One fight remains. Who wins?

April 22, 2008 | Drew Forrester

It’s very evident these days.  The Orioles are trying.

They’re trying VERY hard, in fact, to repair the community-relations damage they’ve done over the last half dozen years or so.

This time last year, there’s no way you would have seen Steve McNair (Friday) and John Harbaugh (Sunday) appearing at ceremonies at OPACY, invited and hosted by the Orioles.  For years, jealous of the fandom the Ravens have generated, the Birds went out of their way to act as if the city didn’t have a football team.  Now, perhaps since the city spends most of the spring and summer acting as if there’s no baseball team to root for, the O’s have finally figured out it’s better to embrace the football team than fight them.

I’ve been saying it for the last 9 months or so:  The Orioles are making MAJOR strides in their community/PR efforts.  Sure, they still fib about their attendance.  Sure, they still mistreat certain members of the media that aren’t willing to see everything through the orange colored glasses they pass out to a number of press folks in the OPACY press box.  And, yes, they’re partially responsible for their diminished ticket sales with archaic policies like not allowing players and personnel to appear on radio and TV stations that aren’t part of their tight-knit “rights holders” network.

So, yes, they still have issues to iron out.

But, at least since Andy MacPhail took over last June, the team has made an obvious effort to repair the damage they’ve done in the Baltimore baseball community.

Their Orioles REACH program looks to be the most well-organized, thorough community relations endeavor they’ve produced in a long, long time.  Bringing inner city children to games…making player appearances at local schools…having O’s players buy tickets and host military veterans/families at the ballpark.  It’s all good stuff.  And they’re doing a lot of it these days.

For years, people in town would say, “the Orioles PR sucks” and the team would – surprise, surprise – fight anyone who said that.  They looked foolish, of course, because their PR efforts were, in fact, virtually non-existent and people in town figured it out. 

Finally, though, they gave in and recognized that the fans were right.  Their PR efforts were in dire need of repair and once they admitted that, they could then go about the process of fixing it.

Part of the Orioles public position has always been about “winning the fight”.  For some reason – and no other team in America operates like this – the Orioles would rather fight with their fans and WIN those battles (even when they’re wrong) then sometimes do the right thing for the fans and LOSE the fight.

Fighting with the Ravens?  Dumb.  For years, they tried to win that fight, but with last weekend’s events with McNair and Harbaugh, it’s obvious the fight is over and the Orioles have thrown in the towel.

Fighting with the fans?  Dumb.  Dumb and Dumber, in fact. 

Well, there’s one more fight left for the Orioles this spring. 

And, it’s a heavyweight bout between the club and the fans of Baltimore.

“In this corner, wearing the orange and black shorts with the word BALTIMORE crossed out, it’s…the Orioles!”

“And, in this corner, wearing shorts with the phrase, “Treat us right”, it’s…the FANS!”

This is the big fight. 

It’s pay-per-view material.

Why is it so big?

Because for years now, the Orioles have eschewed the wisdom of putting BALTIMORE back on the road jerseys.  In 1995, the team removed the word BALTIMORE from the club’s official logo. Since then, they’ve tried to hoodwink the local baseball community by telling us removing BALTIMORE from the team’s logo and other materials is about branding, awareness and regionalization.  For a while, people bought it.

They’re not buying it anymore. 

And, nor should they.

It’s no longer about branding.  It’s about being right.  It’s about winning the fight.

The team KNOWS they’d make a lot of people happy if they make the change before next month’s deadline and restore the word BALTIMORE to the team’s away jerseys in ’09. 

They KNOW it’s the right thing to do.

But, and here’s the rub, they also KNOW if they give in, they lose the final fight that really matters.

This is the one fight they still control. 

The only question left:  Will the team finally give in and do the right thing?  Or will they stay the course and show everyone “who’s boss”?

Well, we know who’s boss.  They run the club.  We get that.

But doing the right thing is a totally different subject.  Sometimes doing the right thing comes at the expense of doing something you don’t want to do. 

If they do the right thing in May and put BALTIMORE back on the road jerseys for ’09, we’ll know for sure – finally – that they’re no longer interested in winning the fight even if it’s harmful to the fans.