Jersey city

It's time for O's to budge on road uniform debate

June 01, 2007|By RICK MAESE

"The Orioles should take full-page ads in Baltimore newspapers to trumpet the news: We are the Baltimore Orioles and proud of it. They should apologize and ask to be forgiven for this despicable act against its own city. Let Washington get its own baseball team."

Those are the words of John Steadman, who told stories in Baltimore newspapers for 55 years. He wrote those words in 1991, but they could have just as easily appeared in these pages a decade earlier, and yes, a decade later, too.

So here we are, still talking about the same topic, still treating a piece of baseball laundry like a holy grail. Even though team officials had been privately talking about returning "Baltimore" to the jerseys for the past few months, a league deadline for such changes passed yesterday and the Baltimore Orioles - excuse me, the Orioles - have apparently decided against the move for now.

I wasn't alive in 1972 when the city's name last appeared on the road jerseys. (In fact, just how many fans under the age of 40 probably can remember when "Baltimore" was stretched across a player's chest?)

Admittedly, I'll probably never fully appreciate why this is such a hot-button topic, why it makes Baltimoreans foam at the mouth, why Steadman openly wondered how previous ownership could be so hellbent on denying the city its birthright - "similar to the way the Soviet Union tried to stamp out Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and other countries," he wrote. "Treat them as if they don't exist."

When we consider making any type of big change, you're really addressing two general questions: Why make the change? And why not make it? Three-and-a-half decades of pleading and protesting by Orioles fans lets us know the answer to Why. But what no one in the warehouse dares address is the Why not.

Before we get to that, let's agree that Angelos & Son are in a no-win spot here. If they continue without the city name on the road uniforms, they'll continue to incur the wrath of a fan base they've already alienated. And if they finally make the change, they'll be accused of focusing their attention on some unimportant stitching while the roster falls further into disrepair. Plus, more than a few fans and critics will note that ownership stands to make a dollar or two through merchandising a new uniform.

(By the way, if any alien life has just unearthed this sheet of newsprint in a time capsule or something: Yes, the Orioles have lost the past nine seasons and, yes, we're instead discussing what the uniform looks like.)

The decision to take an eraser to "Baltimore" on the jerseys was made under the stewardship of Jerold Hoffberger. So anyone blaming Peter Angelos for that is mistaken. But Angelos certainly should be held responsible for not putting the city's name back on there. He has had 14 years' worth of chances now and doesn't have a single good reason not to. Surely he hasn't heard from many fans clamoring to keep "Orioles" on those uniforms, has he?

The Orioles need to make this small gesture to fans. Not because it will bring more wins. Not because it will be a thumb in the eye to Washington. Not because it will temper anyone's criticism of the mismanagement of the franchise.

They need to make the small gesture because there's no reasonable explanation to the Why not question. (No, feeding off spite to rile your own fan base does not qualify as a "reasonable explanation.")

Anyone who has followed this lollipop controversy and anyone familiar with how Angelos does business can come to just one conclusion: The ownership won't push to make the change as long as it's what people actually want. Yep, straight out of the Orioles' Customer Relations Handbook. Chapter 1, in fact. Or is it from a Third-Grader's Approach to Conflict Resolution?

For some reason, Angelos seems content with this public impression that he has carefully cultivated, that of a control-hungry owner who's only willing to work on his terms. If it's someone else's idea - and it's endorsed by those know-nothing media types - it goes in the trash bin.

The Orioles aren't a better team if their road jersey looks different, but for the people who care most about this team, it would make them a better organization. So let's rack this one up as another missed opportunity to appease fans. We already know that when it comes to making others happy, Angelos never gets to the Why not. Because in his head, he doesn't seem to care about the Why.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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