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How to make sure the Orioles become “lovable losers”

Remember and repeat, Birdland: true love is an unconditional state.

hagy

The perennially losing O’s should build on their strengths – a great stadium and fans, like Wild Bill Hagy, who will love them no matter what.

Photo by: Baltimore or Less

There are two kinds of chronic losers, the kind you love and the kind that are just annoying.

Here are some points to remember if we want to make sure the O’s stay lovable, even as the stain of a decade and a half of constant losing becomes increasingly ingrained in our municipal psyche.

1. Of all major league sports, baseball is the most local.
That’s why The Brew covers it more. The NFL can cajole almost any football fan to watch almost any game, but baseball fans remain fiercely partisan. No matter how much the Orioles lose, Baltimoreans still care more about whether Nolan Reimold and Robert Andino can rise to competent mediocrity than they do about A-Rod, Jeter and the rest of the Yanks.

2. As such, baseball is the most like real life.
The Lords of Baseball long ago realized that to maximize total revenue, they had to let the big boys (you know, New York and Boston) spend as much as they wished and dominate the league. Likewise fans there tend to think the rest of the world revolves around their towns. (Hey, Saux fans, nobody else really cares about Boston.)

3. Baseball teams thus reflect their communities.
New Yorkers really are as obnoxious as their Yankees. Toronto and Tampa Bay residents are oblivious to the Jays and Rays – and the Baseball World Order feels the same way about them. Bostonites chauvinistically preserve ancient Fenway Park the same way they protect precious Beacon Hill and the North End. Ancient Wrigley Field is at the heart of the traditionally toney north side of Chicago. Appearance-conscious age-denying Angelinos smugly care for the doddering Dodgers and Angels stadiums which, through attrition, have now become the third and fourth oldest in the game.

4. MLB inflates the meek hopes of the also-rans.
For the first time this year, Major League Baseball will have two wild card teams in each league, so the Orioles can now finish as low as third place and still have a chance to go the World Series. (As far as I know, I was the first person in the world to propose this, two years ago in The Brew.)

5. Aiming lovably low, Dan Duquette deflates dreams.
Our new general manager has staked out a modest goal: a .500 season. This is quite a contrast to Andy MacPhail’s grand delusions of a year ago. MacPhail went out and got Vlad Guerrero, who proved to be washed up. (Though the last vestiges of his former bat magic did deliver some pleasurable moments.) Duquette has resisted grabbing this year’s “Vlad,” old Johnny Damon, best known for his clubhouse comaraderie in the grand tradition of another former Red Sox “idiot” and Orioles dead-ender, Kevin Millar.

6. There are always shining lights.
OK, so Matt Wieters hasn’t become Johnny Bench and Adam Jones isn’t Joe DiMaggio. But it’s still wonderful watching them play the game against the gorgeous backdrop of Camden Yards and that magnificent warehouse. On the other hand, Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis play ugly, which is why we got them cheap. Maybe they’ll make home plate a viable alternative for the state’s wind farm site, but maybe they can also still win us some games.

7. “This is Birdland!”
Over the years, there has been a once subtle, but now obvious, shift from promoting the chronic loser Orioles to promoting the stadium. You see it in the copious use of banners around Camden Yards, the nurturing and upgrading of the plazas around the center field bullpens, the left field flag court and Eutaw Street. Don’t just go for the game-play, go for the “total fan experience!”

8.) Birdland is Baltimore.
The City of Baltimore is as much of an underachiever as our baseball team. Loving our loser team is wrapped in loving our town, just as Old Wrigleyville stands at the back of Chicago’s North Shore gold coast and Old Fenway stands at the back of the Back Bay. The Cubs and Red Sox were both lovable losers for a long time (until the Sox became obnoxious winners), and their historic stadiums were the headquarters of their support groups. Now they’re fashionable.

9. Camden Yards is baseball’s best park.
Baltimore started the urban ballpark revolution 20 years ago. Baltimore needs to embrace the urbanity and build the city around it. Those parking lots, and the freeway and railway air spaces beyond the warehouse, should become more people places, built around public streets with still more banners, to enable true disciples to be as close to the hallowed ground as possible. Oriole Park is but a starting point, married to the stadium of our winning Ravens and ultimately – seamlessly – to the entire city.

10) True love is an unconditional state.
“And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” (Lennon-McCartney)

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  • Girard31

    The love the Orioles have taken from me certainly has not been returned in kind.

  • Gerald Neily

    I’m afraid our normally brilliant editor Fern missed my point. I’d say Wild Bill Hagy’s blue collar baseball schtick is pretty much dead. After all, he ended up boycotting the team because they no longer let him bring a beer cooler into the stadium. His idea of the “fan experience” was something akin to the Preakness infield 81 times a year. If that’s “die hard”, I want no part of it. I’d rather have the yuppies yapping on their cell phones.

    • Anonymous

      See how conflicted Orioles fans are? They don’t even want to admit their fan-hood! Yes, yes, Gerry I know, “Die-hard” overstates it and it’s all more nuanced and subtle and complicated, etc., etc. SO I have tweaked this description. What can I say, I know few people who follow the O’s more intimately than you . . . – fs

  • GMan

    These thoughts are lovely, but Peter Angelos still owns this team. That truth, above all else, makes the ‘lovable’ moniker unattainable. 

