Saturday, September 20, 2008
CHARM CITY SPORTS HISTORY
Baltimore may be known today for crab cakes, or perhaps the Orioles and Ravens, to many tourists. The city is much more than that. It was where our National Anthem was born, it is where the first Washington Monument was erected (Baltimore was once known as "monument city" due to its skyline), and was an integral part of Americas success in the fight for Independence in the Revolutionary War. The British called the city a "nest of pirates". It has survived enemy occupancy, devastating fires, and riots. The people have maintained in such fine fashion that it is long known as Charm City. Sports have been a very big part of the history of Baltimore.
Baseball has always been king in Baltimore. The very first Orioles team was formed in 1882 and lasted until 1899. This team invented the famous "Baltimore Chop", "small ball" and the first no-hitter from 60 feet 6 inches was thrown by an Oriole pitcher. Some notable players on that club were John McGraw, Wee Willie Keeler, Hughie Jennings, and Joe Kelley. They also played soccer in the winter months to stay in shape. They then became the first U.S. Soccer Champions, but never defended their title due to the inability to organize the event for several reasons. In 1899, the National League eliminated the Orioles. John McGraw formed a Oriole team in the American League in 1901. The Orioles stayed in Baltimore for two seasons before becoming the New York Highlanders. A minor league team was formed in 1903 and were also called the Orioles. This team employed local hero Babe Ruth in 1914. There was another minor league team in Baltimore called the Terrapins. Their popularity forced the Orioles to disband after 1914. Ruth was sold to the Boston Red Sox after being turned down by the Philadelphia A's (wanna talk about a curse?). The Terrapins were disbanded after 1915. The Orioles would reform in the minor leagues in 1916 and lasted until 1953. That is when the Saint Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and were renamed the Orioles and now occupy Camden Yards. Coincidentally, Babe Ruth's house, where he was born, sat in the general area of center field in Camden Yards.
The Baltimore Black Sox were first formed in 1916 as an independent team and stayed that way until 1922. In 1923, they joined the Eastern Colored League. They stayed in that league until 1928. They then joined the American Negro League for 1 season in 1929. This team featured the "Million Dollar Infield", which referred to their worth if they had caucasian skin. They won the leagues championship easily, then went back to being an independent team until 1931. Satchel Paige pitched for them in 1930. In 1932, they joined the East-West League and won the championship, then moved to the National Negro League in 1933 to 1934 , when they disbanded.
The Baltimore Elite Giants played in the Negro National League from 1938 to 1948. They won the championship in 1939. They moved over to the Negro America League in 1949 and won the championship. The league, and team, folded after 1950. The teams legacy includes Hall of Fame players Roy Capanella, Junior Gilliam, Joe Black, and Leon Day.
Football is a strong second love to many in Baltimore. There are currently two indoor teams, the Mariners and Blackbirds. They even had a Canadian Football League team, the Stallions (called the Colts by locals still upset at the NFL Colts for moving), for 2 seasons. The Stallions are the only American based team to win the CFL Championship (1995). They also had a USFL team for one year, the Stars (which had moved from Philadelphia), and won the leagues final championship game, as the league folded, in 1985.
The Colts were first formed in 1947. They played in the All American Football Conference until 1949. Though they were not strong financially, they did join the NFL in 1950 (along with the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers). They lasted one year, with Hall of Fame QB Y.A. Tittle at the helm. In 1953, the current Colts franchise was born in Baltimore. They would stay in Baltimore until 1983, when the infamous "Midnight Move" transpired on their way to Indianapolis. The BALTIMORE Colts were the first team to use cheerleaders. This team was "Americas Team". Every kid in America almost had a Johnny Unitas haircut and the team was beloved even in opposing cities. They won the NFL Championship 1958, '59, and '68. They also won Super Bowl V in 1970. They also won a conference championship in 1964 before losing to the Browns in the championship. They won division titles in 1968 (Coastal), 1970, '75', '76, and '77 (East). Several Hall of Famers played on these teams. Johnny Unitas, still considered by many to be the greatest quarterback to have ever played the game, Raymond Berry, John Mackey, Art Donovan, Ted Hendricks, Jim Parker, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti, as well as coaches Weeb Eubank and Don Shula. All of those players numbers are retired. The first Colt to have his number retired is not in Canton (but should be), Buddy Young. Young was one of the first black football players. He was diminutive, at 5'4", but blazing fast. Young once showed off his speed by beating a racehorse in a 100 yard dash inside of Memorial Stadium. Young is the shortest man to have ever played in the NFL.
