Category Archives: Sports

The racquet and the pen

Guest post by Eric Allen Hall

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet,” said Toni Morrison, “then you must write it.” Arthur Ashe would do just that.  Following his retirement from tennis in 1980, Ashe “felt a subtle but pervasive dissatisfaction with [his] life. . . and a deep confusion about what the rest of it would, and should, look like.” His old friend Jefferson Rogers, a civil rights activist and faculty member at Florida Memorial College, soon lent Ashe some clarity. Rogers offered him a teaching position at the historically black college. Ashe had always wanted to teach.

His honors course on black athletes and society allowed him to mentor a small group of African-American students, and this excited him even more than the act of teaching. “In the classroom,” noted Ebony, “he is a tough, no-nonsense kind of instructor who tries to impress upon students the importance of understanding and dealing with their academic responsibilities.” Yet Ashe had difficulty finding materials on African-American athletes. Books and scholarly articles on Jack Johnson, Rube Foster, Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, and others simply did not exist. Through his own experiences, Ashe understood the ways in which black athletes had challenged the color line and been at the forefront of the Black Freedom Movement. Their stories needed to be told, and Ashe resolved “to write THE authoritative history of the black American athlete.”

Although he believed the project would take about two years to complete, Ashe quickly discovered what a massive undertaking he had begun. He and his team of assistants started interviewing former and current athletes, coaches, administrators, and sportswriters. They contacted archivists and launched a media campaign asking the public for help. As Ashe delved deeper into the history of black athletes, his brother Johnnie observed a change in the former tennis star. “It did more than energize him,” Johnnie explained. “It gave him a new purpose, a means by which he could make contributions . . . He’d say, ‘The same problems I went through, Jack Johnson went through, Joe Louis went through.’ ”

Hall_AsheBlog1In 1988, Warner/Amistad Books published Ashe’s three-volume work, A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete Since 1946. Ashe sold 11,000 copies alone in the first month of publication. Critics lauded A Hard Road to Glory. “The point Ashe makes,” wrote Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times, “is the black athlete didn’t just roll out of bed with his ability.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and popular historian David Halberstam read A Hard Road to Glory as “a cry of protest in which ancient sins are revealed.” “The book,” he noted, “is a compelling history of prejudice and meanness, of honor and dishonor, a book both about sports and not about sports.” Nelson Mandela read A Hard Road to Glory while locked away in prison. Ashe reveled in telling the stories of black athletes, both their achievements and their struggles. “I would think,” he mused, “this is more important than any tennis titles.”

As we once again celebrate and reflect upon Black History Month, it is important to honor those who made history, but it is equally important to recognize those who wrote it. The great African-American historian John Hope Franklin was forced to work alone in a makeshift reading room at an archive in North Carolina because of his race. He had to go without lunch every Saturday at the Library of Congress in 1951 because no restaurant would serve him. “The world of the Negro scholar is indescribably lonely,” Franklin conceded. Yet “for a Negro scholar searching for truth, the search for food in the city of Washington was one of the minor inconveniences.” Franklin would go on to write and make history.  Years later, so would Ashe.

hallEric Allen Hall is an assistant professor in the history department at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro and author of Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era, published by Johns Hopkins.

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A New Vision for College Athletics

Guest post by Howard L. Nixon II

Arguments in favor of “pay for play” for college athletes in big-time college sports make National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and university officials cringe. However, both groups have had to address this issue repeatedly this year in the face of media attention to the Northwestern University National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling and the O’Bannon and Kessler lawsuits about compensation for the use of names, images, and likenesses (NILs) and scholarship limits. The NCAA president has also had to testify before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee in its hearings on “Promoting the Well-Being and Academic Success of College Athletes.” In addition, there has been pressure on the NCAA from schools and the Big Five conferences to grant them more autonomy in matters such as rule-making about compensating athletes.

ncaa_wordmark_logo_largeThe NCAA does not like it when the term “compensation” is applied to college athletes. It prefers “educational support” to describe the money given to their “student-athletes” as athletic grants-in-aid or athletic scholarships. Its “collegiate model” is built on the idea of the student-athlete as an amateur playing sports for fun while pursuing an education. By defining athletes as amateur student-athletes rather than as employees, the NCAA has been able to deny scholarship athletes in its most commercialized realm the customary rights enjoyed by workers, from direct compensation or payment for their services to legal representation, freedom of movement, worker’s compensation, and the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining. These restrictions have led critics and many disinterested observers to call the NCAA a labor cartel that exploits athletes. They ask how the NCAA can credibly sustain the notion of amateurism when big-time college sports make so much money and get so much media attention as mass entertainment. However, the NCAA must try to sustain this illusion because its business model depends on it.

