The Orioles and cops -- an Opening Day primer

Police and baseball go together like, well, maybe not so much. But cops and criminals are part of this city’s fabric, and sometimes get just as much attention, if not more, than the ballplayers themselves. Opening Day gives us a chance to look back at the times our police and our Orioles shared headline at Camden Yards.

I’m sure I’ve missed many, and yes, I know, this list does not include the beloved Memorial Stadium. I welcome any and all additions and contributions:

1. Ripken’s No. 8 picked off — Who can forget the four hooligans who in 2009 stole Cal Ripken Jr.’s No. 8 sculpture in front of the ballpark and then paraded it through the city on the back of a pickup truck. It prompted one of the police commissioner’s best quotes: “Don't come to Baltimore to be a moron."

2. Brush back? — Back in 1999, slugger Albert Belle grazed a policeman while running from the field to the dugout between innings. Fellow cops called the swipe intentional, but both Orioles and police commanders said the officer mistakenly stood in Belle’s well worn path. Both sides, said the team’s spokesman, agreed to “characterize it as an inadvertent brush.”

3. Attack on the Bird, Part 1 (Philadelphia) — A spectator shoved The Bird off a 7-foot-high platform and onto the warning track in right center field back in May 1999. The victim suffered a sprained ankle and bruised shoulder, and a Philadelphia fan was arrested. Police said he deliberately pushed the mascot and then started high-fiving fans around him.

4. Attack on the Bird, Part 2 (New York) — In 1995, a cop from Long Island punched the Orioles Bird near the right field foul pole, causing $500 damage to the orange and black costume and shocking children. The cop, visiting with more than a dozen colleagues, was arrested and his friends booted from the park. Police said he had been drinking for 10 hours. The Bird appeared in the next game wearing a bandage around his head and his wing in a sling.

5. Creating an international incident — Protesters angry that the Orioles hosted a baseball team from Cuba in 1999 stormed the field in the fourth and fifth innings. The Cuban umpire demonstrated Communist-style policing when he body-slammed one of the intruders at second base. “I just thought that was right way to do it,” he said. The next day, as INS agents staked out the stadium, a retired Cuban pitcher and coach known as “the little giant of the mound” defected by walking into the Central District police station near The Block and asking the desk sergeant for political asylum.

6. Baltimore at war — Opening Day 1999 opened a few days early with an ominous threat. An unannounced, and very low, flyover by two A-10 “Warthog” jets sent scared residents dialing 911, thinking the city had come under attack. The Maryland Air National Guard was merely practicing for the first Orioles game at Camden Yards, but had failed to tell the city that its 53-foot long planes with guns that can fired 4,200 rounds a minutes would be flying 518 mph over the Inner Harbor, at the same time similar jets were bombing Serbian ground troops in the war in Serbia.

7. Cops scalping tickets, Part 1 — It’s hard to believe, but the Orioles were once so popular that even cops had to steal tickets to get into a game. Two officers pleaded guilty in May 1997 to taking 22 tickets from scalpers and then taking themselves, friends and family to watch the O’s play the Yankees. They got caught before they could use the tickets. Both cops resigned in exchange for a suspended sentence. Their lawyer said in court that the practice was common. “There’s a certain craziness surrounding Oriole tickets,” he said.

8. Cops scalping tickets, Part 2 — News apparently doesn’t travel fast. Just five months after the cops pleaded guilty to taking tickets, three more city cops were ordered to desk duty, accused of seizing tickets from a teenager and illegally selling them outside the ballpark. One of the officers suspended was the one who caught the two who pleaded guilty back in May.

9. Preparing for New York — New Yorkers tend to bring out the worst in visitors (remember the New York cop who punched the Bird?). Back in 1996, an expected showdown with the hated Yankees got dubbed the “Rumble in the Bronx.” This was an American League Championship Series playoff game, and the city cops prepared for 16,000 Yankees fans invading Camden Yards. “They tend to be a little more verbose,” said Police Lt. Donald Healy, being extra careful with his words. “A lot of them drink to excess.” This was just days after 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached over and snagged a fly ball hit by Derek Jeter, which was called a home-run, tying the game at 4. The Yankees won in extra innings, and went on to win the series. The Baltimore police spokesman at the time, Agent Robert W. Weinhold, assured Oriole fans that their police department wouldn’t let a similar travesty occur. “If a Baltimore police officer was I the right-field stands and saw a ball coming toward a 12-year-old Yankee fan, we would have been quick enough to go down and arrest him for truancy before he could have gotten a glove on the ball.”

10. The run-around — Baltimore police officers who work Camden Yards are trained in dealing with fans to run on the field. They carefully box the runner into a corner and then move in for the arrest. They’re not supposed to chase. In 1996, tactical Officer Guy Thacker proved why the policy is sound. He chased a 21-year-old man as his colleagues stood around and watched, perplexed at why their training was being ignored. For several painful and funny minutes, Thacker alone ran after the hapless runner as he weaved in and out of players, dodging Thacker at every twist and turn. Finally, the other cops pressed him to a corner and carted him off the field. “He [chased him] out of a sense of duty and frustration,” his boss said, noting that cops are to avoid “becoming part of the spectacle.” But with the Orioles shut out 8-0 by Toronto that day, the spectacle was the evening’s only entertainment.

Bonus TV entertainment — If we can so easily link cops to baseball, then surely we can link baseball to Homicide: Life on the Street. In one episode of David Simon’s pre-Wire television series, detectives investigated a killing of a New Yorker during a game at Camden Yards, noting 48,000 possible suspects. In the end, another New Yorker emerged as the suspect, admitting to killing the victim because he said the Orioles were better than the Yankees. The suspect only confesses if the cops let him watch the rest of the game.

Let Spring at Camden Yards begin!

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