Visualizing this city, so diversified with business, industry and shipping, as a vast wasteland for professional sports is beyong comprehension. The threat is there, but it won't happen.
The Baltimore Colts aren't going anywhere, despite what the owner says, and the worst thing that can happen to the Baltimore Orioles is to have to share them with Washington, our "next-door neigbor" 38 miles away.
Once, Baltimore's only claims to sports fame were: (1) the Navy-Notre Dame football game was played here every year; (2) the Orioles, as seven-time pennant winners of the International League, rated as the finest minor league team ever assembled, and (3) the Congress of the United States once adjourned to attend the races at Pimlico.
Oh, yes, a few other things, like the birthplace of Babe Ruth and the hometown of the only boxing brothers who won world championships, Vince and Joe Dundee. Ironically, Ruth and the Dundees came out of the same institution, St. Mary's Industrial School, which no longer exists.
World War II turned Baltimore from what used to be known as a stop on the Pennsylvania Rail Road between Washington and Philadelphia to a busy, active metropolis that could stand on its own feet rather than sit on the white marble stoops that lined the row-house streets.
The city shed its minor league label during the war, when the Washington Redskins drew in excess of 50,000 for exhibition games, and the advent of the All America Conference notified the country that Baltimore could be something special if given a chance at a pro football franchise.
In 1947, a fun-loving, spirited Washington resident named Bob Rodenberg, handsome and suave, bought the remains of the defunct Miami Seahawks and transferred them to Baltimore. The bulk of the ownership money came from Washington, except for Charles P. McCormick and R. C. (Jake) Embry, both used strictly for purposes of local identification.
The Colts, of course, went on to make untold millions for the late Carroll Rosenbloom, who gained rights to the team after the citizens of the city bankrolled the start of a new franchise in 1953. Rosenbloom's investment reportedly was $13,500, but some observers insist he merely paid for his part of the ownership, 51 percent, out of the monies raised by ticket subscriptions.
Rosenbloom, with all his affluence and influence, tried to force exhibitions on the public. There was almost a rebellion in the streets. He later attempted to transfer the team to Tampa, but he got no encouragement from the National Football League, including Commissioner Pete Rozelle.
One of the first to express opposition to any such move was Edward Bennett Williams, who had seen Washington plundered of its baseball franchise when Bob Short trucked it off to Texas.
In 1972, after much controversy, Rosenbloom left Baltimore for Los Angeles when Bob Irsay - a heating and air-conditioning contractor in Skokie, Ill, who since has blown hot air all over the NFL - bought the Rams for $19 million from the estate of the late Dan Reeves. Then, he turned around and traded it to Rosenbloom for the Colts.
Irsay is irrational at times. He talks frequently of his days in the Marine Corps during World War II and "storming the beaches." Not a malicious man, but given to wild outbursts.
Irsay claimed Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes canceled four meetings with him that were to deal with improvements on Memorial Stadium. It was news to Hughes. It's believe by this reporter that what set off the latest outburst was Irsay hearing a domed stadium was going to be built in downtown Minneapolis for the Vikings and the Twins and that improvements were being discussed for Soldier Field in Chicago.
The public, including some fellow NFL owners, are tiring of Irsay's outbursts. So is Rozelle. If the commissioner wouldn't let Rosenbloom move the Colts, the general feeling is he is not going to allow Irsay to violate a community that has been a colorful part of the pro football renaissance.
At the Super Bowl last January, Rozelle said there was no reason to consider moving teams as long as they were making money at the gate and through television rights.
The football situation is in striking contrast to that of the baseball club, the Orioles, which Jerry Hoffberger, a former beer baron, has been trying to sell.
He had two buyers in the past, namely Bill Veeck, before he bought the Chicago White Sox, and William Simon, the former Treasury secretary. Both headed groups with the money to match the $12 million asking price. But both were to later accuse Hoffberger of throwing them a curve ball in the negotiations.
Some of the Baltimore media erroneously reported that Simon was going to wheel the team away to Washington. This upset the citizenry to such an extent that it caused a vigilante organization to be formed by nine principal investors and 32 minority participants.
They have had difficulty holding the group together and coming up with $8 million, a reasonable figure made possible by Hoffberger's offer to lend $4 million at 6 percent interest in an effort to assist them in the purchase.
Baltimore adherents like to tell themselves their city is better for baseball than Washington, citing the fact that when the Orioles and Senators were in business at a comparable time in the American League, the D.C. team never once outdrew the Orioles.
This is an unfair comparison because you have to remember that major league baseball was still a novelty in Baltimore and the Senators were invariably the Senators.
The first man to suggest Baltimore share the Orioles with Washington was Joe Cronin, a former president of the American League. It was regarded as a preposterous proposal.
Now the possibility exists that in the future the Orioles will be playing games there, unless Washington gains a National League expansion club. That possibility frightens the American League and the Baltimore ownership.
After 25 years in the American League, the Orioles are setting their fastest attendance pace in history. Their record of 1,203,366 was set in 1966, when they won their first pennant. They have drawn more than a million in 12 of the 25 seasons they have been a business, including the last four.
Now Baltimore, belatedly, is alive with baseball excitement. The Orioles this season have attracted 496,238 in 27 home dates. If this pace continues, they'll set an all-time high, some where around 1,500,000.
Baltimore is painted as a "blue collar town" where recreation is usually found in the corner tavern. There's nothing wrong with that kind of description, except it's not true. It doesn't fit.
The beauty of Baltimore is its diversfication. It's a major city not dependent on any single business or industry. The Orioles and Colts have become a way of life and certainly aren't taken for granted.
Maybe the attendance figures for the Orioles haven't been spectacular, but they haven't been bad either.
Baltimore is not about to become a ghost town for sports, even if it has become increasingly trying in this summer of 1979 to be a Baltimore Oriole and Baltimore Colts fan . . . where one owner is trying to sell a baseball team and can't get a buyer who suits and the owner of the football team, meanwhile, is threatening to go to Los Angeles because the governor of Maryland, he says, broke an appointment for a meeting.
Baltimore has been much too good a sports city, with a rich tradition, to have to endure this kind of treatment from owners who never lost any money on their investment and stand to make immense profit the day they decide to sell and move away, with or without their teams.
John F. Steadman has been sports editor of the Baltimore News-American for 21 years. Before that he was assistant general manager of the Colts.