Defenders of the NCAA’s collegiate model and the status quo in college sports contend that athletic scholarships are more than adequate compensation for playing sports. They also point out that, for some, college sports is a stepping-stone to lucrative careers in professional sports. Then, too, there are the seemingly compelling assertions that figuring out a system to pay college athletes is not feasible, would be too complicated if it were possible, and would fundamentally destabilize the financial structure of college sports that is already threatened by the arms race.

Yet there remains the troubling reality that athletic scholarships are standardized and capped by the NCAA and may not cover the full cost of attendance. Furthermore, star athletes have not been permitted until recently to benefit from the commercial use of their NIL rights. They also have not been allowed to share directly in the media revenue generated from the games they play.

nixonWhether and how much college athletes should be paid are legitimate and interesting questions. However, they suggest more fundamental questions about how college sports must change to be more responsive to the interests and welfare of athletes. My proposal for change is presented in the reform chapter of my recently published book The Athletic Trap: How College Sports Corrupted the Academy. A basic aspect of this proposal is the partitioning of college sports. I believe that significant change must begin with the separation of those schools that can afford to compete at the expensive, big-time level from those that cannot. If this seems unrealistic or unreasonable, consider that the churning that has whittled the Elite Six to the Big Five super conferences is a step in this direction. Giving the Big Five (or Four or Six . . . ) true autonomy to run college sports without input or interference from less competitively and financially established programs would be a big step in reorganizing college sports in a way that injects much-needed logic and reason into the enterprise. This reorganization would make the status of athletes compatible with the environment in which they are competing and the demands this environment imposes on them.

What would this partitioning look like, and what are its implications for the compensation of athletes? I propose a division of college sports into two main sectors: a highly commercialized one organized around super conferences and a second sector that would be more truly amateur and include all of the other athletic programs. The commercial partition would be populated by athlete-students, while the amateur one would have student-athletes. Former Florida and Louisiana State University president John Lombardi fleshed out a model for athletic programs in the big-time realm of the super conferences. They would be organized as not-for-profit enterprises, have ties to universities but largely run themselves, and be expected to be financially self-sufficient. University hospitals illustrate their administrative and fiscal structures. Relatively few athletic programs would meet the requirements to be run this way. Although not inherently gender segregated, the current reality is that the big-time super conference domain would initially include men’s sports because only football and men’s basketball have the capacity at this time to generate enough revenue to be self-supporting.

The organizational framework linking the big-time conferences and programs in the super conference domain would supplant the NCAA as the governing body of big-time college sports. Thus, the super conference domain I envision would be a logical extension of the autonomy currently being pursued by the Big Five conferences. The conferences and schools in this domain would operate in an environment in which revenue flows from the media and businesses in a network I call the “intercollegiate golden triangle.” The media and business sectors of this golden triangle make a profit from selling media rights and merchandise and embellish their corporate images through their association with big-time sports programs and stars. Star athlete-students are currently exploited as commodities in this environment, but in my model they are permitted to cash in on the commercial use of their NIL rights and to share in the revenue that is generated from the games they play. This means that athlete-students would become paid professionals. They would also have the legal and economic rights of employees in commercial entertainment enterprises. The NCAA president estimated that athletes competing at the most commercialized level of college sports are approximately 3.5% of all NCAA athletes. The percentage of athletes who qualify as athlete-students in the super conference domain I am proposing may be an even smaller segment of the college athlete population.

