Orioles stadium issues bring back memories of the Mayflower vans moving the Colts

BALTIMORE – We’re sensitive souls around here. We don’t like it when people in power fail to tell us the whole truth. We saw it happen precisely 40 years ago this week with our pro football team, and now a few questions linger about our baseball team.

Mark the date, December 18, exactly 40 years apart.

This time around, it’s the Baltimore Orioles getting a little fuzzy with language. The ballclub’s sticking around, though some of the details of their new lease at Camden Yards are still unclear. This week’s agreement comes several months since Gov. Wes Moore and club owner John Angelos triumphantly – and falsely – claimed they had a final “deal.”

It wasn’t. It was a nonbinding memorandum of understanding, not a lease, and it’s taken from September until this week to make it a “deal.”

Or, at least, part of a deal.

Did they really tie the Orioles to Baltimore this time? Yes, but the length of time is still a work in progress.

The deal doesn’t yet lease public land to the Orioles for development. That’s a long-term sticking point that still has to be resolved. And it’s an important point.

As The Sun baseball writers pointed out, the deal “was billed as a 30-year agreement in news releases from the Orioles and the state, but in the event the team and state do not come to terms on a development plan, the Orioles could choose to reduce their term to 15 years.”

At this week’s big announcement, Gov. Moore acknowledged “there is an option” for the deal to be limited to 15 years. He told reporters, “We’re all committed to making sure that this becomes a 30-plus year deal.”

Note the words: “committed to making sure.”

In other words, not quite the completed 30-year deal, not yet. And this, after that phony announcement last summer at Oriole Park, when Moore and John Angelos said they had a final deal and hoped nobody noticed they were taking their bows ahead of time.

At Monday’s announcement, Angelos took no bows. He didn’t even bother to show up. At least the Oriole bird was there, pinch-hitting.

Around here, we’re a little sensitive to stadium leases and unreliable ownership and teams that disappear in the middle of the night, owing to abandonment by the old Baltimore Colts – especially with that ironic Dec. 18 date floating around when the new Orioles lease deal was announced Monday.

Mark the date well. Forty years ago, Dec. 18, the Baltimore Colts played their final football game. They beat the Houston Oilers, 20 to 10, at a Memorial Stadium that was half empty at the end of years of bullying and mismanagement by the late and unlamented owner, Robert Irsay.

Nobody knew the end was near. Such a possibility seemed unthinkable. The Colts and their fans were bound at their heartstrings.

I can still remember a Colts’ locker room in 1975 when they’d clinched a playoff spot on a late Toni Linhart field goal through thick fog and the home crowd went berserk.

“Those people out there,” said an emotionally overwhelmed tackle Joe Ehrman in the post-game locker room, “I’d like to hug ‘em all, one by one.”

Then there was an evening a decade later with Mike Curtis, the ferocious middle linebacker during the triumphant Don Shula years. The Colts were gone by this point, but Curtis’ memories were still powerful.

“We were connected at the hip” with Baltimore,” he said. “It felt like we were attached to this town at our very core. You understand what I’m saying? It felt like we were attached at our souls.”

But then came that March night when the Mayflower moving vans showed up and moved the team all the way to Indianapolis.

So we’re a little sensitive around here when it comes to our ballclubs and how long they intend to stick around. And Monday’s signing date – Dec. 18 – is a reminder that it’s 40 years later, and we’re still nursing our anxieties.