The end of an era in Baltimore sports
Baltimore is a town rich in sports tradition and it is a city that has been fortunate to have many elite athletes, both on and off the field. Whether its Brooks or Frank or Cal or Ray or Adam, we have had leaders both on the field and in the community. This is a town that has always embraced its athletes, especially those that give back to the city and the people in it. Over the past 9 months, the city of Baltimore has seen many of their leaders and idols leave.
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It started with the Orioles trading Manny Machado. Machado did some things in the community and was one of the best players the Orioles ever produced, maybe even the best. I don’t believe he had the same connection to the city as some of the past Orioles greats but he was still a fan favorite and an elite player. The decision to make this move was reportedly finally Ok’ed because Peter Angelos, the principle owner of the Orioles, is no longer making decisions and his sons, John and Lou, are now in charge. We will see how this turns out, but it’s so far so good. Then, after the Orioles season ended, they decided to not retain Buck Showalter. Anyone who would attend Orioles games know that Buck would get one of the loudest ovations. He was revered by many in the city. He was viewed as the guy who turned around the organization. He and his wife were also very active in the community. He was a nice guy who showed humor and loyalty and fans loved him for it.
We then saw Mike Elias take over the Orioles organization. He has installed new age thought to the Orioles and a hope that the Orioles are now going to be on a level playing field with the rest of MLB. On the Ravens side of things, we saw Eric DeCosta finally take the big chair as the GM. Ozzie Newsome, a HOF player and executive who had been here since the beginning in 1996, stepped down from his post at the end of the season and while Ozzie is still working for the team, the final decision is DeCosta’s from now on.
The next ball to drop was the trading of Joe Flacco. Now, the trade won’t be made official until today but he has essentially been gone for about a month. Flacco is headed to Denver after a decade in Baltimore. He grew up here. He started as a small college QB with a big arm that needed work and became a Super Bowl MVP and one of the most unflappable playoff QBs in the history of the sport. Until he tore his ACL back in 2015, he was the new version of the Iron Man. He played every game at the toughest position in the toughest sport. He took hit after hit and always got up. He didn’t whine about anything in the locker room. For years, the lack of weapons was obvious to everyone but Joe didn’t go out and cry about it in the media. He just went and did his job. We should appreciate Joe for what he was, not what he wasn’t.
Perhaps the most crushing blow to the city came just a few days ago. We all knew it was going to happen, it was just a matter of when but Adam Jones signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. There has perhaps NEVER been a Baltimore athlete that embodies leadership both on and off the field like Jones did. He was the face of the team even when he wasn’t the best player. He was the loudest voice in the locker room and was never afraid to talk about things that were important to him. In the community, he was involved with many of the African American kids in the city, trying to keep them on the right path. He raised a lot of money for the Boys and Girls club at his annual tailgate party. On the field, Jones wasn’t an all-time great but he was one of the greatest Orioles ever and he, perhaps even moreso than Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, was the most important Baltimore athlete since Ripken. His contributions to the city will endure for a long time.
And finally, with NFL free agency finally upon us, the Ravens have seen an exodus of recognizable stars. They decided to part ways with Eric Weddle, who has been one of the leaders of this defense for a few years. He wasn’t in Baltimore long but he quickly became a fan favorite. With his beard, his eating of the ice cream after a win, on and off the field leadership and the way he handled himself in front of the microphone, he was a highly respected and well-liked player. This morning, at around 3 AM, CJ Mosely decided to sign with the Jets. He received a contract that no one predicted. He got a 5/85 deal with 50M guaranteed. That blew the Luke Keuchly contract out of the water in terms of the most money ever paid to a MILB. CJ isn’t as good as Keuchly but he was a FA at the right time and that is all that matters. He was a very good player for the Ravens over the last 5 years. He took over for Ray Lewis, which wasn’t an easy thing to do. He played at a Pro Bowl level, showed a lot of intelligence and leadership and was a key cog to a defense that was routinely a top 10 unit. And last but certain not least, we heard yesterday that Terrell Suggs, a 16-year vet of the Ravens, was leaving. Why he is leaving isn’t known at this point. The rumors are that he likely just saw what was going on around him defensively and just wanted to move on. Add to that the idea that he is going home, to Arizona and his decision makes sense. It doesn’t hurt any less though. He was a fun-loving guy who loves the game and the city. He was one of the toughest athletes this city has ever seen. His career will likely put him in Canton one day and while he had some off the field controversies, we shouldn’t overlook what he did for this city and for the Ravens over a career that connected people to the “old Ravens” and the “young Ravens”.
Now, as much as these moves hurt emotionally, they were still the right decisions. At some point, it’s time to move on to the next chapter. At some point, you have to draw a line in the sand on how much you pay someone. In pro sports, the biggest issue teams face, in terms of money, is spending elite money on good talent. The Ravens saw it with the Flacco contract, for example. You just can’t spend like that and expect to be able to win.
What do all of these departures mean? To me, the thing that jumps off the page is that the city is Lamar Jackson’s for the taking. He plays the most important position in sports. He is a young, African American kid in a city that is largely African American. He plays an exciting style of football. He is a leader and very well-liked by his teammates and his coaches. He is a hard worker and so far, he appears to be a guy that will embrace the community, the organization and its fans. His teammates rally behind him. Now, he has to go out, get better and win. If he does that, the city is his. Right now, we don’t have that player on the Orioles. Someone may develop into it but for the time being, Lamar Jackson has the keys to the city and won’t be relinquishing them anytime soon.
It is truly the end of an era in Baltimore sports. Since 2012, we have seen these teams win many games, division titles and even a world championship. For the Orioles, that seems like a lifetime ago. For the Ravens, they just won the division last season but with sweeping changes on defense and a full season of a new offense, we just don’t know what to expect from them. We should remember what these men meant to the city and to these teams. We should also remember that tough decisions need to be made and while it may hurt, it is for the best. It’s sad for sports fans to say good bye to their idols but don’t let that deter you from embracing the next generation.