All other college athletes would be student-athletes and compete in the amateur domain governed by a “new NCAA.” This domain approximates the model of amateur college athletics in the NCAA Division III. It is what the NCAA president conjures up when he uses lofty rhetoric about the collegiate model and amateur student-athletes. Shifting the attention of his organization exclusively to the proposed amateur domain would make this rhetoric seem less disingenuous. Student-athletes in this new NCAA domain would be treated like all other students. They would compete with these other students for financial aid based on their need or academic credentials, since there would not be any athletic scholarships. They would have a chance to participate in a wide range of men’s and women’s sports programs. Unlike the semi-autonomous super conference programs that operate largely on their own, amateur programs would be part of the university or college, would be financed by general university funds, and would have much more modest athletic, financial, and status aspirations than their counterparts in the more commercial realm. Consequently, the physical and time demands on student-athletes would be far less than the demands on athlete-students.

Since the super conference and amateur domains would both be part of college sports, athletes in both domains would have to meet traditional academic expectations for initial eligibility and for classroom performance and abide by student conduct codes. However, athlete-students would have reduced academic loads for part of the academic year. They would be required to take the equivalent of one term of academic courses each year from the school for which they compete. They would not be permitted to matriculate during the academic term of their primary season. This provision should alleviate many of the current concerns about distractions from academics, since big-time athletes would not be in class during the main part of their sports season. Athlete-students would be allowed to change schools without penalty after one or two years at a particular school. This is comparable to the free agency rules in professional sports. These athlete-students could also negotiate for financial support to cover the completion of their undergraduate degrees over an extended period of time. In both domains, athletes’ interests could be represented by current and former athletes serving on governing bodies of presidents and athletic officials with ultimate authority over each domain.

Athletic directors for super conference sports would have to wrestle with issues of equity and practicality in figuring out the compensation packages for coaches and athlete-students. Pay scales would replace athletic scholarship limits for athlete-students. On the other hand, the elimination of compensation restrictions for athlete-students would make issues of illegal cash payments and gifts to athletes largely irrelevant. These financial benefits have accounted for a significant number of rule violations under the current NCAA rules. Reducing deviance in this area does not mean that all the problems concerning outside compensation will be gone. In allowing gifts from boosters and endorsement contracts, the new policies would create some challenges for athletic directors and coaches who want to restrain the influence of boosters and the intercollegiate golden triangle on athlete-students. Restrictions may be difficult to enforce, though, since boosters and the golden triangle are likely to expect substantial access as part of their quid pro quo or contract.

This is only a brief and general outline of how college sports could change to accommodate pay for play in big-time college sports. There would likely be much resistance to these kinds of changes, perhaps surprisingly mostly among the presidents with programs that have aspired to big-time status and their boosters. In fact, the elite programs in college sports in the current super conferences are already moving in the direction I have proposed, albeit without the specific changes in the status of athlete-students. However, the vast majority of college presidents will need to face the reality that they lack the resources needed to play in the domain where the big money, exposure, and branding opportunities in the intercollegiate golden triangle are found. If they genuinely care about the students who participate in sports at their institution, they should embrace the new NCAA as a way to downsize institutional aspirations in athletics and allow athletes to be genuine students. The question is whether presidents will try to free themselves from the powerful entanglements of obligations, promises, and expectations associated with being big-time in athletics or aspiring to this status. I have called these entanglements the athletic trap, and the trap has made presidents hesitant about exercising real leadership in athletics on their campus.

Presidential leadership that will result in the kinds of reforms I have proposed will take courage and a clear sense of purpose. Without this leadership, the NCAA and big-time college sports are likely to face a steady stream of challenges and threats and spend an increasing amount of time in court, Congressional hearings, and dealing with politicized athletes and their advocates. They may argue about issues such as compensation of big-time college athletes. But there are bigger and deeper issues about college athletics that need to be addressed. This is why I have proposed a reform model that gets at the underlying structure of all of college sports. Whatever the specific details of reform, trying to implement the kind of model I have proposed could make athletics at the big-time commercialized level more organizationally accountable, fiscally responsible, and responsive to the interests of athlete-students. It could also inject far more genuine amateurism into college athletics, make playing college sports more like real play for a lot more athletes, and turn more athletes into student-athletes on more campuses. Furthermore, coming to terms with the realities of contemporary college sports in the ways I have suggested could help defuse much of the discontent about the status of the NCAA and its treatment of college athletes. The result could be more sanity, honesty, and stability in college sports.

Howard L. Nixon II is a professor of sociology at Towson University. He is author or coauthor of seven books, including The Athletic Trap: How College Sports Corrupted the Academy, Sport in a Changing World, and A Sociology of Sport.

