`Bawlmore'? Maybe to a sportswriter's tin ear

WAY BACK WHEN

back story

January 20, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

I wish someone on the copy desk of The New York Times had picked up on and questioned Dave Anderson's use of "Bawlmore" in a column he wrote the day after the Colts put an end to purple mania and the Ravens' dream of possibly going all the way to the Super Bowl XLI.

Anderson wrote that natives pronounced Baltimore as "Bawlmore," and then used it throughout the column. I reread it several times and wondered if it was a not-so-subtle way of making fun of how folks speak in these latitudes -- a linguistic put-down of the city.

And if it was a put-down, it wouldn't be the first time that a visiting reporter made fun of our city.

I guess what also aroused my curiosity was that during my 34 years of living here (and I'm gifted with a fairly good ear), I've never heard it pronounced "Bawlmore," yet people in New Jersey, where I grew up, tend to pronounce it "Bal-tee-more." But that's Jersey for you.

However, there are plenty of words used by New Yawkers that can get the crowd roaring with laughter, too -- how about "Tirty-Toid" for 33rd; "kawfee" for coffee; "earl" for oil; or "Joisey" as in that aforementioned land of smokestacks, railroad yards and refineries (also a gross generalization) that lies across the Hudson River. I could go on, but I won't.

John Goodspeed, the former Evening Sun columnist who died in September, spent years collecting examples of Baltimorese that eventually found their way into his "Mr. Peep's Diary."

In an interview in 2000 with Sun reporter Carl Schoettler, Goodspeed explained why Baltimore is pronounced "Balamer."

"That's the way it sounded to me," Goodspeed said. "Bal as in Balmoral, not bawl as in a crying jag. The middle `a' is very faint."

Baltimore has been taking knocks for years from reporters -- mainly sportswriters -- who drop out of the sky for a day or two, cover a game and then move on after making sweeping generalizations about life here.

During the 1966 World Series, a sportswriter for the New York (here we go again) Daily News described Baltimore as a "losers" town, and Sports Illustrated for many years described the city as a "grimy" workingman's town.

A televised Monday night baseball game in 1978 between the Yankees and Orioles led Howard Cosell to let loose with the criticism that Baltimore was less than a major-league city.

That led Hyman A. Pressman, the colorful and outspoken city comptroller, to present the first annual "Doghouse Award" to Cosell for "slander, disparagement, defamation, invective and sarcasm heaped upon Baltimore City."

The sportswriter who really got the city's collective dander up was Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times, who dissed Baltimore not once but twice -- first during the 1979 World Series and then during the 1983 fall classic.

Murray had described the Orioles against the Pirates in 1979 as the "Hard Hat" series.

It featured "two teams from the other side of the tracks. The truck drivers' delight. A blue-collar job. One for the lunch pail crowd," he wrote. "For guys who eat with their hats on, call the wife `the old lady,' drink beer from the bottle, leave spoons in their coffee when they drink it and put ketchup on everything."

Defenders tried to explain that this was Murray's shtick -- going around the country as a one-man civic wrecking crew -- and enjoying the uproar he created among the local citizenry.

He continued: "Baltimore and Pittsburgh (better known as `Balmer and Pitts-barg'), two towns that talk out of the side of their mouth, citadels of the working-stiff. These aren't cities; they're just kind of complicated truck stops."

Just for good measure, he wrote that Baltimore "suffers from a massive inferiority complex."

Returning in 1983, Murray complained in print that the Orioles, like their city, are "monotonous," and even took the city's weather to task.

"The weather is like the team. Gray. Colorless. Drab. The climate would have to improve to classify it merely as lousy. It would be a great place to stage Hamlet but not baseball games," he wrote.

Then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer -- who always took slights against his city personally -- growled from City Hall after the piece was published that Murray was "as stupid as the article."

A few days later, Bob Maisel, then sports editor of The Sun, tried to quiet the storm.

"Take this little piece of advice: Never take anything Murray writes that seriously again. He was pulling your leg," he wrote. "Jim is a syndicated columnist, a successful one, and a tool of his trade is to take a shot at about every town he visits on assignments. ... [T]ake it for what it really is, a well-written, humorous spoof."

Murray, whose career at the Los Angeles Times spanned 37 years, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1990. He died in 1998.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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