The word Baltimore conjures up many images, depending on who you ask. If you are a fan of movies or television, you might immediately come up with titles such as “Diner”, “Homicide: Life on the Street” or “The Wire.” Music fans would recognize such diverse talents as Eubie Blake, Frank Zappa, David Byrne or even Mario. It just depends on your frame of reference.
For most sports fans 50 or younger outside of the Baltimore area, the word is usually followed by one of three responses: Colts, Orioles or Ravens. Each of the three name combinations provokes a different response: Johnny Unitas and the black high-top shoes for the Colts, most likely Cal Ripken and “The Streak” for the Orioles and Ray Lewis and the Super Bowl XXXV champions for the Ravens.
For those of us who grew up in Baltimore and identified closely with the city name and the teams, the responses are more individual and personal based on age and what kinds of sports were followed. That is why the “King of Baltimore Sports” has spurred such intense debate about who is worthy to be included in the list of the top 32 names of the last 50-plus years. Each name is a memory and each big game is a shared moment across a city and region.
It is in that spirit of civic pride against the seeming love affair by the national sports media with all things New York and Boston along with the natural Baltimore fans’ hatred of sports teams from Pittsburgh, Washington and Philadelphia that the leaked announcement of a change in uniforms for the Orioles has brought some measure of joy to those who root, root, root for the home team in the most passionate of ways.
The word “Baltimore” will return to the Orioles’ road jerseys in 2009 for the first time since the end of the 1972 season. Again, in the eye of the beholder this is either a big deal or much ado about nothing. If you are in your mid-40s, you can remember a time when the brothers Robinson along with Weaver, Palmer, etc., wore the orange city name across the grey road uniforms during the team’s glory years. If you are younger than 40, most likely your baseball memories have “Orioles” on every uniform, home and road, including the days of Ripken and Murray.
It is no different than the split of football memories in Baltimore, the Colts of 1953-83 and the place they held in the collective identity of a city in the late 1950s and 1960s and the current Ravens, here since the 1996 season. Older fans have the world championships of 1958, 1959 and 1970 and the many hall of famers to reminisce about, and fans today have a rebirth of football in Baltimore and a Super Bowl title to go with it.
In between those two eras was the civic despair of having the name Colts ripped from the word Baltimore in the middle of the night, and the attempt of the NFL to stuff the Washington Redskins down the throat of a still-raw city in the interim between Colts and Ravens.
All of this drama could be contained in a museum — the one NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue wanted the city to build instead of trying to regain membership in the league. The museum was built, but not the one Tagliabue wanted. Sports Legends at Camden Yards stands a tribute to all things sports in the history of Baltimore in the heart of a city skyline changed by its professional teams. It is there we can remember and discover the past while walking to the future at Oriole Park and M&T Bank Stadium. And it is there where your selection of King of Baltimore Sports will be crowned later this summer.
What’s in a name? In the memories and the debate about the 32 finalists for the honor, we salute the all of the names on the backs of the jerseys that carried the cheers and hopes of those who were represented by one word attached to each one of them, regardless of sport, nickname or colors — Baltimore.