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Open Tennis and Open Minds: What Arthur Ashe Can Teach Us All

Guest post by Eric Allen Hall

As the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, make clear, the fight for civil and human rights is far from over. The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a white police officer provides a window into contemporary race relations. The predominately African American protesters in Ferguson argue that whites don’t know what it’s like to be black in America, where people of color come under suspicion for criminal activity more frequently than whites. The same phenomenon plays out in the world of sports. One need look no further than the public and media reaction to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s televised comments following the NFC Championship to see how some black athletes are branded. In the minutes, hours, and days after his “tirade,” Sherman was labeled a “thug” and “ghetto,” despite graduating with honors from Stanford and not having a police record. Tim Wise, the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, suggests that blacks and whites fail to understand one another, and many, if not most, don’t even try. If honest and open dialogue is the key to breaking down racial barriers, as Wise and others contend, Arthur Ashe was decades ahead of his time.

The tennis great lost his battle with AIDS over twenty years ago, but his spirit and legend are very much alive as the U.S. Open gets underway on August 25. The stadium in Flushing bears his name, the gift shop sells prints of his victory over Tom Okker at the inaugural 1968 Open, and former and current players, old friends, and fans will soon gather and reminisce about his powerful serve and his commitment to sportsmanship. Ashe and the Open share a unique history, a past filled with milestones and controversy. Ashe made his first appearance at the U.S. Nationals, the precursor to the Open, in 1959 when he took on the “Rocket” Rod Laver. Ashe wasn’t even supposed to be there. He was black, the son of a working-class father, and from the Jim Crow South. Black youths in those days served drinks to wealthy white spectators. They did not face off against the world’s number one-ranked player.

Nine years later, much had changed. Forest Hills opened its doors for the first time to amateurs and professionals alike. Ashe had also grown up since losing to Laver. He had traveled the world, led UCLA to a national championship, dominated the Australian circuit, joined the Army, and starred for the U.S. Davis Cup team. Yet the “burden of being black” was ever present. Ashe’s trophies and accolades did not erase the fact that black men and women across America were fighting and dying for civil rights. Attending segregated schools in Richmond, being denied entry into tennis tournaments because of his race, and watching television newsreels of black demonstrators being beaten in Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma made Ashe keenly aware of his race and his responsibilities to the civil rights movement.

The 1968 U.S. Open, as it turned out, would mark Ashe’s first Grand Slam title and the moment when he added his voice to the black cause. His defeat of Okker, a professional, in five sets was the first Grand Slam event won by an African-American man. The image of Ashe embracing his father at center court and acknowledging the white fans who cheered him from the grandstands resonated throughout America. Jackie Robinson wrote, “Proud of your greatness as a tennis player[,] prouder of your greatness as a man. Your stand should bridge the gap between races and inspire black people the world over and also affect the decency of all Americans.”

Robinson would be right. For the remaining twenty-five years of his life, Ashe made it his mission to bring together people of all races, ethnicities, and social classes. During his groundbreaking trip to South Africa in 1973, Ashe met with and debated black journalists, a prominent white cabinet member, and a pro-apartheid professor at an elite university. At the U.S. Open a year after his win over Okker, he spoke at length with a group of antiapartheid activists who insisted that he boycott the event in protest of the Open’s decision to hire a white South African director. Ashe talked and listened to all, especially those with whom he disagreed and even if the topic was controversial. Perhaps that’s Ashe’s greatest lesson to us all.

hallEric Allen Hall is an assistant professor in the history department at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro.  He is the author of Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era.

 

 

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World Cup Soccer Balls Can Be a Drag

Guest post by John Eric Goff

Earth’s greatest sporting event is under way in Brazil with the World Cup, which began last Thursday with a match between the host nation and Croatia. The United States opens play today against Ghana. Just making the final draw is an honor for any country’s national team. For all the hard work that goes into getting a team to Brazil this summer, only one will stand atop the soccer world on July 13. What soccer fans may not appreciate is all the science enlisted to elevate the World Cup to as high a level as possible. Let’s play with some of the physics behind the new Brazuca ball.

