A Long Overdue Change

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When the Baltimore Orioles take the field against the Texas Rangers in Arlington on Monday night, the simple act of donning a new road jersey brings special significance to a city that has felt its baseball team become increasingly distant over the last 15 years.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, the Orioles’ road jerseys will display “Baltimore” in script across the chest. It won’t be a throwback for Turn Back the Clock Day, or a novelty jersey for the official team store, but the regular 2009 road uniform top.

It’s about time.

Following the 1972 season, then-owner Jerry Hoffberger removed the city name from the road uniforms in a presumed attempt to regionalize the franchise after the Washington Senators had moved to Texas a season earlier.

Hoffberger’s vision, which continued under successive owners Edward Bennett Williams, Eli Jacobs, and Peter Angelos, was to make the Orioles the baseball team for an entire region that would stretch from central Pennsylvania and Delaware to the Carolinas.

Many fans began chirping immediately after the city name was removed, but the issue remained in the background, largely because the franchise was in the midst of one of the most successful 20-year stretches in baseball history that included three world championships, six pennants, and seven division titles.

When fans have a winning organization, little things such as uniforms can be overlooked, but when the team is a loser, every little problem adds fuel to the fire, and as Orioles fans painfully know, the last 12 years of losing emphatically brought the issue to light.

After becoming owner in 1993, Angelos continued to market the franchise to Washington and the surrounding areas—much like his predecessors—, but Baltimoreans began to see an increasing disconnect between the team and the city in which it called home.

It started in 1995 with the removal of Baltimore from the primary logo (the city name had remained on the logo after 1972) and progressed from there when announcers, both in the ballpark and on television and radio, began using “Baltimore” less and less frequently as the team began losing more and more frequently.

Many Orioles fans were not only suffering due to the horrendous results on the field but also felt their baseball team wanted little to do with the city of Baltimore.

This became no more apparent to me than several seasons ago during one of the many meaningless games the Orioles have played over the last 12 seasons. I noticed public address announcer Dave McGowan had begun introducing the team’s starting lineup by saying, “And now for your Orioles!” instead of the usual “Baltimore Orioles.”

What would Rex Barney have thought about this change? It sounded superficial and incomplete.

For just a few minutes, I began looking around Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the word “Baltimore.” After examining all of the scoreboard graphics, advertisements, and dugout writing, I found the word Baltimore in only two places: an advertisement for a Baltimore-based company on the facing of the club level and The Baltimore Sun clock sitting atop the Camden Yards scoreboard, a fixture of the stadium since its opening in 1992.

It angered me as I figured it was only a matter of time before the team altered the stadium clock as well.

What would be next? A team renamed as the “Maryland Orioles of Baltimore” or the “Mid-Atlantic Orioles?”

While some Orioles fans dismissed the road uniform complaints as trivial, instead focusing on the abysmal performance of the team and the need to fix the farm system, the issues of changing the uniform and improving the team were never mutually exclusive. Even the biggest proponents of restoring “Baltimore” to the uniform understood the team’s performance was a far greater problem, but it was no excuse for Angelos to ignore the fans’ pleas for years.

The process of changing the road uniform was a job for the marketing department—not an issue handled by the front office—, so why would it interfere with the rebuilding of the franchise?

Angelos had every right to market the franchise throughout the region—it’s just good business sense—but not by alienating the home city in the process. While he cannot be blamed for the city name disappearing from the uniform in 1973, he deserves criticism for ignoring a significant portion of the fan base that wanted “Baltimore” to return to the road jerseys for many years.

It was a simple decision that made too much sense not to do, even for the merchandising revenue alone. In all honesty, have you ever encountered anyone that was against—not indifferent to, but against—the idea of “Baltimore” returning to the road jerseys? If so, I’d love to hear their reasoning.

As someone who was born in Baltimore, but moved to southern Pennsylvania almost 20 years ago, I supported the idea of the city name returning to the uniform. Despite the organization’s perceived attempts to mask it, no one forgot the Orioles actually played in Baltimore, regardless of whether they rooted for the team in the Charm City or Norfolk, Va.  Why did the organization feel the need to hide it?

The final straw for fans wanting “Baltimore” on the road uniforms occurred in 2004 when the Montreal Expos announced a move to Washington. At last, the Washington excuse was no longer available to the Orioles.

The removal of the city name from the uniform as a marketing strategy was no less ridiculous in 1973 than it was in 2007; however, the Orioles are finally bringing it back, and for that, Orioles fans should take some satisfaction on Monday night. Better late than never.

Though the disconnect between the Orioles and the city is still apparent, the return of the city name to the road jerseys is a positive move to begin restoring some civic pride in the franchise.

Much work remains in restoring community relations and, more importantly, continuing to fix the team on the field, but it’s difficult not to smile a bit when thinking about Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, and company wearing those sharp “Baltimore” road grays Monday night.

It may only be some stitching on a gray jersey, and it won’t add any wins to their record, but it’s a step in the right direction to reuniting the Orioles and Baltimore.