Maybe it was just a coincidence that Washington’s and Baltimore’s baseball teams met on the field of battle last week, just when we were commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Monocacy.
The Civil War — now that was a real rivalry still being waged in places like Washington and Lee University, where students want the Confederate flags removed and the university renamed for Spike Lee instead of the General (I made up that last part).
The Washington-Baltimore sports rivalry isn’t as bitter for the following reasons.
1. Because Washington’s and Baltimore’s teams are in different leagues and conferences, they play each other too infrequently.
The NFL Redskins play in the NFC; the Ravens play in the AFC. The Major League Baseball Nationals play in the National League; the Orioles are in the American League. Last week’s four interleague games between the Nats and the O’s are it for the season. Meanwhile, the Redskins and Ravens can go years without meeting. It’s hard to build a rivalry between teams that don’t play each other.
2. Baltimore doesn’t have enough pro teams to keep the rivalry going.
Washington has major league teams in football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey and soccer. Baltimore has only football and baseball. It has minor league ice hockey and soccer teams, but I can’t remember their names.
3. The sports rivalry is one-sided; Baltimore fans hate D.C.’s teams, but D.C. fans are oblivious, which just makes Baltimore angrier.
Baltimore, battling its chronic inferiority complex, has become D.C.’s Brooklyn, a bedroom community commuting down Interstate 95 every morning. It’s the town where quarterback John Elway refused to play, the town that the Colts abandoned and the town that lost its NBA Bullets franchise to Prince George’s County. When the Reagan administration’s list of top terrorists targets didn’t include Baltimore, a miffed mayor Donald Schaefer fumed that his city was worthy of terrorist attack.
And here’s what The Baltimore Sun’s editorial page wrote when the Redskins won the 1983 Super Bowl: “Congratulations to the Washington Redskins for bringing cheer to a joyless town. This collection of un-drafted rookies, rejects and retreads, the nearest thing to an all-volunteer army, beat the great Miami Dolphins. Even Washington can be No. 1 for the first time in 41 years.”
Baltimore fans root for “whoever’s playing the Redskins,” while D.C. fans view Baltimore’s teams as just another game. D.C.-area fans find Baltimore “quaint” with its crab cakes and Bromo Tower, a city that doesn’t appear on the Weather Channel map, a place they fly over on their way to New York.
Rivalry, no. Animosity, yes. Orioles manager Buck Showwalter opened some old wounds during last week’s series saying, “You realize how big an (sports market) area this was for the Orioles before our owner (Peter Angelos) was kind enough to let the (Nats) have a team here.” Buck, stick to managing.
The battle over who controls the Washington/Baltimore sports market has been raging for decades. Back in 1954, the Washington Senators let Baltimore acquire the Orioles in exchange for $300,000 and some advertising revenue. Subsequently, the Senators abandoned D.C. for Minnesota and then, later, a replacement Senators team fled to Texas, leaving D.C. without baseball for 34 years.
In 2005, when the Montreal Expos relocated to D.C., the Orioles’ owner, Angelos, got most of the Nats games’ TV revenue subject to future adjustment. Now, when that adjustment is due, Angelos is stonewalling the Lerner family, who own the Nats. Nice.
Meanwhile, back in 1985, when Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams threatened to move the Orioles to D.C., the state’s taxpayers rescued Baltimore by building the Camden Yards stadium and giving the O’s a longterm, sweetheart lease.
The battle over football is even more contentious. When Bob Irsay moved the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins’ owner, tried cornering the Washington/Baltimore market by moving the Redskins from D.C. to Laurel, in the middle of the football fan base.
After all, reasoned the Redskins, if the Orioles can serve the entire Washington/Baltimore baseball market, why can’t the Redskins serve the entire football market? But Maryland Gov. Donald Schaefer would have none of it — the state will build a Redskins stadium in Baltimore, but nowhere else in Maryland, said Schaefer, the first American governor to reject an NFL franchise!
So, instead, Cooke built his own NFL stadium in Landover. Subsequently, after years of complaining about their Colts being hijacked, Baltimore turned around and swiped the Browns from Cleveland and the state built Baltimore a football stadium right next to Camden Yards.
The intrastate animosity even extends to college sports. Baltimore has never fully supported University of Maryland sports because the Terps play in College Park, not Baltimore. And recruiting Baltimore athletes has always been tough for the Terps. As a peace offering, the University plays some big Terps football games in Baltimore, which only infuriates D.C.-area Terps fans.
The two regions couldn’t even work together on attracting the 2012 Olympics. Should they apply as the Washington-Baltimore partnership or as the Baltimore-Washington partnership? When they couldn’t agree on a name, the effort died.
Still, the two regions’ semi-rivalry has its moments of humor. At last week’s Monday night game in D.C., the camera caught a couple decked out in opposing colors: he in an orange Orioles jersey, she in a red Nats jersey. She stood waving a sign that read: “We dated before he told me.”
Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His past columns are available at www.gazette.net/blairlee. His email address is email@example.com.