Our hometown is a pretty unique place, and the locals have some cool ways of showing that uniqueness. For instance, take our adorable ritual of yelling “Oh!” at the top of our lungs during the singing of the national anthem.
But something else Baltimore sports fans do that’s not so cool is hold a grudge against any and all perceived slights. A recent example played out at Camden Yards in September involving a visiting player on the verge of retiring after a terrific 14-year career. And this episode jogged my memory to the most downright dumb grudge Baltimoreans held against anyone in sports.
Local boy Mark Teixeira is finishing up a wonderful career, the last eight years with the dreaded New York Yankees. Eight and a half years ago, when he was looking for a long-term, free-agent contract, the Orioles were eight years into their 14 seasons in purgatory. Needless to say, Teixeira was seen by a lot of O’s fans as a perfect first step in what would still be another three to four seasons of a rebuild.
But Teixeira was already six seasons into his big league career. When he signed with the Yankees for eight years and $180 million, he was looking for a lot of things out of his next contract. He wanted length, dollars and to win. Well, when it’s baseball and the dollars are going to be roughly the same over a five-year period, but the team with 26 World Series titles offers you eight years and approximately $60 million more in compensation, who would you have picked?
But for eight years, whenever the Yankees came to Baltimore, whenever Teixeira’s name was announced over the loudspeaker, the “boo birds” were predictably out, loud and clear.
By far, Baltimore’s all-time sports small-mindedness centers on Hall of Famer, two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback John Elway. Drafted No. 1 overall by the Baltimore Colts, Elway coming out of Stanford was Mickey Mantle and Johnny Unitas all rolled into one.
Elway was going to be the key to a turnaround for the Colts. At least that’s what the disaffected fans of the blue-and-white thought. After all, by April of ’83, when Elway was drafted, owner Robert Irsay had been exposed as a buffoon and a drunk, and the fans had turned against him.
Elway’s father, Jack, was a Division I head football coach at California State University, Northridge and San Jose State University. He knew and coached against Frank Kush, then the Colts’ head football coach. Not only were Jack and John gun-shy about ending up in a Baltimore that had Irsay as the principal owner of the football team, but Jack didn’t want to have his son play for Kush.
Some of you will remember that John Elway — like Tim Tebow today — had been quite a baseball player in high school. As a hedge against the Colts and a means of trying to get himself traded away from the Colts, Elway played for a Yankees farm team in Oneonta, N.Y., in 1982.
The story goes, according to former Colts general manager Ernie Accorsi, that despite all the angst about playing for Irsay and Kush, Elway was ready to sign with the Colts. But Irsay, tiring of negotiating against a young player with a world of leverage, traded him to the Denver Broncos.
Less than a year later, the Colts were on to Indianapolis, and Baltimore was left with a bitter breakup. But a breakup that was somehow Elway’s fault?
When I talk to people who were rabid Colts fans, they still hate Elway. I even remember when Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome was able to “steal” Elvis Dumervil away from Elway at the last minute of a somewhat contentious negotiation between Elway and Dumervil, a bunch of Ravens fans of a certain age were happy Newsome stuck it to Elway.
But if you dig under the surface, you may remember Newsome, who played for the Browns, was on the losing end of two bitter losses to the Broncos, mostly due to Elway’s heroics.
Seems, like Baltimore, Newsome has quite a memory, too.
Stan “The Fan” Charles is the founder and publisher of PressBox.
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