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Tale of two cities: Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles

Let’s make the Nationals-Orioles rivalry actually about baseball.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals
When the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles meet this weekend at Camden Yards, they’ll be renewing a rivalry that’s been stoked by petty owners rather than results on the field.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s good that baseball allowed for the Washington Nationals to play the Baltimore Orioles in this COVID-shortened semblance of a season, continuing a rivalry between the two cities.

However, Baltimore and Washington don’t need ginned-up drama like “Battle of the Beltways” or whatever the broadcasters decide to call it.

The cities have a natural rivalry dating back decades that doesn’t need to be stoked, and it’s more about about the conduct of team owners and how they spend their money. But the region’s rabid baseball fans would come out in force for both teams if these games actually meant something.

When the Nats play at an empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards this weekend, fans can easily imagine that ballpark filled with a red-rocking throng, rooting for the visiting team in recent years. Just as many people could visualize a sizable Orioles contingent at Nationals Park, especially in the ballpark’s early seasons.

The Orioles have consistently beaten the Nats on the field. Not counting the suspended game between the two teams this season, Baltimore leads 8–2–5 in series and 43–33 in games won. In the years that the two cities had AL teams, 1954 was the only season the original or expansion Senators would have a winning record against the Orioles, winning 12 of 22 games between the two teams.

By the time the American League realigned into two divisions, the Orioles built the first three of four consecutive American League East championships on the backs of wins over the expansion Senators.

But Baltimore’s 11-season football drought, overlapped by Washington’s 32-season baseball void, fed the enmity between the cities’ sports fans. Now that both cities have football and baseball teams, the rivalry is not about which team won a particular game or series, it’s about the way owners can manipulate jealous fan bases to fork over.

But after overseeing the growth of a financially successful regional franchise, Orioles owner Peter Angelos balked at the prospect of a team in Washington. The creation to appease him of a regional TV sports network that carries both teams’ games has fueled court battles over TV revenues that rage to this day.

But how many fans feel invested in the rivalry because of all that? People can quote chapter and verse of the petty transgressions of owners, media and fan bases, but what should matter most is what happens on the field. After these two teams meet this weekend, they won’t likely play again this season. There’s really nothing at stake this weekend, other than “bragging rights.”

But who cares about that? Let’s make Nationals-Orioles rivalry mean something.

The universal designated hitter has pretty much erased any differences between the two leagues. That erosion started when interleague play began years ago, and it’s just about complete.

With few distinctions between the leagues, let’s realign and put the Nats and Orioles in the same division. If fans are ever allowed back into games, they would flock to the other team’s ballpark as well as their own.

And regardless of the rivalry at any point, the teams would be competing many more times a year, and the games would determine division championships and playoff berths. That’s what feeds a rivalry.