10 Most Influential Sports Figures in Baltimore History

September 21, 2013 | Marty Mossa

I’ve pretty much have taken a hiatus for the summer. Actually I’ve been working on this blog on and off for two months. Baltimore is small compared to the New York’s, Boston’s, Philadelphia’s, etc. But with all its political and social problems in this town, one thing can’t be denied. This town has a rich sports history. When you think of the eight major championships Baltimore has you have to appreciate how lucky we have it here. The Baltimore Colts were NFL champs in 1958, 1959 and Superbowl V. The Orioles have won World Series in 1966, 1970, and 1983. And of course how could we forget the gift the Ravens gave to this town in Superbowl XXXV, and Superbowl XLVII. Baltimore has eight MAJOR world championships in 55 years. How many does San Diego have? Buffalo? ZILTCH!!!! ZERO!!! NONE!!!

There have been many hall of famers that have blessed this city with quality, competitive teams. And as a result, we have eight world titles. So in light of the former,; I decided to come up with a list of the ten most influential sports figures in Baltimore history. I took into account not only what they did on the field, but also off the field and for the community. Below is a list of eighteen home grow players who were selected to represent their respective hall of fames.

BULLETS
Wes Unseld

COLTS
Raymond Berry WR 1955-1967
Art Donovan OT 1953-1961
Weeb Ewbank Coach 1954-1962
Ted Hendricks LB 1969-1973
John Mackey TE 1963-1971
Gino Marchetti DE 1953-64, 66
Lenny Moore RB 1956-1967
Jim Parker OT 1957-1967
Joe Perry FB 1961-1962
Johnny Unitas QB 1956-1972

ORIOLES
Frank Robinson (1982)
Brooks Robinson (1983)
Jim Palmer (1990)
Earl Weaver (1996)
Eddie Murray (2003)
Cal Ripken, Jr. (2007)

RAVENS
Jonathon Ogden (2013)
Ray Lewis (2018)*
Ed Reed (201?)*

And now the top ten most influential sports figures in the history of Baltimore sports as seen by none other than Marty Mossa. Here we go:

#10 Wes Unseld (Honorable Mention)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least include a representative of Baltimore’s NBA Bullets. Although it’s been over forty years since Abe Poulin packed up his team and moved them southwest to Washington; I think it’s important to acknowledge Wes Unseld for all he did on and off the court. Wes Useld was taken in the 1968 draft in the first round by the Baltimore Bullets. He helped lead the Bullets from last place to a 57–25 record and a division title. He averaged 18 rebounds per game in 1968. He became only the second player ever to win both rooky of the year and MVP in the same season. He was one of the best defensive players of his time. In 1971, he led the Bullets to the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks,; only to lose in four.

After his career with the Baltimore/Washington Bullets; Wes dedicated himself to the Unseld School in which he and his wife Connie, opened in South West Baltimore in 1979. He also has been a part of many youth basketball camps in the Baltimore area. This is why Wes Unseld earned the 10th spot in the top ten influential sports figures in Baltimore Sports history. (Wikipedia/August, 2013)

#9. Michael Phelps
How could we talk about Baltimore sports if Michael Phelps wasn’t a part of that conversation? Phelps is an international swimming legend being that he was on the USA Summer Olympic Team in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He holds the records for most Olympic gold medals of 18 and most medals in individual events of 11. He has the most medals at single games which was eight in Beijing in 2008. There is a street in Baltimore was The Michael Phelps Way. He also earned the following awards:

•Swimming World Magazine World Swimmer of the Year Award: 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012
•Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year: 2008
•Associated Press Athlete of the Year: 2008, 2012 (Wikopedia/August 2013)
Phelps also has been part of many charity organizations as well the the Michael Phelps Foundation. An avid Orioles and Ravens fan, he is commonly seen at the games. (Wikipedia/2013)

#8. Jim Palmer
What would the Baltimore Sports landscape look like without Jim Palmer? Palmer was has been a fixture here for almost 50 years. He pitched for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1960′s, 70′s and part of the 80′s. He had the most wins of any MLB pitcher in the 1970s with 186. Palmer won at twenty games or more in each of eight seasons. He earned three Cy Young Awards and four Gold Gloves during that time. With 268 career wins; he holds the Orioles team record. He was a six-time American League All-star. . Amazingly, he never ever allowed a grand slam in any major league contest.

