Thursday, April 5, 2018

Baltimore's 10 Greatest Teams

The Yankees are starting a home series against the Baltimore Orioles today.

Baltimore's 10 Greatest Teams

Honorable Mention to the University of Maryland, for the 1951 and 1953 National Championships won by their football team, and the 2002 National Championship won by their basketball team.

Honorable Mention to Morgan State University of Baltimore, winners of 7 National Championships won in black college football: 1933, 1937, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1949 and 1967.

Honorable Mention to the Baltimore Bays, Champions of the Eastern Division in the 1st attempt at an American soccer "first division," the 1967 National Professional Soccer League. They lost the title game to the Oakland Clippers.

Honorable Mention to the 2012-16 Orioles. 5 seasons, 3 Playoff berths, the 2014 American League Eastern Division title, and a trip to the 2014 AL Championship Series. But, so far, no Pennants.

Honorable Mention to the 1975-77 Colts. In 3 seasons, the Colts went 31-10 in the regular season, winning the AFC Eastern Division Championship each time. But they went 0-3 in the Playoffs, losing twice to the Pittsburgh Steel Curtain and once in double overtime to the Oakland Raiders. After the "Ghost to the Post" game, the Colts made the Playoffs just once in the next 17 seasons, and even by that point, they were in Indianapolis.

Dishonorable Mention to the 1996-97 Orioles. They won the AL Wild Card, then the AL East title, with a team driven by steroids. (We know about Rafael Palmeiro. We can guess about Brady Anderson and some others.) This team went 1-5 at home in the ALCS in those seasons, despite their cheating, so I don't want to hear a word about how the Yankees "cheated" in 1996.

10. 1964-65 Colts. Between the 2 championship teams was a team that was in transition, but still managed to do very well. They won the Western Division title in 1964 (what Baltimore was doing in the West is an explanation I have never heard), but lost the NFL Championship Game to the Cleveland Browns. They tied with the Green Bay Packers for the Division title in 1965, and lost a Playoff to reach the Championship Game on a controversial field goal.

9. 1970-71 Bullets. The 2nd and (so far) last NBA team in Baltimore only lasted from 1963 to 1973, before moving down Interstate 95 to Landover, Maryland, to become the Capital Bullets, then the Washington Bullets in 1974, and then into the District of Columbia to become the Washington Wizards in 1997.

Although they made the Playoffs in 7 of their 10 seasons in Baltimore, the best they could do was the Division Finals (then the NBA's "Final Four") in 1965, and the Eastern Conference title in 1971, then getting swept in the Finals in 4 straight by the Milwaukee Bucks.

8. 1894-96 Orioles. The original version of the town's baseball team won 3 straight National League Pennants. They finished 2nd in 1897, and were soon broken up, and were contracted after 1899. Right after that, enough changes came to what we would now call Major League Baseball that it's hard to say how the old O's would have done in the modern era. But they did win 3 of what we would now call "World Championships," and in just 3 years, and that's as many as the current O's have done in 64 seasons.

The minor-league version of the Orioles won a few Pennants before the American League's St. Louis Browns arrived for the 1954 season.

7. 1944-48 Bullets. The city's 1st pro basketball team reached the Finals of the American Basketball League in 1945, 1946 and 1947, but won only in 1946. They moved to the Basketball Association of America for the 1947-48 season, and, led by player-coach Buddy Jeannette, won the title.

But the merging of the BAA with the National Basketball League, to form the NBA, in 1949 was their doom. In the next 5 seasons, they made the Playoffs only once. They folded early in the 1954-55 season. As with the 1890s Orioles, the sport they played changed a lot after their big era, so it's hard to say how the '48 Bullets would have done, even against the '71 version, let alone against the 2010s Golden State Warriors and LeBron James teams.

6. 2000-01 Ravens. After moving from Cleveland, the original version of the Browns spent their 1st 4 seasons in Purple & Black missing the Playoffs, then put it together in the 2000 season, going 12-4, winning Playoff games over Denver, at Tennessee and at Oakland, and then beating the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

But they couldn't keep it together, and won just 1 Playoff game over the next 6 seasons. By the time they won another, they were a very different team, with Ray Lewis pretty much the only holdover.

5. 1967-71 Colts. In 1967, the Colts were 11-0-2 going into the last game of the season -- but they lost it to the Los Angeles Rams, and thus lost the NFL Coastal Division title, costing them a trip to the Playoffs.

In 1968, they roared through the regular season, going 13-1, then avenging their only loss by demolishing the Browns in the NFL Championship Game, to reach Super Bowl III. Then they put on one of the worst big-game performances ever, and the Jets took advantage.

They missed the Playoffs in 1969, but redeemed themselves in 1970, going 11-2-1, and winning Super Bowl V. They made the Playoffs again in 1971, then everyone got old at once, and it all fell apart.

Talent-wise, this may have been the best sports team in Baltimore history. Results-wise, it wasn't.

4. 2008-14 Ravens. In 7 seasons, the Ravens reached the Playoffs 6 times, won 2 AFC North Division titles, won 10 postseason games (8 of them away from Baltimore), reached 3 AFC Championship Games, and won Super Bowl XLVII.

3. 1979-83 Orioles. The last American League Eastern Division title by the Brooks & Frank Robinson Oriole teams was in 1974. The O's then averaged 91 wins a season over the next 4 years, with no titles to show for it. But in 1979, they had one of the best teams of the modern era, winning 102 games, winning the Pennant, and taking a 3-1 lead in the World Series, before the Pittsburgh Pirates -- doing to the Orioles what they'd previously done in 1971 -- won 3 straight to take it.

This may have been Baltimore's most frustrating team. In 1980, they won 100 games, but lost the AL East to the Yankees. In 1981, they finished 2nd in both halves of the strike-split season, and didn't make the Playoffs. In 1982, they were 4 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers with 5 to play, and needed to win their last 5, including 3 against the Brewers, to win the Division -- and won the 1st 4, but lost on the final day.

In 1983, they finally won it all, beating the Detroit Tigers out for the Division, the Chicago White Sox in the AL Championship Series, and the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Cal Ripken Jr. had a title in only his 2nd season. He would play another 18 without winning another Pennant.

2. 1958-59 Colts. Before the Dallas Cowboys even existed, this was the working man's version of "America's Team." Johnny Unitas took the team to back-to-back NFL Championships, beating the Giants both times, at Yankee Stadium in overtime in "The Greatest Game Ever Played," then again the next year at Memorial Stadium.

They were good for most of the 1960s, but not as good as they had been at the end of the 1950s. The Colts' Golden Age turned Silver rather quickly, although it never really tarnished.

1. 1966-74 Orioles. 9 seasons, 6 1st-place finishes, 4 American League Pennants, and the 1966 and 1970 World Championships. This was the team that made an institution, and a model for other teams to follow, of what 1968-82 manager Earl Weaver called "The Oriole Way: Pitching, defense, and three-run homers."

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