The way the Colts left Baltimore was classless by Bob Irsay, and many still find his actions unforgivable to this day. It is STILL is a VERY sore subject to many in Baltimore. Coincidentally, Art Modell pulled a similar stunt on Cleveland (without the theatrics of a midnight move) with the Browns by moving them to Baltimore in 1996 and renaming them the Ravens. The Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV in 2000.
Lacrosse is also a very popular sport in the area. Though there have been 3 pro teams that failed, the Tribe, Thunder, and Bayhawks, the college scene has long boasted elite teams in Johns Hopkins and Maryland University. Hopkins has won 9 NCAA titles, 29 USILA titles, and 6 ILA titles. They also represented the United States in the 1928 and '32 Olympics. In 1974, Hopkins went to Australia to win the World Lacrosse Championships. Marylands men's team has won 2 NCAA Championships, while their women's team has won 10 NCAA Championships since 1981.
Basketball also has a rich tradition in Baltimore. The Bullets were first formed in 1944, playing in the American Basketball League until 1947. They won the 1946 championship. The Bullets joined the Basketball Association of America in 1948 and won the leagues championship. They lasted until 1949. In 1949, the BAA merged with the National Basketball League to form todays NBA. The Bullets lasted in the NBA until 1955. Hall of Famer Buddy Jeanette was a player, then coach of the team. He was succeeded by Hall of Fame coach Clair Bee. In 1963, a new Bullets team was formed in the NBA. This team lasted until 1972. The team had good success and won division titles in 1969, '71, and '72. They won the conference title in 1971 before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Finals. Hall of Famers like Wes Unseld, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Gus Johnson, and Elvin Hayes played basketball for Baltimore. In 1973, the team moved 40 miles down I-95 to Landover, Maryland and were renamed the Capital Bullets before changing it to the Washington Bullets the following season. This team is now known as the Wizards.
Soccer has done fairly well in Baltimore. The Bays were formed in 1967 in the North American Soccer League, yet dissolved in 1969. They made one championship in 1967, but lost. The Comets came into town in 1974, but left for San Diego in 1976. The Baltimore Blast was formed in 1980 and joined the Major Indoor Soccer League. They won the championship in 1983-84. The league, and team, folded in 1992. The Baltimore Spirit were formed in 1992 and joined the National Professional Soccer League. The team was renamed the Blast in 1998 and joined a newly formed Major Indoor Soccer League. The team is still playing and has won 4 championships in 2002 to 2004, then 2005-06, and 2007-08. The team has had 10 Hall of Fame players and 1 Hall of Fame coach in their organization.
Hockey had moderate success in Baltimore. The Clippers were formed in 1962 and joined the World Hockey Association. They left for the Southern Hockey League in 1977 before disbanding at seasons end. In 1975, the Blades were part of the World Hockey Association. The team folded after that season. There was a minor league hockey team called the Skipjacks. They were formed in 1981 and lasted until 1993. They were affiliated with NHL teams such as the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals. They were part of the Atlantic Coast Hockey League their inaugural year before moving to the American Hockey League. Such NHL players like Don Beaupre, Phil Bourque, and Olaf Kolzig played with them, as well as NHL coaches Claude Julien, Ted Nolan, and Michel Therrien. Steve Carlson (one of the "Hanson Brothers" in the movie Slap Shot) was also on the team. They won one championship in 1983-84. The team was relocated, and still exists today, as the Portland Pirates.
This is a brief history of sports in Charm City. If you ever find yourself in Baltimore to eat a crab cake, or to watch the Ravens, Blast, or Orioles, take time to look around and soak in the atmosphere. Baltimore is a great city full of many fine people.