THE SPORTS SCENE:

2005 Baltimore Sports in Review

by Darrell Carter
It was a dull year for winning, to be sure, but having teams to cheer for should still be a blessing to all of us Baltimore sports fans.
Scandal, accusation, drugs, mistrust, and poor performances on the field marred the local sports scene in 2005. There were so many distractions off the field; this reporter felt it necessary to change the title of this annual year-end report from the usual “Top Ten Sports Stories” to just “Sports in Review.” However, there were some exciting events, and some heroes to memorialize.

Let us review:

Steroids and Congress
Baltimore was once again in the national news--and this time not for the murder rate or political upheaval. In March, Baltimore Orioles Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa went before the House Government Reform Committee to testify regarding allegations made by former ball player Jose Canseco that there was, and still is, steroid drug use in baseball. Canseco directly accused Palmeiro and others of sharing steroid needles to enhance on-the-field performance.

Palmeiro was asked by the Congressional committee to refute the claim that he ever used steroids. He did his best Bill Clinton impersonation and pointed at the Congresspersons and said, “I have never used steroids period.” In August, Major League Baseball suspended him for 10 games for his steroid use. Less than three weeks earlier Palmeiro had become the forth player in history to achieve 3,000 hits and 500 homeruns. The Congressional committee debated whether to charge the finger-pointing Palmeiro of perjury, though he was exonerated of taking the illegal substance at the time of the hearing. In Palmeiro's behind-closed-doors testimony, he stated that a B-12 vitamin injection administered to him by fellow teammate Miguel Tajada was laced with the steroid ingredient Stanozolol that caused the positive test result.

The Rise and Fall of the Orioles
In late August, pitcher Sidney Ponson was released by the Orioles after driving while intoxicated. This was Ponson's second drunk driving charge, and it led to a five-day jail term in December--his second jail sentence in the past year: he spent 11 days in an Aruban jail for punching a man who turned out to be a judge.

The collapse of the Orioles enraged many diehard fans and had questions circulating as to why and how a team could be in first place heading into June, and then totally collapse in the second half of the season, finishing fourth in the division. Manager Lee Mazzilli lost his job--and factors in this decision included steroid use, B-12, alcohol, mystery injuries, dissension, terrible pitching, and Sammy Sosa dying bat.

Baltimore Marathon
The 5th Annual Baltimore Marathon was dominated by runners from the former Soviet Union. In the men’s division, Mykola Antonenko of the Ukraine won with a time of 2:15:39, ending a four-year rein of the Kenyans. He beat out the runner-up, Kihail Khobotov of Russia, who finished the race at 2:17:00. Lithuanian Mindaugas Pukstas finished third. Baltimorean John Spider Sillery finished in eleventh place with a time of 2:38:34.

In the Women’s division, Ramilya Burangulova of Russia, 44, won for the second consecutive year, with a time of 2:42:00, beating out Ilona Barvanova, 33, of the Ukraine, who had a time of 2:44:44, and Marina Bychkova of Russia, who finished third with a time of 2:46:07. Denise Knickman of Baltimore finished in seventh place, with a time of 2:57:09.

The Passing of Heroes
Elrod Hendricks 1940 – 2005

Elrod Hendricks, a longtime Baltimore Orioles player (back catcher) and coach for 37 years, died December 21 from a heart attack, one day shy of his 65th birthday. In April, he suffered a mild stroke, but returned to bullpen coaching duties before the All-Star break. Hendricks was not retained after the season, due to his previous health concerns, and was awaiting reassignment in the organization. He played in three consecutive World Series with the Orioles from 1969-71. One of his most memorable highlights as a player was in 1978, when he took the mound in a blow-out, pitching 2.1 scoreless innings.

[Reporter's personal note: When I was a little boy 35 years ago, I first encountered Hendricks outside of the old Memorial Stadium. I asked him for my very first autograph. He took the time to sign his name, though he was running late for practice. I reminded him almost 30 years later in the O’s clubhouse of the autograph session, and thanked him for his patience and courtesy to an eight-year-old.]

Jim Parker 1934 – 2005

Former Baltimore Colts Hall-of-Famer offensive tackle Jim Parker passed away at the age of 71. He played for the Colts from ’57-‘67. He was instrumental in the famed “Greatest Game Ever Played” in 1958, when the old Colts defeated the New York Giants 23-17 to win the NFL Championship Game. The following year, Parker was opening up holes for running back Lenny Moore once again, and repeating as NFL champion against the same Giants, winning 31-16. He played in eight straight Pro-Bowls and was named to eight straight All-NFL teams. Picked in the first round of the 1957 NFL Draft, he received numerous college football awards while playing at Ohio State, including All American and All Big Ten in ’55 and ’56, and won the Outland Trophy in 1956 for most outstanding offensive linemen. Parker was inducted into the College Football Hall-of-Fame.

Chuck Thompson 1921 – 2005

Chuck Thompson, the voice of Baltimore’s baseball and football, was an institution in Charm City for more than 50 years. He died at the age of 83. His smooth style of delivering the play-by-play was soothing to millions of listeners over the years, who cringed at every opposing homerun called or touchdown scored. He painted the picture and became Michelangelo to all who listen to him.

His famed signature “Ain’t the beer cold!” and “Go to War, Miss Agnes!” became household phases.

He started his career with the Philadelphia Athletics and Phillies in 1947. In 1949, the Orioles, then in the minor International League, hired him. When the former St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore, Thompson became the voice of the team until 1958, then moved to the Washington Senators in 1960, and returned to the Orioles in 1962. He called the old Baltimore Colts games from the 50’s until they left town in Mayflower's moving vans in 1984. He received the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993.

The Collapse of the Ravens
In the ten-year history of the Baltimore Ravens, 2005 was promised to be a repeat of the 2000 championship team. So what happened? Well, management allowed an aging offensive line to get very old overnight. Kyle Boller, a young and injury-prone quarterback, failed to progress and had many problems with mechanics, especially his footwork in the pocket. Jamal Lewis was disgruntled over a contract extension that he proclaimed would be settled once he'd agreed to a plea bargain to serve jail time earlier in the year for being an accessory to a drug deal while in college.

Injuries to strong safety Ed Reed, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, running back Jamal Lewis, cornerback Chris McAlister, and tight end Todd Heap caused all of them to miss significant time this season. Also, season-ending injuries to second-round pick linebacker Dan Cody, fullback Alan Ricard, guard Keydrick Vincent, and tackle Orlando Brown contributed to a disappointing season. Injuries to defensive end Anthony Weaver and fullbacks Ovie Mughelli and Justin Green added to the long list of those missing in action.

A lack of imagination on offense caused rumblings among the fan faithful. Former offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh was fired before the season for offense's lack of production in previous years. Cavanaugh's successor, Jim Fassel, was less productive, which led many to believe that the play-calling was initiated by head coach Brian Billick, and that Billick himself should be fired.

It was a dull year for winning, to be sure, but having teams to cheer for should still be a blessing to all of us sports fans.


Darrell Carter, a West Baltimore resident, has covered sports for the Chronicle for over 10 years. He may be reached at dkc21202@yahoo.com.



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This story was published on December 23, 2005.