Adidas has provided the ball for the World Cup since 1970. Always a source of excitement and controversy, each World Cup’s ball not only represents a chance for a charismatic design, but an opportunity to showcase the best science has to offer. Up through 2002’s World Cup in Japan and South Korea, balls had the traditional 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons that most of us kicked around as children. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the seams that connect the 32 panels and make for a less-than-smooth surface actually improve the ball’s aerodynamics. Were golf balls not dimpled and baseballs devoid of seams, they would not travel nearly as far as they do.

brazuca-ballWhen Adidas introduce the Teamgeist to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, players met a ball with 14 thermally-bonded panels. Fewer rough areas meant the aerodynamics changed a bit.  Because the Jabulani ball used in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup had just eight panels, Adidas had to texture the surface to restore some roughness. That ball, however, was the subject of player complaints because of strange knuckling effects associated with the lateral wobble of balls with little to no spin. Adidas has done much better for 2014.

Players in Brazil are using the Brazuca ball, which has just six panels. Like Jabulani, Brazuca was intentionally textured to add surface roughness. What makes Brazuca better than Jabulani is its total seam length. Despite having two fewer panels, Brazuca’s boomerang-shaped seams give it a 68% longer total seam length compared to Jabulani. That increased total seam length means Brazuca’s surface is both rougher and more uniform than Jabulani’s. A lower-speed “drag crisis” means Brazuca should have more stable trajectories that what goalkeepers had to contend with four years ago.

Now, what is a “drag crisis”? A soccer ball moving through air is slowed by air drag. Stick your hand out the open window of a moving car and you’ll immediately meet air drag first hand. As a ball kicked at a relatively high speed slows down while experiencing air drag, air flow around the ball changes from “turbulent” to “laminar.” When that transition, or drag crisis, occurs, there is a precipitous increase in air drag. The speed at which that transition happens is everything on the soccer pitch.

I recently published a comparison study of Jabulani and Brazuca aerodynamics with my colleagues Takeshi Asai and Sungchan Hong at the University of Tsukuba. Wind-tunnel experiments show that the drag crisis for a Jabulani happens at a speed of about 54 mph, whereas the corresponding speed for Brazuca is around 38 mph. What that means is that a Jabulani kicked at an intermediate speed will be right in the teeth of its drag crisis. An intermediate-speed kicked Brazuca will be past its drag crisis. For balls kicked at high speeds, goal keepers will notice little difference between Jabulani and Brazuca.

Consider, for example, a free kick from 20 yards out. The ball is kicked at an intermediate speed of 45 mph at 22 degrees above the horizontal. Because Jabulani will experience more air drag than Brazuca, the Jabulani ball will pass the goal plane about a yard lower to the ground compared to where the Brazuca ball will pass the goal plane. That’s quite a difference in trajectories!  Luckily for all the World Cup players, especially the goalkeepers, they’ve been able to play with the Brazuca ball in advance of the World Cup.

The fun continues for another four weeks. Revel in pride as you watch your favorite team, but also keep an eye on the flight of the Brazuca. The hope is for more flight stability compared to four years ago.

goff comp.inddJohn Eric Goff is Professor of Physics at Lynchburg College and the author of Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports

 

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Regarding the recent NLRB decision and college sports

Guest post by Michael A. Olivas

On March 26, 2014, National Labor Relations Board Chicago regional director Peter Ohr held that Northwestern’s football players were employees and, as a result, eligible to vote whether they would unionize.

Ohr wrote, “It is clear that the scholarships the players receive are compensation for the athletic services they perform for the employer . . . It cannot be said that the employer’ s scholarship players are ‘primarily students.’ ” If this regional ruling is upheld by the NLRB, and the student athletes choose to join the College Athletes Players Association, they will be allowed to organize and bargain collectively with Northwestern and other “employers.”

Previous decisions had held that graduate students could not organize. This was the first determination of its kind by a NLRB decisionmaker.

While the twenty-four page decision many interesting features, I believe it will not stick. Ohr does not fully account for earlier decisions about graduate students and medical residents, who functionally resemble employees much more than do athletes; he does not get the fundamentals of financial aid and scholarships right; and he misapprehends the relationship of “academic studies” to academic lives of students. He is not entirely wrong on all points, most notably when he discusses the scandalous way that the schedules of some sports—basketball and baseball/softball come to mind—have been lengthened beyond a reasonable point. And there is no doubt that students get short shrift in the commercialization of the revenue sports in particular, and that the money generated by college sports is so broad and deep that boosters and gamblers have cheapened and debrided the ethics of traditional student-athletes. And wayyyyyyyy too many colleges are out of control with regards to the governance of athletics, including my own beloved Ohio State University, where scandals weakened both the otherwise-successful football coach and the OSU president.

