My father was born in Maryland in 1902. He enjoyed sports but wasn't much of a fan. You could understand this about any Marylander who lived there in the first half of the 20th century. It was slim pickings if you were interested in championship sports played by human beings. Indeed, it is hard to imagine any state so populous and well located, possessing one of the largest cities in the nation, that had less big-time sport than Maryland did. � It is true that horses were something else again. (Would it surprise you to learn that the state's official sport is jousting?) Maryland, which is, geographically, the ninth-smallest state, had nine racetracks, strategically located, which meant that no Marylander was ever far from a $2 window. I combined my own budding journalism career with sports by leaving Baltimore's Gilman School early to take the school newspaper pages to the printers, in Pimlico, and then sneaking over to catch some races at the track. There, at Pimlico, the Preakness gave the state its one day a year in the sporting sun.
Maryland's sports life started to go to hell a few months after Daddy was born. The Baltimore Orioles had been America's most sensational team in the 19th century, but in the fall of '02 the franchise was Irsayed to New York, becoming the Highlanders (although they would subsequently earn somewhat more renown as the Yankees). Baltimore did get a franchise in the short-lived Federal League in 1914-15. But the only significant thing the Terrapins (47-107 in '15) accomplished was to sue when the Fed folded, which got the Supreme Court to declare, inscrutably, that baseball was not interstate business and, thus, should own an antitrust exemption. Sure, good for Judge Landis then and Bud Selig now, but Maryland was left with nothing but the bushes.
Poor Maryland didn't even have much in the way of college sports. The University of Maryland had a football team whose main claim to fame was that the coach, Curley Byrd, got promoted to school president. Wow! That kind of thing never even happened in pigskin provinces like Alabama or Nebraska.
Of course, if you are familiar with geography, you know that there's a rectangular area that was carved out of Maryland's hide. Quaintly known as the District of Columbia, it had two major league teams, the Senators and the Redskins. Nonetheless, even though these teams cavorted just over the state line, gen-u-wine Marylanders hated them because they owned territorial rights and kept the bigs out of Baltimore. Don't go there!
So, with no games worth seeing, most everybody in the state who was not playing the Daily Double went "downashore" and fished or crabbed.
Then overnight it all changed. Suddenly Maryland got major league teams galore (and, ha-ha, better than Washington's!), champions and heroes. In a real way—if more spectacularly—what happened to Maryland was the model for what would happen to so many other disparate states that would be knighted with big-time sports as the century wore on.
My gracious, it happened fast. In '47 Baltimore got a team in the Basketball Association of America (forerunner to the NBA), and the next spring the Bullets won Maryland's first title in anything since the 1896 Orioles' National League crown. Then a Dixie sharpie named Sunny Jim Tatum, recruiting in the Pennsylvania coal-mining towns, made the Terps into a football power—the 1953 national champs! And next: Johnny U and the Colts! Brooks and the Birds! Camden Yards, the most influential sports structure ever built!
I think it's safe to say that Daddy died happy, knowing that old meanie Washington, having lost the Senators, couldn't get back into major league baseball without first kissing up to Baltimore. What goes around....
All right, there were a few bumps in the road, but if the Bullets left for Deecee and the Colts for Indianoplace, Maryland stole the Browns from Ohio and named them in honor of a drunken poet who had, felicitously, died in Baltimore, and the Ravens won a Super Bowl. The Preakness got even bigger. And the Terps finally won a basketball title to kick off the 21st century. Also, downashore, there's still lots of fishing and crabbing.