- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

No big deal.

That’s what it was, or wasn’t, when baseball teams from Washington and Baltimore met from 1954 through 1971.

Simmering and sizzling rivalries add a large helping of spice to professional and college sports. Consider: Yankees vs. Red Sox, Redskins vs. Cowboys, Celtics vs. Lakers, Army vs. Navy, Yale vs. Harvard — and dozens of others around the globe.

Most definitely, Senators vs. Orioles was not one of them. It remains to be seen whether Nationals vs. Orioles will become the sort of confrontation that drives people batty.

“When we played the Orioles, it was nothing like a Subway Series,” said former Senators outfielder Chuck Hinton, who was taken from Baltimore by the new Washington club in the 1960 expansion draft. “I always enjoyed playing against Baltimore because I knew their players and they knew me. But for most of us, it was just another game.”

Certainly, this weekend’s first regular-season series between the Nats and O’s has the potential to light sparks, particularly on this end of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Among D.C. fans, Orioles owner Peter Angelos is reviled because of his Herculean efforts to keep a club out of the nation’s capital.

It seems unlikely Angelos will attend the impending festivities at RFK Stadium, but it will be interesting if he does — especially if somebody hangs him in effigy or, worse, dumps an overpriced cup of beer over his head. Former Senators owner Bob Short suffered both indignities after deciding to move the expansion Senators to Texas. His likeness was hanged at the Senators’ final game at RFK in September 1971, and he was showered with National Boh the next spring when he turned up at Memorial Stadium to watch his newly christened Rangers play the Orioles.

Angelos also is a dastardly figure to many hereabouts because of his Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, an entity Major League Baseball granted him as part of the payoff for not blocking the Montreal Expos’ move here.

Relatively few Nationals fans can see more than a handful of games on TV because Comcast SportsNet, the area’s largest provider, refuses to show those produced by MASN while the cable outlet is suing the Orioles. Angelos intends to move Baltimore’s games to his network next season after the club’s contract with Comcast expires, and Comcast claims it should have been allowed to bid against MASN.

All this stands in stark contract to the attitude of longtime Senators owner Clark Griffith, who demanded only a payment of $75,000 for sharing his territorial rights when the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954. In effect, baseball’s legendary “Old Fox” was saying, “Y’all come,” rather than treating that invasion as something akin to D-Day in World War II.

Both clubs were terrible then. From 1954 through 1959, both slunk around the nether regions of the American League. But then the Orioles got good and ultimately very good while the expansion Senators were mostly stinking up the joint with six seasons of 92 or more losses in eight years.

Even in 1969, when Ted Williams cussed and fussed the Senators to a surreal 86-76 record good for fourth place, there was no semblance of a pennant race between the two clubs because the dratted Orioles won 109 games.

“It was like they were laughing at us inside all the time,” recalled Paul Casanova, a popular catcher with the Senators in the 1960s who now lives in Miami. “We really wanted to win because a lot of our key players — guys like Chuck Hinton, Fred Valentine and Mike Epstein — had played for both teams. But they were just too good, especially after Frank [Robinson] got there in 1966.”

There was no blather back then about the “Battle of the Beltway” after the interstate highway was opened in 1964. The rivalry, such as it is, more properly should be called the “Battle of the Parkway” since each Beltway, Washington’s I-495 and Baltimore’s I-695, goes around its city.

Nonetheless, the proximity between the Capital City and Charm City has led to some unwanted intimacy. Briefly in the 1960s, the teams even alternated home games in the same series — say, RFK on Thursday and Saturday, Memorial on Friday and Sunday.

“And I remember one day when I was pitching the second game of a doubleheader in Baltimore, and I was listening to the first game while driving along the Parkway,” said Jim Hannan, a sturdy starter for the Senators from 1962 to 1968. “That was really weird.”

Hannan, who now lives in Northern Virginia, recalls one series against the Orioles in particular. “I started and won the game on Friday, pitched in relief and won on Saturday and they had me warming up on Sunday.”

Obviously, such success was rare for the Senators against the Orioles. Over 18 years, the O’s had a 224-176 advantage against both Washington franchises — a substantial winning percentage of .560.

The rivalry between the cities involves much more than baseball, of course. Years ago, snooty Washingtonians tended to look down their elegant noses at provincial Baltimoreans — and folks in Crabtown understandably resented it.

“Washington and Baltimore had a one-sided rivalry for many years,” said Bob Wolff, a Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster who was the “voice” of the Senators from 1946 to 1960. “Baltimoreans hated anything about Washington — even the beer — and Washingtonians couldn’t have cared less.”

Now the two unfriendly neighboring cities will compete anew. With the Nats in the National League and the O’s in the American, they’ll never be fighting for pennants or playoff spots. But someday in the distant future they could meet in the World Series — and then this so-so rivalry would be a really big deal.

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