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Top Ten

The Year in Sports

By Gabriel Wardell | Posted 12/15/2004

Suffice it to say that 2004 will not go down as a banner year in the annals of Baltimore sports.

The biggest stories in town were stories of mitigated disappointment and mild excitement. The Orioles finished below .500 for the 7th consecutive season, 23 games out—although new acquisition Miguel Tejada did lead the league in RBIs, and made Orioles fans proud as the team’s sole representative at the All Star Game, where he won the Home Run Derby. Next stadium over, the Ravens added some spark by luring their own fancy free agent, Deion Sanders, out of retirement, but the injury-prone 37-year-old has spent much time on the sidelines. Factoring in Jamal Lewis’ legal woes and suspension, this season might have been an outright disaster. Yet somehow the Ravens remain poised to capture another AFC Wild Card berth.

Meanwhile, on the mild excitement front, Ralph Friedgen’s Terps appeared in their third consecutive Bowl game, posting an impressive 41-7 smackdown of the West Virginia Mountaineers at the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day. Gary Williams won his first ACC Championship with an upstart Maryland squad that subsequently failed to make much of an impression in the NCAA tourney. And, in a feat that received all the fanfare of the 1995 Baltimore Stallions’ Grey Cup, the Baltimore Blast celebrated good times by winning its second consecutive MISL indoor soccer Championship.

Maybe Baltimore will be more front and center for the Top Ten sports stories in 2005. If the Red Sox can break the curse of Baltimore’s Bambino and win the World Series, anything is possible. Even finishing above .500.

 

1

The Red Sox Reverse the Curse

The New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox rivalry is one of the best in sports, and thanks to the Babe it all passes through Baltimore. Every year, Yankee fans and Red Sox fans flock to Oriole Park, paying homage to the wrong-handed Babe Ruth statue on Eutaw Street and visiting the Babe’s birthplace before transforming Camden Yards into occupied territory. And it all came due in game four of the American League Championship Series. With the Sox down three games to none—no team had ever come back from a three-game deficit, and only one team had even forced a game six—the Yankees were poised to close it out in style for a heartbreaking clean sweep. But something happened: The Babe himself, finally fed up with Yankee hubris, sickened by their bloated $180 million payroll, turned the tables on the Bombers. Even controversial calls couldn’t save the Yankees: Alex Rodriguez’s swat at first base and a fan-interference home-run call were both correctly ruled in the Red Sox favor. This is the sort of thing that used to happen for the Yankees, not to the Yankees. Watching the fattest payroll in baseball choke worse than Mama Cass was a thing of beauty for baseball fans of all persuasions. Make no mistake, the ALCS against the Yankees is where “the curse of the Bambino” was reversed. The World Series was an afterthought. The Cards didn’t stand a chance.

2

How Do You Spell Relief? S-T-E-R-O-I-D-S

The BALCO case is heating up, with Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds going on the record. But former National League MVP Ken Caminiti, who died this fall in a drug-related incident, admitted he used steroids in his 1996 MVP season in a 2002 Sports Illustrated exposé. In the article, he estimated that “[a]t least half the guys are using [steroids]. They talk about it. They joke about it with each other.” That Commissioner Bud Selig and other MLB officials are suddenly “shocked, shocked” by such allegations shows how the league’s self-imposed blinders allowed things to spin out of control.

In a sick, co-dependent way, Selig’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance on performance-enhancing substances enabled the headline-grabbing and ticket office-inflating home-run chase to take down Roger Maris’ single-season mark of 61, which fell to the muscle-bound Mark Maguire, who belted 70 in 1998, and then fell again a scant three years later to Bonds with 73. But this record-shattering trend abated once the league began its gentle crackdown on steroids by announcing a toothless testing policy in 2002 (Bonds, who sits at No. 3 on the all-time home-run list with 703, had 45 dingers in 2003). Was the ball juiced, or was it the players?

3

T.O. Flies Like an Eagle

Wide receiver Terrell Owens’ move from San Francisco to Philadelphia was heralded by the national media as a coup—a lineup addition that may finally land the NFC’s perennial bridesmaid an invite to the big dance. But what the national media failed to grasp is how the NFL’s arbitrator essentially screwed Baltimore and penalized team general manager Ozzie Newsome’s creative solution to the Ravens’ lackluster passing game by interfering in the trade deal between the 49ers and the Ravens, a deal that Owens bucked often and loudly. Left at the altar and spurned by the Sharpie-wielding showboat, Baltimore received a fifth-round draft pick (!) and the hearty thanks of the City of Brotherly Love. To add insult to injury, T.O. parodied Ray Lewis’ trademark dance in his end-zone celebration in the game-winning squeaker against the Ravens in October.