    A savvy business-minded owner in the late ’90s would have understood, via the Yankees work with YES network, the power of a team-owned TV station, coupled with the Orioles’ geographic reach, which stretched from Harrisburg to Charlotte and included two major metropolitan centers. There was an opportunity to take the free-spending days of the ’96 and ’97 playoff runs and build a Mid-Atlantic baseball financial and competitive power to last a generation. And what happens? The Orioles are instead handcuffed by Angelos, who, while a fine class-action lawyer in terms of monetary volume, is one of the worst business developers Baltimore has ever been cursed with. And, his work with the Orioles is just the high-profile tip of his failure iceberg. Look at his fiefdom on the Westside, look at 1 Charles Center, or Boccaccio’s in Little Italy. Real fans know its hard to get behind the ‘lovable’ Birds when its Angelos’ willful negligence and vindictiveness that has kept the team in the AL East cellar, and not some fanciful whim of the baseball gods. Since I doubt he’ll sell the team in his lifetime, The only glimmer of hope is that, when his sons take over, they’ll want to bask in the civic love denied to them for so long and properly invest in the team, much like Jim Irsay Jr. and Rocky Wirtz did when they took over thei respective franchises from their insane fathers. One can only pray. 

  • Barnadine the Pirate

    I so agree with the suggestion in #9 — add more people spaces around the ballpark.

    In the abstract, I prefer baseball to football. However, when I watch a Ravens game I have a reasonable expectation of seeing a win. When I watch an Orioles game, I don’t even have a reasonable expectation of seeing competence.

  • Westside Resident

    Angelos is old. Estate taxes are high. I smell a sale in the near future. 

  • Unellu

    The most boring thing that ever happened to humans is baseball–and  Americans have the guts to say the game of Cricket is boring!  Come on!   The best thing about going to a baseball stadium is people watching.  I’ll vote with the streaker any day–he’s a winner.  The Baltimore police is always after the wrong guy.

  • Marc

    “Baltimore needs to embrace the urbanity and build the city around it.
    Those parking lots, and the freeway and railway air spaces beyond the
    warehouse, should become more people places, built around public streets
    with still more banners, to enable true disciples to be as close to the
    hallowed ground as possible.”

    Hells yeah! In any case… happy, happy 20th anniversary, Camden Yards! Not since before
    WWII have ballparks (like Fenway and Wrigley)
    captured the sense of beauty, thrill, and
    delight that Camden Yards offers! Contrary to the musings of the “edgy” and soulless glass-and-steel fashionistas, I hope determinedly-urban and optimistic ballparks like Camden Yards continue to shape the future of baseball!

    • Gerald Neily

      Thanks for the seconds, Bernadine and Marc, and the link to the Atlantic Cities blog. I disagree with it, as seems to be usual. Some of the newer postmodern ballparks like San Francisco and Pittsburgh are pretty great in their own ways. It would be ridiculous if designers were still imitating Camden Yards as blatantly as Cleveland did. HOK (or whatever they’re called now) has gotten way too much credit for designing both of them. HOK originally proposed yet another awful ashtray stadium at Camden Yards but got the contract from the Stadium Authority anyway. It was actually my urban design colleagues in the City Planning Department, Ernie Caldwell and Don Duncan, who quietly pushed for the retro concept built around the warehouse.

      BTW I just watched the Tigers crush the Red Sox 10-0 on TV. The Red Sox appear to have NO DEPTH this year, either hitting or pitching. The back end of their lineup is totally lame, and the Yanks are getting OLD !!!! Dean, I hope you get the last laugh at my customary cynicism about the O’s.

  • Marc

    Good point on Caldwell and Duncan: I had heard a rumor that the idea for a traditional urban ballpark didn’t really come from a top-down design firm (they’re usually preoccupied with “edgy” nonsense) but rather from a bunch of individuals that pressured HOK to change what would have otherwise been a boring, conventional design.

    I guess the rumor was true! Just goes to show that we should expect the best ideas to emerge from individuals rather than from top-down, corporate drones. I even heard that the ‘retro’ (actually progressive) idea for Camden Yards actually came from an architecture or planning student’s thesis project and that this idea gradually made its way into the planning department, from which it made its way to HOK. Anyone know the story behind this or if this was actually true? It’d be nice to give that individual the credit rather than apportioning it all to the HOK corporate drones.

  • Marc

    Never mind, I found it:
    http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-07-08/news/1993189053_1_camden-yards-maryland-stadium-authority-yards-ballpark

    Eric Moss, an architecture student at Syracuse developed an idea for an urban-friendly Orioles ballpark way back in ’87. Course there were plenty of other architects, urban designers, and planners that refined the idea afterward (or even developed similar ideas quite on their own), but that project by Moss was arguably the design spark that solidified all the abstract ideas for a traditional ballpark. Pic and more detailed story here (scroll down):
    http://sumagazine.syr.edu/archive/fall03/features/feature2/

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