Bawlmer bizarre -- what a relief

August 26, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

Many people apparently believe the Orioles' historic 30-3 loss to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday had something to do with baseball -- quality of the relief pitching, in particular. But those of us who've lived in the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin for a year or two know better. While something like this could have happened in Chicago or Philly, I say it was destined to happen in Baltimore -- and only Baltimore -- because Baltimore is simply one of the most delightfully bizarre places in God's universe.

No, really.

There's no place quite like it. I mean, they serve sauerkraut with the turkey on Thanksgiving here. Baltimore is so bizarre that the local museum of bizarreness, the Dime Museum, went out of business.

Please note that the Orioles did not lose, 30-3, on just any day. They lost on the day their interim manager became full-time manager. Orioles management extended Dave Trembley's contract into 2008 -- a good thing -- then the team went out and gave up more runs than the Ravens did points in any single football game last season -- a bad thing.

Or is it?

Instead of moaning and crying about it, what did most of us do? We laughed. We shook our heads and said, "Only in Bawlmer," and for good reason: Strange stuff like this happens here.

The game and the circumstances were so freaky and surreal that Aug. 22, 2007, takes a prominent spot in the halls of Baltimore Bizarro.

In case you've never visited that freak show, here's a sample of what you'll find there:

Robert Irsay, former Colts owner and great kook, hated widely for ruining Baltimore's beloved football team. Ruddy-faced and unpredictable, Irsay's tenure was littered with goofy stories. (He once gave kicker Tony Linhart a $10,000 salary boost after he missed three field goals in a Colts loss.) How Baltimore's storied football franchise ended up in this HVAC magnate's hands -- and, eventually, in Indianapolis -- is as bizarre as it was sad.

July 1981: The mayor, William Donald Schaefer, puts on a straw boater and Victorian bathing suit and takes a dip in the seal pool at the opening of the National Aquarium. The picture of this lives on in the minds of Baltimoreans, as if it's a family photograph of weird Uncle Don Schaefer -- that man was "unique." There are dozens of Schaefer Bizarro stories.

December 19, 1976: The Baltimore Colts played the Pittsburgh Steelers in a playoff game. As the sellout crowd of 60,000 departed, a blue-and-white Piper Cherokee, piloted by an MTA bus driver, crashed into the chair-back seats of the upper deck. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries. The pilot got a jail sentence. Earlier, he had been accused of buzzing former Colt Bill Pellington's restaurant and dropping rolls of toilet paper on the roof.

Also in 1976: A sudden rainstorm hit Baltimore's 69,000-pound Bicentennial birthday cake, floating on a barge in the Inner Harbor. While many revelers got to eat a slice, so did the harbor rats.

One more from '76: We opened a new federal courthouse and named it after Eddie Garmatz, a former Baltimore congressman. A few months went by and a grand jury indicted Garmatz for bribery in the same courthouse. (The feds later dropped the charges, but still ...)

In 1978, a Maryland congressman, Goodloe Byron, died of a heart attack in the midst of his re-election campaign, leaving Melvin Perkins, an eccentric and irascible skid-row hobo, as the unopposed candidate in the Republican primary. During the ensuing campaign, Perkins clocked a female bus driver and police locked him up, but he didn't consider his arrest a setback: "If congressmen can end up in jail, why can't one start from there?" Byron's widow won the general election.

During a live televised mayoral debate in 1983, another "eccentric" candidate, Monroe Cornish, dismissed statements of Schaefer and other opponents as "a bunch of garbage," ranted about police harassment of Jews, blacks and Italians, and claimed Baltimore police had advance knowledge of John Hinckley's attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981. I've always said Cornish's rants probably cost him the election.

In the 1960s and 1970s, we had an epic run of crooked politicians -- Spiro T. Agnew (vice president of the United States, former Baltimore County executive and Maryland governor) foremost among them. There seemed to be indictments every other week. County executives went down, and a governor went on trial -- twice. The Baltimore County state's attorney hired secretaries for their sexual abilities and was convicted of "carnal bribery."

April 29, 1988: The Orioles won a baseball game, beating the White Sox, 9-0. It was their first win of the season. The season had started 22 games earlier. The 0-21 start set a league record. Real Twilight Zone stuff.

Patrons of art here paid $750,000 for a 51-foot sculpture in front of Penn Station that looks the robot Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still. I look at it and want to say: "Klaatu barada nikto!" It's the first thing visitors see when they walk out of the train station. Welcome to Bawlmer!

There's numerous other evidence of Baltimore's history of bizarreness. Here's one more, from 1982. Two guys went at night to a bank on Mountain Road in Pasadena. They tied one end of a chain to the night deposit box, the other end to the bumper of their '68 Ford. They hoped to rip the deposit box from the wall. Instead, the bumper came off the vehicle. Sensing failure, the bandits fled the scene, leaving the bumper -- and their license plate -- behind. Could have happened anywhere. But it happened here, and that's what I'm talkin' about.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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