love Baltimore, despite arguments from Orioles owner Peter Angelos that the competition will damage his team.

`The truer city'

"Baltimore is honestly the truer city, and that's the very reason Baltimore shouldn't be worried about losing its fan base to the emerald city from the south," said Peter Richmond, a Gentleman's Quarterly staff writer whose 1993 book Ballpark examined the building of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"They're going to be in a different league," said "Turkey Joe" Trabert, a former Fells Point tavern owner and 25-year Orioles season-ticket holder. "It's going to have nothing to do with us."

Not that Trabert could resist a dig at Washington.

"Washington is a bunch of people who scatter somewhere else at night," he said. "That's not a town, that's a place to work."

Such feelings do not flow the other way, said Washington-based columnist and noted baseball fan George Will. "Washington is terminally self-absorbed," he said. "I don't think there's any disparagement or anything else toward Baltimore. ... It's just another city."

Will said Baltimore need not have an inferiority complex about itself or its sports. "I think Baltimore is, particularly after the renaissance under [William Donald] Schaefer, its own proud city," he said.

There is no true rivalry between the cities, agreed Baltimore native and longtime sportswriter Frank Deford.

"I always thought Baltimore felt sort of small-time, not just because Washington is on one side, but because New York is on the other," Deford said. "You know, it never gets on the weather maps, and yet Omaha gets on the weather maps."

Deford said he would worry about a Washington team in terms of economics, not prestige.

"I think baseball is risking trading one very successful franchise for two mediocre ones," he said. Deford compared the Baltimore-Washington area to the San Francisco Bay area, where the Oakland Athletics have failed to thrive financially despite winning consistently.

The early days

Baltimore did pretty well the first few decades that it and Washington had major league teams.

In basketball, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe had some of the hippest fans in the NBA rocking at the Baltimore Civic Center. Washington didn't even have a team.

In football, Johnny Unitas' golden arm led the Colts to victory in the "Greatest Game Ever Played." The Redskins weren't bad, but as franchises went, they couldn't even eclipse their rivals in Dallas.

And in baseball, the Orioles represented consistent excellence while the Senators were consistently awful - until they disappeared in 1971, becoming the Texas Rangers.

Then, as the 1980s approached, the tide turned.

A few tough years

First, the Bullets moved south and won their only championship under the banner of Washington, not Baltimore.

Next, one of Washington's most famous lawyers, the late Edward Bennett Williams, bought the Orioles and spent a decade leveraging the notion that he might move the team to the District of Columbia.

Finally, the Redskins won the first of three Super Bowls about 14 months before Mayflower trucks rolled through Baltimore in the dark and moved the Colts to Indianapolis. The Redskins then nearly moved to Laurel in the mid-1990s as Baltimore tried to land a new team.

The allure of Camden

Still, the Orioles' 1983 World Series win and the construction of Camden Yards in the early 1990s enabled Baltimore sports lovers to feel a little superior. Even Washingtonians just had to come to the splendid new park to see Cal Ripken Jr.

Writing about the city and Camden Yards in 1993, Richmond said: "Baltimore didn't need a new baseball stadium, but it was more than grateful for the deliverance of a national showpiece. Mired in the cultural crevice between the imperious capital city to the south and the mainline strutting of William Penn's cobbled town to the north, the brick-built village with its quilt of marble-stepped row-housed streets tucked into a crook of Mid-Atlantic coastline has been nursing for quite a while now, an inferiority complex the size of H.L. Mencken's ego."

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