Palmer appeared in the postseason eight times. He was a key member of the 1966, 1970 and 1983 World Series Championships, as well as six AL pennant winners and seven Eastern Division titleholders. Palmer is the only pitcher in the history of the World Series with a win in each of three decades. He was also the youngest to pitch a shutout in a World Series at age 20 in 1966 against the LA Dodgers.

Since his retirement as an active player in 1984, Palmer has worked as a color commentator on telecasts of MLB games for ABC and ESPN and for the Orioles on Home Team Sports (HTS), Comcast SportsNet (CSN) Wikipedia , and Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) (Wikipedia/2013)

#7 Art Model
Art Modell will forever be known as the man who moved the Browns to Baltimore. He’s a hero in B-More, and a villain in Cleveland. He brought to the city of Baltimore and metro area something that had been craved for 12 years. And that of course was an NFL football team. The USFL & CFL just didn’t cut it. We can only imagine what life would be like if it weren’t for the Ravens. (I’d still be a Cowboy’s fan, lol) Think of the billions and billions of dollars the city of Baltimore and state of Maryland has raked in because of the purple birds.

In his eight seasons as majority owner, the Ravens qualified for the postseason 3 times (2000, 2001 & 2003), winning 1 division title (2003) and Super Bowl XXXV in 2000. The team’s overall regular season record during Modell’s tenure was 72-63 (winning percentage .533), and its postseason record was 5-2 (.714). (baltimoreravens.com/2012)

#6. Earl Weaver
I don’t think there ever was or ever will be an Oriole manager more revered in Baltimore than Earl Weaver. Earl manager the orange men for 15 years (1968-1982), and then again in the 1985 & 1986 seasons.

During his tenure as the Oriole’s manager, the birds won the American League pennant in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1979. In 1969 the Orioles were defeated in the World Series in five games by the New York Mets team known as the Miracle Mets. In 1970 the Orioles won the World Series by defeating the Cincinnati Reds (The “Big Red Machine”) in five games. In 1971 the Orioles lost the World Series in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In 1979 the Orioles again lost the World Series in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He initially retired at the end of the 1982 season where the postgame tribute to him provided intense emotion against the backdrop of the season-ending defeat. He came out of retirement in 1985, but a losing season in 1986 prompted his permanent major league retirement. Weaver’s managerial record is 1,480–1,060 (.583), including 100+ win seasons in 1969, 1970, 1971 1979 and 1980. He only had one losing season in his managerial career, with the 1986 Orioles.

Weaver was ejected from games 91 times during the regular season and several times during post-season play. He was ejected from both games in a doubleheader three times. He was ejected before a game started twice, both times by Ron Luciano. Luciano alone ejected him from all four games of a minor-league series and eight games in the majors’

Weaver had many famous tirades. A 1980 game against the Detroit Tigers saw Weaver spar with umpire Haller for calling a balk on Mike Flanaga. After Weaver was ejected, he launched into a profanity-filled argument with Haller that was recorded. During the tirade, Weaver accused Haller of blatantly calling the game out of the Oriole’s favor. Haller, who was much taller, bent over with his hands behind his back and calmly retorted, “You are a liar, Earl.” In 1973 Weaver threw his cap to the ground and began a argument with Ron Luciano. Luciano’s crew-mate Don Denkinger walked over to Weaver’s cap, stepped on it with the sharp cleats of both shoes, and slowly twisted back and forth. (Wikipedia, 2013)

#5. Ozzie Newsome
And what would the Ravens be without Ozzie? Baltimore’s football wizard officially became the Raven’s general manager on November 22, 2002, Although for all intense and purposes, he was the GM from the day the Ravens flew to Baltimore. He became first African-American to occupy that position in the NFL.