Even though the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was not a formal party to these particular proceedings, its behavior over the years has made the worst of a bad situation. I urge the adults involved to sit down and figure out a medium-speed way to assist students, perhaps by allowing them to own their own images or undertake endorsements that would go into a fund for redistribution, or by shortening of the absurd and disruptive travel schedules that have some basketball teams playing over thirty-five games in a year and baseball teams more than seventy. These intensive schedules make it impossible to maintain with a straight face that the equation is “student”-athlete. My best hope is that this decision, while inappropriate, will be the wakeup call to jolt the NCAA (or Congress) into action.

Michael A. Olivas is the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair of Law at the University of Houston and director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance. He will be signingolivas copies of his most recent book, Suing Alma Mater: Higher Education and the Courts, at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 4, at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting in Philadelphia. There, he will receive the association’ s 2014 Social Justice in Higher Education Award. Books will be $20.00, tax included.

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Opening Day, 1954

Guest post by Mike Gesker

“Well, it was the Mardi Gras. It was New Year’s Eve and it was the 4th of July all wrapped into one. I never remember during my time in Baltimore a more joyous occasion.” That’s the way the venerable sports reporter John Steadman recalled the gala celebration of April 15, 1954, when the Baltimore Orioles paraded through town and headed to Memorial Stadium for the first major league Opening Day since the demise of the old Federal League Baltimore Terrapins in 1915.

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Legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell was there 60 years ago, too. He fondly reminisced, “It was a great thrill in 1954. The Orioles had played a couple of games in Detroit. They split two. . . their first two games in their modern history. And then they got on the train and came to Baltimore. We had a big parade. They got off the train in their uniforms, got into automobiles, and went through the downtown streets of Baltimore and paraded to the stadium. And I can remember coming into the stadium and the workmen were still working on the stadium. And it was a threatening day. It looked like it might rain out the home opener.

“We had a jam-packed crowd. And the Orioles won that game, I think it was 3 to 1 over the Chicago White Sox. Clint Courtney and I think Vern Stephens hit home runs. And it was a gala day for Baltimore and the beginning of the modern era for the Orioles.”

The arrival of the modern Orioles was such an occasion that even the New Yorker magazine dispatched a footloose correspondent to scribble down his observations. In the May 1, 1954 issue, John McNulty noted, “In the seventh, the Orioles’ first baseman, Eddie Waitkus, laid down a bunt that was as close to perfection as a bunt can be. It seemed to me that the crowd of 46,354 shouted louder and went daffier over that bunt than over the two home runs—maybe because this was Baltimore, where, as I said, they either invented or perfected the bunt more than sixty years ago.”

Jimmy Dykes, a veteran of Connie Mack’s powerful Philadelphia Athletics, was the Birds’ skipper that day. Here is the lineup that took the field to the delight of the tens of thousands of cheering Oriole fans: Bobby Young 2b, Eddie Waitkus 1b, Gil Coan cf, Vic Wertz rf, Sam Mele lf, Vern Stephens 3b, Billy Hunter ss, Clint Courtney c, Bob Turley p.

One year later, the only member of Jimmy’s lineup who would be starting Opening Day was Eddie Waitkus. Even Mr. Dykes himself was gone in 1955. The new manager and general would be Paul Richards. The “Wizard of Waxahachie” did his best to shed the last remnants of the old St. Louis Browns and create a new winning tradition in Baltimore. “The Oriole Way” was born.

Opening Day is not unlike a blind date: brimming with hope, wonder, and maybe a few expectations. You’ve heard nothing but nice things about the club. Yes, it really is good looking and has a wonderful personality. If you have a good time, and all goes well, you hope to meet again and again with visions of a World Series—or least the playoffs—dancing in your head.

Gesker comp3**-A.inddSo here’s to Manager Buck Showalter and his charges. With a little luck and Manny Machado’s happy return, we’ll have a date in late October. Let the games begin!

