Research Brief: The Baltimore Orioles' City Impact

by Richard Hardesty

Research Brief: The Baltimore Orioles' City Impact

Research during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a tremendous challenge. Given that my research is on Major League Baseball’s Orioles and their relationship with Baltimore, many of the places I go to conduct research were closed for most, if not all, of the summer. Places like the Maryland State Archives, Baltimore City Archives, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. However, I was still able to come away with crucial pieces of evidence that shaped the trajectory of my dissertation. Online databases allowed me to explore newspapers for contemporaneous accounts of major events. Similarly, the University of Baltimore had online access to oral histories and government reports regarding the 1968 Baltimore riots, and how the city moved on from the riots to experience a renaissance by the late-1970s. From the research I gathered, the Orioles in many ways highlighted the triumphs of Baltimore while concealing its tragedies.            

The Orioles revealed the conflicted relationship that exists between sports and the urban environment during the last half of the 20th century. For the City of Baltimore, the Orioles served as a status symbol for a city troubled by declining population, a loss of business and jobs, racial turmoil, and an increase in crime. The Orioles’ arrival gave Baltimore a psychological boost during a period of decay, elevating its status as “a major league city.” To be sure, my research showed that the Orioles provided the spark needed to further urban redevelopment projects, as business leaders like Clarence W. Miles, who brought the team from St. Louis, forged close relationships with city political leaders and led urban renewal organizations like the Greater Baltimore Committee. These efforts became instrumental in the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor, as illustrated by Harbor Place, the Maryland Science Center, and the National Aquarium. However, as much as the Orioles sparked urban redevelopment, they also revealed and masked many of the problems that continue to plague Baltimore. The team, for example, had a tense relationship with Baltimore’s African American community for its perceived unwillingness to sign, develop, or trade for quality African American talent. Over time, this improved with trades that brought Frank Robinson to Baltimore or the organization’s development of Eddie Murray. Still, the Orioles can be connected to the larger discussion on civil rights in the United States. Equally problematic, the Orioles’ arrival did not solve all of Baltimore’s problems. Camden Yards remains a crown jewel major league stadium and an integral part of Downtown Baltimore. Yet, as the Orioles describe Camden Yards as “the ballpark that changed America,” many Baltimore neighborhoods have experienced long-term decay that has not been reversed.

In all, the research I conducted and the results I have obtained have been important as I complete the manuscript of my dissertation. Over the long term, my goal is to polish and defend the dissertation, with the ultimate goal of having this work published in book form. A portion of one chapter, which outlines a failed stadium project during the 1970s, was published in 2016 in a book titled Baltimore Sports. There is also another chapter that I would like to publish, which chronicles Frank Robinson’s arrival in Baltimore in 1966. This arrival not only transformed the Orioles into champions, but also marked a shift in the civil rights movement. A growing number of activists no longer embraced non-violence as a successful protest method, while a growing number of white Americans began to resist additional social advances. Ultimately, my hope is that my chapter on Frank Robinson will serve as another preview piece to the finished project in book form.