Newsome earned his first Super Bowl ring when the Ravens defeated the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV, and earned a second ring after the Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII 34-31. He was instrumental in acquiring HOF’er Jonathon Ogden, future HOL’ers Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and who knows who else. He gambled on a quarterback from Delaware who in his first five years lead the Ravens to the post season; which included three AFC title games, and a Superbowl Victory. And by the way this quiet guy from Delaware was Superbowl XLVII’s MVP. (Wikipedia 2013)

#4. Books Robinson HOF
Mr. Baseball/ Mr. Oriole the heart and soul of the “hot” corner brooks Robinson was drafted by the Orioles as an amateur free agent in 1955. In 1964, Robinson had his best season offensively, hitting for a .318 batting average with 28 home runs and led the league with 118 runs batted in, winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award. In the American League MVP voting, he received 18 of the 20 first-place votes, with Mickey Mantle finishing second. In 1966, he was voted the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, and finished second to teammate Frank Robinson in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting, as the Orioles went on to win the 1966 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.[

In the 1970 post-season, Robinson hit for a .583 batting average in the 1970 American League Championship Series against the Minnesota Twins. In the 1970 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson had a .429 batting average with 2 home runs; however, it was his defensive abilities at third base that stood out, making several impressive plays during the series that robbed the Reds of certain base hits. His performance won him the World Series MVP Award presented by as well as the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of the year. After the 1970 World Series, Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson quipped, “I’m beginning to see Brooks in my sleep. If I dropped this paper plate, he’d pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first.”

In his playing career, Robinson was selected for the All-Star team in 15 consecutive years (1960-74), and played in four World Series. He compiled a .267 career batting average with 2,848 hits, 268 home runs and 1357 runs batted in. Robinson led the American League in fielding percentage a record 11 times, and at the time of his retirement, his .971 career fielding average was the highest ever for a third baseman. His totals of 2870 games played at third base, 2697 career putouts, 6205 career assists, 8902 career total chances and 618 double plays were records for third basemen at the time of his retirement. Robinson’s 23 seasons with one team set a new major league record, since tied by Carl Yastrzemski. Only Yastrzemski (3308), Hank Aaron (3076) and Stan Musial (3026) played more games for one franchise. Robinson also hit into four triple plays during his career, a major league record. He commented, “I wouldn’t mind seeing someone erase my record of hitting into four triple plays.” Wikipedia/August 2013

Brooks Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

#3. Ray Lewis
There’s not a whole lot that can be said about Ray Lewis that hasn’t already been said. Lewis was the second Raven ever taken after Jonathon Ogden. He was the fifth player taken overall in the 1996 NFL draft. In his rooky year, Lewis earned the USA Today’s All-Rookie team honors after his 15 tackles for a loss led the NFL and led the Ravens with 110 in the 1996 season. He had two and a half sacks, and six pass deflections, and an interception on the season.

In 1997 (his rooky year; Lewis had an NFL-best and career high 184 tackles in 1997, second most ever in a season, and went to his first Pro Bowl. Also he had four sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and 11 pass deflections. During the 1998 season Lewis went to his 2nd Pro Bowl and had 120 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble, and seven pass deflections. He lead the the Ravens in tackles for the third consecutive season. He was also named to The Sporting News All-Pro Team.

In 1999, Lewis led the NFL in tackles with 168. He was named to a third-straight Pro Bowl and the All-Pro first team. He also totaled three and a half sacks, three interceptions, eight pass deflections, a safety, and a forced fumble. Lewis won the 1999 NFL Alumni Linebacker Of The Year chosen by past NFL players voting according to the position they played.

By 2000, Lewis came into his own. He the greatest defense in NFL history. The Raven’s defense set a 16-game single-season record for fewest points allowed and fewest rushing yards allowed. The Ravens shut out teams four teams (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Dallas and Cleveland). Lewis’s unit finished first league-wide in six key defensive categories. He won Super Bowl XXXV MVP honors, Defensive Player of the Year honors, earned a unanimous All-Pro selection, and was once again named to start in the Pro Bowl. Lewis’s regular-season total of 136 tackles once again led the Ravens, and Lewis added 31 tackles, two interceptions, 9 pass deflections, one fumble recovery and a touchdown in the four-game playoff run.

2012: Final Year & 2nd Super Bowl Run

In what would be his final season; Lewis suffered torn triceps on October 14, 2012 during a win against the Dallas Cowboys, and had them surgically repaired three days later. On January 2, 2013, Lewis announced he will retire after his team finishes the 2012–13 NFL playoffs.

He returned to action for Baltimore’s January 6, 2013 game against the Colts and led the defense to a 24–9 playoff win. On the game’s last play, Lewis lined up on offense at fullback. The Ravens were not slated to play another home playoff game (since they were the number-four seed), so they wanted Lewis to be on the field for the final play. The move also gave Lewis a chance to do his signature pregame dance before the home fans one last time. Next, the Ravens defeated the Denver Broncos in the divisional round, 38–35, in double overtime, and subfreezing temperatures.

