Sports tend to be a great outlet for a city to express its collective id. And while Baltimore has had plenty of modest, lunch-pail, grind-it-out sports heroes (Johnny Unitas and Cal Ripken, Jr. being the obvious examples), it’s also had more than its fair share of larger-than-life characters.
One of our first great sports celebrities was the Colts’ Artie Donovan, a funny, irreverent raconteur who was as comfortable on The Tonight Show couch as he was on the gridiron. We also had the Orioles’ famously pugnacious Earl Weaver, whose nose-to-nose, spittle-flying, profanity-laced confrontations with umpires, pictured, were the stuff of legends. Weaver often clashed with his gifted right-handed pitcher Jim Palmer, who with his perfect teeth and off-field polish made him a perfect foil to his manager.
The rowdiness of Weaver extended to the fans in the stands, who exuberantly took it upon themselves to improve the National Anthem by inserting a raucous “O!” before “Does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave?”—a tradition that continues to this day. Meanwhile, at Memorial Stadium, Wild Bill Hagy became an icon for donning that ubiquitous cowboy hat and leading the cheap seats in a pantomimed chant of O-R-I-O-L-E-S. (We also like to think that Hagy is the one responsible for “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” emerging as the official song of the seventh-inning stretch.)
Our tradition of eccentric athletes continues into the 21st century with the preacher-warrior linebacker Ray Lewis and his unforgettable “Hot in Herre” pre-game dance; our delightfully geeky, opera-singing, Royal-Farms-pitching kicker Justin Tucker; and the bubble-blowing, food-loving, do-gooding Adam Jones.
Each of our sports heroes tell us a little something about ourselves—what we value, what makes us laugh and cheer, how we choose to be perceived by the rest of the country. And while there will never be another Donovan, Hagy, or Jones, we’ll undoubtedly find another endearingly oddball athlete to idolize. It’s what we do.