Baltimore sports, a fixture in my life since childhood

June 25, 2012 | Richard Golden

Baltimore Sports in the Life of “Dorado”                                        RICHARD GOLDEN

In 1971 (gasp!), I was eight years old. I remember watching the World Series between the Orioles and the Pirates. I distinctly remember the play where Frank Robinson slid underneath a leaping Manny Sanguillen to win game 6 of the Series.  Unfortunately, the O’s were unable to take game 7, but fortunately they had gained a lifelong fan. From that point, I became hooked with the game of baseball. The good, the bad, and the ugly over the last 40-plus years as an Orioles fan.

My love for sports transitioned every season, from baseball to football to basketball, and back again. I became obsessed with statistics, history, and overall intricacies of the game.  I remembered that Tony Chevez was the second Nicaraguan to play in the major leagues after Dennis Martinez, but couldn’t remember insignificant things like homework, algebra or history.  I was fortunate enough to be at two of the most famous games in Orioles history:  The “Tonight, Let it Be Lowenstein” 1st game of the 1979 playoffs, where Brother Lo hit a walk-off (then called a game-winning) home run off of John Montague to win it for the home team; and the Doug DeCinces “Ain’t the Beer Cold” game that same year, which began the era of “Orioles Magic”. I listened on the radio when Brooks Robinson, in a pinch-hit role, hit a walk-off home run (which would be his last). I listened when Dave Criscione hit a walk-off to win a game. Why do I remember these things? Passion. Obsession. The love of a game, and a team.

I remember watching the Colts in the Bert Jones/Joe Thomas era, remembering when Thomas fired Ted Marchibroda after a 1-4 start and then rehiring him after the outcry from Jones and others. The team reeled off nine straight wins and won the division. I stuck with the Colts through thick and thin, until that dreadful night when they left for good.  I then chose a different “favorite” team to root for, but when the Ravens came to B-more, I cheered for them, while remaining loyal to my favorite team. 

I remember Memorial Stadium. Parking in someone’s back yard (remembering the elderly lady somewhere between 60 and 125 years old yelling out “park…park…three dollars”, trying to make a few bucks), or parking at Lake Montebello and walking down to the park. The fact that people actually went there to watch THE GAME, not the crab shuffle, not the condiment races, and DEFINITELY not doing “The Wave”. 20,000 fans at Memorial Stadium were louder than 45,000 at Camden Yards.  Loyalty, enthusiasm and the love of a team was why we went, not to do business.  Getting at the park five minutes before game time and getting a field box ticket for $15, only a few rows from the field. Rex Barney on the PA system, telling the ushers to “Give that fan a contract”!. That was Orioles baseball. And although I enjoy Oriole Park, I will always miss the times at Memorial Stadium, even before the days of Wild Bill Hagy and section 34. 

I wasn’t able to see the Colts as much, but I would watch them or listen to them every Sunday. The game that comes to mind for me was a Monday night football matchup that the Colts won (With Mike Kirkland at QB), after losing their first two games by a combined 70-0 score. Bert Jones was injured on a cheap shot by Al “Bubba” Baker during the pre-season, which led to the “rise” of Bill Troup and Mike Kirkland as the “quarterbacks of the future”. (tongue firmly in cheek).  Joe Washington was the halfback during this time, and had an amazing game to lead the Colts to victory, one of the few they had that season. Watching the other team try and tackle Washington with his “tear-away” jersey (outlawed later that season, probably because of this game), was humorous and exciting. Unfortunately there was very little excitement from the team the rest of that year, or the next few years until the untimely departure of the team for good.

Watching what has happened to baseball and football over the last 40 or so years has tainted my appeal for the game, but will NEVER take my passion away. For example, can you imagine in the 1970’s, Earl Weaver coming out to the mound and saying, “OK Jim, you’ve thrown 110 pitches, time to come out”?  Palmer would have laughed him off of the mound.  Think about how the game has changed. Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale would be considered “headhunters” in this era of sports, because they would “brush off” batters. The strike zone has shrunken considerably, and each umpire calls the game differently.  Not to mention the artificial turf, newfangled stadiums, etc.

Football is no less guilty.  Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, etc, would be either broke or owing the league money because of the fines they would receive for all of their massive hits. They made their careers, and the Hall of Fame because of their brutality. . And bounties? I’m sure they’ve been around for decades. Ask Gino Marchetti, who had his leg broken in the 1958 championship game.  How would Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Bart Starr, etc. fare in today’s game, with the watered-down rules to increase scoring?

In conclusion, baseball and football have their ups and downs. But the positives outweigh the negatives a hundred-fold, at least in my mind.  They are a passion, an addiction, an obsession that I can’t, and don’t want, to quit. Sports is a release, a way to increase camaraderie between friends and total strangers. I have instilled my love for the game to my sons, showing them not only the new ways, but the old-school ways of how the games are played and should be played. Sports is love, passion, excitement, and most of all, it is life.