My aunt once told me we were related to Francis Scott Key, the cat who penned “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and who was born in what is now Carroll County. Okay, she also told me James Arness from “Gunsmoke” once pushed her on a swing and that I would grow up to be happy and successful. So I don’t know what to believe anymore.
But I am pretty certain about this: When Uncle Frankie was feverishly composing with ink and quill, during a War of 1812 firefight, he did not suddenly wonder with great amusement, “If only some slovenly man with Boog Powell barbecue-sauce stains on his schmedium white cotton tank top shouted, ‘OH!’ during the “O, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave . . . ” portion of my anthem, only then — yes, only then — will I feel complete as a poet and a patriot.”
While Washington gradually proves to Peter Angelos that it can support a baseball team, while the Nationals and Orioles commenced their first weekend series that does not involve either of them looking up from the cellars of their respective divisions, it still feels premature to actually say “rivalry” and mean it.
But beyond meaningless Redskins-Ravens preseason games, there is a more basic Battle of the Beltways: It’s the class and dignity of people who appreciate the national anthem as the last bastion of Americana we can all stand behind vs. the cretins who continue to ruin the song, many of whom are from Baltimore.
Orioles fans are not alone in their desecration of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” of course. Many of their tainted gene pool have migrated to Verizon Center for Capitals games. Some of these louts actually yell “OH!” and “RED!” at different intervals — twice ruining the anthem. Their spawn can be found in Houston, too, where a small group called “The Red Rowdies” holler “ROCK-ETS RED GLARE!” during Rockets NBA games. And they wonder why Tracy McGrady never won a playoff series.
Here’s wishing famine and pestilence comes to all their tailgates.
Allow me one serious, high-horse moment: Look, you’re not unpatriotic if you yell “OH!” It doesn’t make you an awful American. But by claiming the lyrics, if only for a moment, you fundamentally undermine the idea that the song was written to unite instead of divide. A national anthemis a national anthem, not a convenient vehicle for one’s immense pride in his or her team.
On a communal level, it’s as annoying as Carl Lewis and Roseanne Barr botching the anthem badly or someone who gesticulates for effect and carries several notes of the song into the top of the eighth, like one of those apple-cheeked, irritating “Glee” kids. It’s making the song about you, not for who it’s supposed to be about: us.
Every time I hear “OH!” it makes me want to finagle my way into Camden Yards and pull a karaoke moment, in which every other word of the banner I yell, “SAY!” “SEE!” “DAWN’S!” “STAR!” “LIGHT!” — until Jim Palmer comes down from the broadcast booth and beans me.
Heck, even Davey Johnson hates it — and he worked there. As an aside to rivalry talk this week, the Nats manager took a shot at his old team’s fans: “I hope I don’t hear, during the national anthem, the ‘Ohs!’ too loud. But I’m sure I probably will.”
Sadly, Skip, it’s in their blood.
According to a 2010 Baltimore Sun article, Orioles fans have embraced this tacky tradition since the mid-1970s. In 1993, Sun sports columnist emeritus John Steadman “considered the shouting a ‘repulsive act,’ ” suggesting at one point in his half-century career that the Orioles should forfeit any game at which the “OH” was shouted rather than sung. What Steadman, who took God’s buyout in 2001, failed to realize was how unnecessary his stand was; Angelos owned the team, meaning they were going to lose those games anyway.
The worst of the worst are the “OH!” defenders. When a longtime Orioles fan wrote to the Sun two years ago to say how disrespectful it was, he was attacked online. “We own the National Anthem. . . . We sing O. We say hon. We go down the ocean. That’s what we do. That’s what makes Baltimore great,” wrote one hardened Hon.
Now, I would not go as far the person who tweeted, “idiots who yell ‘O’ during the National Anthem should be beat about the head & neck with a crab cake.”
No, I would like to set them all afire and then put the flames out with golf shoes. At least then they would have a bona fide reason to yell, “OH!”
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.