As we continue to examine the KOBS by the decade, we look at the ’80’s. This was a very difficult period for professional sports in the Baltimore-Metro area. This was a decade that saw the demise of a once proud football franchise, the climatic ending to a baseball powerhouse, and a search for true-identity as a sports town.
The decade began with the football team introducing, yet another, new coach. Mike McCormick was ushered in to lead the Baltimore Colts back toward the top of the NFL. In his first season, the team went 7-9, which was an improvement to the two previous seasons that saw the team go a combined 10-22.
However, the Colts took a huge step backward the very next year. While having the League’s worst defense, and one of the least productive offenses, the Colts finished at 2-14. To add insult to injury, the team ended up winning the final game of the season. This was a game that received national attention, because it was for the number one draft pick in the NFL Draft. The Colts won the game, but lost the pick.
Later that year, once Colts poster kid, Bert Jones, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated along with Rams owner Georgia Frontiere. The cover read, “She’s Got Her Man.” Jones was now the new quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams. With that move, the Colts became almost unrecognizable to the city of Baltimore. The franchise tried to tie its anchor to John Elway in 1983, but Elway’s refusal to sign with the team was the final blow. Owner Bob Irsay moved the team to Indianapolis after the ’83 season, leaving the city of Baltimore without an NFL team for the first time in over 30 years.
The city quickly became a one-major sport city. The Orioles completed their second consecutive 100-win season in 1980, but finished three games behind the New York Yankees and failed to make it to the post-season.
The ’81 season was shortened by a baseball strike, but that didn’t stop Oriole fans from having hope in the future with the emergence of young super star, Eddie Murray. Murray finished among the league leaders in home runs and rbi in the strike shortened year of ’81, and continued his power surge in 1982.
The ’82 season began with O’s fans knowing it was to be manager Earl Weaver’s final season as skipper. The push from players and fans was to make the “Earl of Baltimore” a winner in his final year. The O’s came one game shy of that when they lost to the Milwaukee Brewers on the final game of the season.
The next year, the Orioles, with almost the entire team in place, won the World Series, and looked to have the makings of a new dynasty.
That was not to be. Age began to catch up with the Orioles, and the once potent dual of Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein, stopped producing behind Murray. In ’84 the team had pitching and no hitting, and in ’85 they had hitting and no pitching.
The winning ways ended in ’86 and seemingly, so did the love affair with Eddie Murray. Murray appeared to carry the weight of the fan’s frustrations. The team continued to slide in ’87 and hit rock bottom in ’88. Murray was dealt to the Dodgers and Oriole fans thought, “Why Not?”
The decade ended, almost, with a bang. The 1989 season was a special one, as the scrappy Orioles clawed their way into contention in the AL East. They battled the Toronto Blue Jays to the very last day, before losing and finishing in second place.
Still, the team gave fans some hope and something to look forward to. The season represented more than just coming close, it also represented falling short. That seemed to be the theme of the entire decade. The team won the World Series in 1983, but fell short more often than not in the other seasons.
Downtown, there was a new movement going on. The Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team began to pick up some momentum. The franchise began playing in 1980, but as the Colts struggled, fans began to pick up on this game and started following the team.
With three consecutive championship appearances in ’83, ’84, and ’85, the Blast began to establish a tradition of excellence of their own. While they weren’t considered a “mainstream” sport, they had their own cult following. Players like Tim Wittman, Mike Stankovic, Keith Von Eron, Paul Kitson, Scott Manning, and Billy Ronson were putting over 10,000 people in the stands. The Blast became a player in Baltimore.
It’s really difficult to say who the King was during this decade. Cal Ripken, Jr.? Maybe you can say Eddie Murray for what he was at the beginning of the decade. It is very difficult to name a member of the Colts as King during this time. Regardless of what they did, I don’t think it will be given to a member of the Blast.
It’s up to you to decide. The King of Baltimore Sports for the ’80’s. I look forward to hearing from you.
Part 4 of 5 on Chicken Box Friday.