Aside from pissing off Ravens fans, the Owens decision set a dangerous precedent for the otherwise unified NFL management by capitulating to a player’s will rather than honoring the terms of his contract. Should the Ravens manage to find their way into the postseason, hopefully the thought of exacting revenge against T.O. and the Eagles in Jacksonville might be enough incentive to propel them past the Colts, Steelers, Patriots, and the rest of the decidedly strong AFC field.

4

Olympic Gold Mettle: Michael Phelps vs. Paul Hamm

Here’s the difference between Michael Phelps and Paul Hamm. The world’s greatest swimmer, Michael Phelps, earned eight Olympic medals in 2004, tying a record. In the process, the Baltimorean selflessly took himself out of the 400-meter relay final allowing teammate (and world-record holder) Ian Crocker—whom he had beaten in the 100 butterfly by .04 seconds—to compete. (Phelps received a gold medal for the team’s record-setting performance because he was instrumental in the qualifying round.) Gymnast Paul Hamm, on the other hand, became the first American man to earn the Olympic gold medal as the best overall gymnast in the world. His performance was truly inspired: Late in the competition, he took a spill into the judges’ table and was in 12th place with only two apparatuses left to recover; a solid floor exercise and a picture-perfect parallel bars routine miraculously thrust him to the top. But he won on a technicality. His margin of victory—the smallest in Olympic history—found him separated from two South Korean rivals by a mere .05 of a point. Upon further review, it was discovered that a judging error inadvertently denied South Korea’s Yang Tae-young a 10th of a point—enough for the bronze medalist to win gold. Hamm hung onto his medal.

5

Wardrobe Malfunctions and Dropped Towels

The fallout from Ms. Jackson getting nasty during the Super Bowl Halftime Show has drifted far—from FCC fines levied against broadcasters to ABC affiliates refusing to air Saving Private Ryan because of the profanity (despite having aired it uncensored before). This clean sweep in the name of decency is disingenuous, politically motivated election-year posturing to appease the Christian Right. It worked. Beneath the “decency campaign,” and all the ballyhoo that erupted after Monday Night Football’s “controversial” Desperate Housewives tie-in, Nicolette-Sheridan-does-to-Terrell-Owens-what-T.O.-did-to-Baltimore intro last month, is the possibility that both sequences irked viewers not because they were sexually explicit, but because they featured interracial couples in risqué situations. Otherwise, where was the uproar for Coors’ scantily clad teeee-wiiinnss? Or Miller Lite’s wet T-shirt catfighting-in-a-fountain supermodels? Or objections to Levitra’s warning about four-hour erections? Or . . .

6

National Pastime Returns to Nation’s Capital

The Montreal Expos have moved a little closer to home—the first time a Major League Baseball franchise has relocated since the 1972 season, when the Washington Senators moved from D.C. to the heart of Texas as the Rangers. During that same time period, the NFL, the NBA, and the NHL shifted teams dozens of times. With a baseball team in Washington, the Orioles should forfeit their regional identity and stitch baltimore back on the road jerseys. Effective immediately. The addition of the Nationals allows Baltimore fans to ridicule D.C. for adding yet another underperforming much-hyped franchise to the floundering three they have already.

7

Lance Livestrong

This is simply unfair. First, Lance Armstrong beat cancer. And he never looked back, accomplishing the impossible by winning the Tour de France. Then he did it again. And again, and again, and again, and again—a record six consecutive times. The predictability of Armstrong winning the Tour is as expected as Ken Jennings winning on Jeopardy. Which now begs the question, how much longer can he last?

8

Bowl Championship Series Fails to Determine a Single NCAA Champion

University of Southern California and Louisiana State University both claim to be 2003 national champs in college football. How can two teams be crowned co-national champs? What is this, soccer? We are Americans. How can anyone expect us to accept a tie? Year after year, the BCS continues to prove itself to be an inadequate system: Don’t look now, but come Jan. 2 someone might get pooched again.

9

I Went to an NBA Game and an NHL Game Broke Out

Upon hearing that a fight broke out in Detroit Nov. 19, many thought hockey had returned to Hockeytown, USA. Sadly, it was yet another case of NBA players behaving badly, and of drunken fans behaving worse. (At least the players have an excuse for acting like spoiled children.)

10

NHL Lockout

Has anyone besides Canadians and members of the Zamboni drivers union even noticed that there is no action on the ice? One has to give both sides of this standoff credit for sticking to their guns. Unlike Major League Baseball, which blinked—effectively chickening out before enacting any real, substantive changes to a flawed economic structure—the NHL knows how to fight. The gloves are off. Now let’s see if they can make a real go of it.

Related stories

Top Ten archives

More Stories

The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

More from Gabriel Wardell

Parting Shots (9/14/2005)
The easiest way to tell when Tim McCarver is going to be wrong about something is to note when he is speaking.

Macro and Micro (9/7/2005)
The "Oriole Way" has become synonymous with "half-assed."

Choker’s Wild (8/31/2005)
Wild Card Races Are Bullshit.

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