Baseball fan Mike Gesker is the author of The Orioles Encyclopedia and the Emmy award-winning producer, director, and writer of Maryland Public Television‘s Baseball, the Birds on 33rd. He is a writer-editor for Catholic Relief Services and freelance writer whose work has been published in the Baltimore Sun, Sport magazine, and the Army Times.

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The Day the Colts Left Town

By Dean Smith, director, Project MUSE

During a snowstorm in the early morning hours of March 29, 1984, fifteen Mayflower moving vans arrived at Baltimore Colts headquarters in Owings Mills. Marcia Luria, on her way to work at WCBM radio station,  saw the convoy of trucks headed down Reisterstown Road.

“I got in and called my business manager right away to tell him,” said Luria, who now works as a receptionist for D&J Auto. “It was chaos and sadness all day at the station.”

Scott Van Horn woke up in his home in Towson’s Campus Hills neighborhood. Van Horn had been a fixture at Colts training camp when it was at Goucher College. There, he chased down punts and field goals in the woods; once, quarterback Bert Jones rode his ten speed.

“I locked myself in the bathroom and refused to go to school,” Van Horn said. “It was one of the worst days in my life.”

Johnny Unitas had once lived in Van Horn’s home. It was the place Unitas returned to after the 1958 championship game. Colts running back Alan “The Horse” Ameche and defensive end Gino Marchetti had also lived in the neighborhood.

“Those were the good old days,” said Van Horn. “I wish [Irsay] would have left us the name.”

Owner Robert Irsay had staged the pre-dawn move to avoid an eminent domain law passed one day earlier that may have saved the team from moving. He wanted a new stadium and a fresh start. The Baltimore Colts’ fate had been sealed long before.

“The NFL owners voted to approve the move a year before,” said John Ziemann, president of the Colts’ Marching Band and now the Marching Ravens. “The NFL held a gun to our heads and cocked the trigger.”

One of the most definitive accounts of the Colts’ demise was written by Ted Patterson in his book Football in Baltimore: History and Memorabilia from Colts to Ravens, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. One chapter, “The Decline and Fall,” chronicles the last fifteen years of a once-proud franchise. Patterson, whose poignant radio voice captured the essence of the Colts in the 1970s, relays the story of how he pieced together the torn fragments of a letter that Bert Jones had written to Irsay after the owner tried to fire head coach Ted Marchibroda. Irsay, a crude and often inebriated man, knew little about running a football team. After a close Colts defeat to the Dallas Cowboys in 1977, Irsay appeared in the locker room.

“We were crushed by the 3-point loss,” explained former linebacker Stan White. “Irsay was drunk and introduced a friend of his who did one-handed push-ups.”

John Ziemann, who had started in the Colts’ band in 1963 at the age of 16 and, by 1984, was working for Channel 2 News in Baltimore, was summoned to Colts headquarters to cover the move.

“I was auditioning drummers for the band and I got the call,” he said. “I stayed out there all day with little sleep. When I got home, my son Chris said, ‘Daddy, I’m sorry the Colts hurt you.’ That’s when I lost it.”

 

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As the moving trucks pulled out of the Colts facility, they were missing the band uniforms. As depicted in Barry Levinson’s wonderful documentary The Band That Wouldn’t Die, Ziemann and his cohorts  played in NFL stadiums in the years after the move and refused to give up on an NFL team coming to Baltimore. The original Colts Corral fan clubs stayed together for 12 years, eventually becoming Ravens Roosts.

The day the Colts left town was a watershed moment for a city that helped put the NFL on the map. It signified the end of an era when the players lived and worked among us and the game was about more than greed and licensing fees. Those new mercenary rules of engagement helped bring us a team 12 years later—gutting another once-proud franchise.

pattersonDean Smith is the coauthor, with Ted Patterson, of the second edition of Football in Baltimore: History and Memorabilia from Colts to Ravens. He covers the Baltimore Ravens and the Orioles for the Baltimore Brew, and his sportswriting has appeared in Press Box, Fan Magazine, Baltimore City Paper, Patch.com, and the Midnight Mind Review. He is the author of Never Easy, Never Pretty: A Fan, A City, A Championship Season, an engaging account of the Ravens’ march to Superbowl XLVII.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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