The Washington Nationals may deserve to have a big ‘Thank you’ sign draped across the B and O warehouse at Camden Yards from Baltimore Orioles fans. People on the north end of the BW Parkway don’t want to hear it, but if not for the Nationals, Baltimore may still be the same floundering franchise it was for over a decade.
Before the Montreal Expos moved to Washington in 2005, the Orioles owned the D.C. and Maryland. They were the team of the region and promoted themselves as such. With no competition, Baltimore did not have to put a winning team on the field to draw fans.
Then the Nationals arrived, and that cut into Baltimore’s attendance. The Orioles had already taken a hit when the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL were born in 1996. The Nationals arrival hurt the Orioles’ attendance even more.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos did not want a team in Washington for obvious reasons. He knew that it would cut into his attendance and radio/TV revenue, so he made sure that concessions were made by MLB owners, and commissioner Bud Selig, to help him financially. The biggest concession was that Angelos would hold radio/TV rights in the region. Thus, Nationals games are televised on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network owned by Angelos. The Orioles are also broadcast on Washington’s local sports radio channel WTEM.
But where the Nationals really hit Angelos was in attendance. When the Lerner family bought the team in 2006 they set out to build a solid franchise from top to bottom. Over the next six years Washington built a new stadium, put together a solid minor league system, and drafted two young phenoms in pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper. The team hired one time Angelos employee Davey Johnson as a senior adviser in 2009. Johnson is now the team’s manager, the Nats are winning, and fans that used to go to Baltimore are now going to Nationals Park.
In Baltimore, Angelos had to make a decision. For years he had cried poverty as the reason he couldn’t compete for talent with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. This meant that the Orioles could never challenge for a pennant. With the Nationals building a team 40 miles south, Angelos had to do something or see his fan base dwindle even more.
Angelos did the only thing he could. He began to build a good, young ball club similar to the Nationals. The Orioles began to draft and sign talent like catcher Matt Wieters and center fielder Adam Jones. Just as with the Nationals, it took a little time for it to come together, but Baltimore is now in a battle for the AL East pennant with the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.
The irony is that the Orioles could have done all of this almost 15 years ago. When Johnson managed Baltimore for Angelos from 1996-97, he planned to build a team and organization similar to the one Washington has now. However, Angelos did not think it would be fair to veterans like Cal Ripken Jr. to start a rebuilding project.
After Johnson was released, it was obvious Angelos was not going to build a ball club unless something drastic forced him to. Enter the Nationals.
Washington’s arrival forced the Orioles organization to step it up. It seems as though Baltimore has as well. It seems that indirectly Johnson helped the Orioles to rebuild.
For this the fans of Baltimore should stretch a banner across the B and O warehouse that simply says, ‘Thank you Nationals.’