“Why Not” really gave Baltimoreans something to be excited about. Even though the Orioles did not win the division, their tremendous growth in just one season, gave them hope.
After all, we only had baseball to be proud of in this town. After failed attempts to lure the Cardinals’ football organization to move to Baltimore in the late ’80’s, it looked as if we would never get an NFL team in the Charm City.
The Orioles failed to capitalize on the success of the ’89 season. The team’s batting average was just .245 during the 1990 season, and Dave Johnson and Ben McDonald were the only two regular starting pitchers who had records over .500. In fact, Johnson and Gregg Olson were the only two Orioles who live up to their expectations during the ’90 season.
O’s fans showed up in record numbers in 1991 as Memorial Stadium saw its final Oriole game. Oriole players from years past showed up to bid farewell to a place once referred to as “The World’s Biggest Insane Asylum.” The day was filled with lots of emotion and uncertainty. O’s fans were not sure if the new “Yard” could provide the same atmosphere as 33rd Street.
’92 was the season of new beginnings. It marked Johnny Oates’ first full-season as O’s skipper, the first season in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and the first season above .500 in three years. The season also proved to be a new beginning for O’s lead-off hitter, Brady Anderson.
After flirting with the possibility of playing in Japan, Brady truly turned his career around in ’92. In one season, Brady raised his batting average 41 points, home runs went up by 19, rbi by 53, and 41 more stolen bases. Brady became the perfect lead-off hitter for the Orioles.
The decade also began by drafting the team’s eventual ace as well, Mike Mussina. Mussina also saw a breakthrough year in ’92. Mussina went 18-5 with a 2.54 era while pitching 241 innings.
The O’s future was starting to look bright with an array of youth, veterans, and lots of revenue with the best stadium in MLB. In 1993, Baltimore businessman Peter Angelos bought the team, and promised to do the necessary things to make the franchise a contender for years to come. The team responded with two more winning seasons before falling off in ’95 with a losing record.
In ’96, the O’s made lots of moves and spent even more money and the results were the team making it into the post-season for the first time in 13 years.
1996 also marked the first year Baltimore had an NFL team since the 1983 football season. Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and changed the name of the team to the Ravens. The team used two first-round draft picks to select Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis. While the team only went 24-39-1 during the decade, the city was resuscitated by the NFL returning to Baltimore.
Baltimore was, once again, a two major sports town. Though the Orioles only had two play-off appearances in the decade, and the Ravens had none, fans had the privilege to cheer for two teams.
However, the decade ended with two franchises apparently going in two different directions. The Orioles just completed their second consecutive losing seasons after going wire-to-wire in ’97. The team was loaded with big salaries, but a bad roster.
With the Ravens, ’99 marked Brian Billick’s first season as a head coach and the team’s first non-losing season. The Ravens had what the Orioles had in the middle of the decade, youth to build with and veterans to assume leadership. It started to look as if Baltimore was becoming a football town.
Wow, who was the King of Baltimore Sports during the 1990’s? Though the Ravens only played four-years in Baltimore, Ray Lewis was clearly the bright young star, not only in Baltimore, but in the NFL. There was no doubt, as the decade ended, Ray Lewis was on his way to becoming the King of Football in Baltimore.
Cal Ripken’s assault on baseball’s consecutive game streak in 1995 captured the attention of the entire sports world. While the decade gave O’s fans Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, BJ Surhoff, Mussina, and others, Ripken’s accomplishments during the decade, clearly made him the King of Baseball in Baltimore.
So, Ripken, Lewis, or someone else? Who was the King of Baltimore Sports in the ’90’s? Let’s talk about it.
Final installment of this series with be on Monday.