Along with his teammates, Lewis hoisted the Lamar Hunt Trophy as he and the Ravens defeated the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, 28–13. Lewis’s final career NFL game was Super Bowl XLVII, the first postseason tournament finals game the Ravens entered for the first time in 12 years. Lewis ended his career with a second Super Bowl championship when the Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers 34–31. Lewis finished the regular season with 57 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 pass deflection in 6 games. In the postseason, Lewis led the NFL with 51 tackles. He also contributed 2 tackles for loss and 1 pass deflection in the Super Bowl run.

#2. Cal Ripken HOFAt 6 ft 4 in, 225 lb (1.93 m, 102 kg),
When you think of Orioles baseball, Cal Ripken has to be a staple among conversation. He was called up from Rochester in the late summer of 1981 and played until the conclusion of the 2001 season. Ripken demonstrated the showed ability to play very good defense at shortstop. As a result he remained a fixture there for over a decade. He lead the American League in assists several times, won the Gold Glove twice, and, in 1990, sett the MLB record for best fielding percentage in a season. Ripken used fundamentals, and studied batters to position himself to compensate for his lack of physical speed, even calling pitches at times. Ripken’s legacy as a fielder is reflected by his place near the top of almost every defensive statistical category—he holds at least one all-time record (for either season, career, or most seasons leading the league) in assists, putouts, fielding percentage, double plays, and fewest errors. Ripken’s career range factor was 4.73 (and as high as 5.50 for a single season), a mark few shortstops have reached.

Ripken’s hitting abilities led to records including the most home runs by shortstop and 13th for career doubles. His propensity to drive the ball often led to his grounders getting to fielders quickly for tailor-made double-play balls. And by the way incase I didn’t mention, Cal Ripken broke Lou Gerick’s record of most consecutives games. after a 17 year streak, Ripken ‘s streak stopped at 2,632 games.

#1. Johnny Unitas HOF
What would football in Baltimore, or America for that matter be without John Unitas. There are few sports stories that are more dramatic or more complete than the story of Johnny Unitas. He was a ninth-round draft choice of the 1955 Pittsburgh Steelers, but was cut before he even threw one pass. He played semi-pro football for $6 a game. After that season, the Baltimore Colts were made aware of an his “outstanding” abilities from football insiders from Western Pennsylvania. . The Baltimore Colts signed him for $17,000 on a condition that he made the team. He was strictly slated as a backup. Unitas got his chance in the fourth game when the Colts’ starter was injured. Unitas’ first pass was intercepted for a pick six but from that moment on, he never looked back. For the next 18 seasons, “Johnny U” ran up a resume of game winning clinics seldom matched by anyone in NFL history. Without a doubt, the last-second come back in the 1958 NFL title game, often called “the greatest game ever played,” was the turning point that made Johnny Unitas a household name. The New York Giants, with two minutes to play, were leading, 17-14, when the Colts started a last-gasp drive at their own 14. “He perfected an 80-yard march to win the game in overtime. The game, played before a national television audience, gave Unitas his chance to demonstrate all of his marvelous attributes – confidence, courage, leadership, play calling genius, and passing skill. His career included 40,239 yards and 290 touchdowns passing. His record of at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games stood until Drew Brees broke it in the 2012 season. He wad undoubtedly one of the greatest fooball players in NFL history. He put Baltimore and the NFL on the national sports map. ttp://www.profootballhof.com/hof/member.aspx?PLAYER_ID=219#sthash.oCf1rpDA.dpuf

Well that’s the list that I came up with. There are so may more I could have put on the list: Lenny Moore, Artie Donavan, Ray Berry, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Eddie Murray, Brian Billick, etc etc etc………

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. unitastoberry Says:

    You have to admit for a whistle stop between DC and NYC Baltimore has had many champs and HOFers in 2 sports. Don’t forget our USFL and CFL champs. Lets hope it continues and gets better with the Orioles going forward.

  2. Marty Says:

    Hey unitastoberry, thanks as always for reading my blog. Actually I didn’t forget the USFL, or CFL, I just focused on major championships. I could have included them plus the dozen or so Blast titles, but I stuck to the major four leagues.

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