- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"You're crazy," the voice will say. "Had to be at least 70,000 there."
Uncle could understand. "Sonny," he used to say, "every time you turn around you bust into a monument which nobody ever looks at, but don't try to tear any of 'em down, and don't ever say The Star-Spangled Banner sounds like it was written by a gent up to his ears with busthead."
"Was it?" he was asked.
"No, but you can bet only a Baltimorean could have written the Banner, and if he was drinkin' it was beer, because this here town is a beer drinker of a town and a show-bet-on-a-favorite kind of town. Whack it one real good and it comes back at you with Lord Baltimore and the War of 1812. No power, but lots of foundation. They try to take you out with the past and with tradition."
Town with too much past and too little present, town with a big-league club in a boarded-up pub—all of this has been claimed since the St. Louis Browns metamorphosed into the Orioles in 1954. Say it isn't so, but nobody knows. Baseball attendance in the sixth largest city in the nation, where the Colts often draw 35,000 for a scrimmage in August? From 1954 through 1965 the Orioles averaged 13,685 a game. Last year, third place: 781,649. This year, a pennant: 1.2 million—maybe.
True, the club and the city can build a two-pronged rebuttal: baseball competes with the dubious summer wonders of Chesapeake Bay and the population's lust for "shore" living, and the Orioles, unlike other big-league teams, do not have a large hinterland from which to draw. The Eastern Shore, an antediluvian settlement of oyster shuckers, does not help much; it has long wanted to secede from the state and, in particular, Baltimore. Western Maryland thinks that it is in Pennsylvania, and hence throws its support behind the Pirates. Rap the gate figures, if you want, but don't expect to be rapped back by an Oriole fan.
If there is such a thing, the solid Oriole fan is a subterranean creature, the antithesis of the Colt fan. He has no identity. Noiseless and spiritless, he reminds one of a guy who might apologize for not buying a vacuum cleaner from a salesman at the door. No insult can inflame him, and no losing streak can distract him. He just goes to the games, and he is hardly ashamed that restaurant, bar and department-store windows are not covered with imbecilic slogans and other displays of pennant fever. The only noise he makes is directed at the absentee Oriole fans, who talk a lot but never go to the ball park.
"Hell, why don't they bunt more?" says one absentee at an East Side bar.
"Yeah, they never bunt," says a second absentee.
"Nobody bunts anymore," says No. 1.