It was at the baseball winter meetings in December 1990 that I passed by Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda and got an unexpected earful.
He was holding court near the media workroom at the Hyatt Regency-O’Hare Hotel outside Chicago and noticed me trying to slip by on the way to chase down some unfounded Orioles trade rumor. I almost made a clean getaway.
“You see that guy over there,” Tommy boomed. “That guy is the dumbest guy in the world. He moved from the beach in Southern California to freaking Baltimore. Can you believe that?”
Everybody laughed because it seemed so absurd. I laughed, too, because I knew that I had gotten the better end of the deal.
Hard to believe it has been more than 30 years since The Baltimore Sun lured me away from all that sun and sand to replace future ESPN star Tim Kurkjian and, hopefully, charm the terrific baseball fans of Charm City.
Instead, they charmed me and I never looked back … at least until now, as I put the finishing touches on a wonderful career at one of America’s great, historic newspapers.
I’m sure I was something of an acquired taste. My introductory column, in which I tried to explain that Peter Schmuck was indeed my real name, seemed to be well-received, but it took some time to be accepted by a sports community that was suspicious of anyone from out of town who wasn’t named Johnny or Brooks.
The Orioles were coming off the uplifting 1989 “Why Not?” season. Frank Robinson was the manager. Cal Ripken Jr. was right in the middle of his assault on Lou Gehrig’s supposedly unbreakable consecutive games record. Brooks Robinson was an everyday presence in the broadcast booth. Oriole Park at Camden Yards was just beginning to rise just south of the Inner Harbor. Life was good.
Nearly three decades later, the ballpark doesn’t look a day older, but I certainly do. I’ve aged in the ballpark’s place like the picture of Dorian Gray and witnessed just about every significant moment that has taken place there.
Some great: When Cal overtook the Iron Horse and then took his famous victory lap, the city was bursting with civic pride. When Eddie Murray hit his 500th home run on the one-year anniversary of Ripken’s great night, the stars could not have been lined up better for this hardcore, hardscrabble baseball town.
It also has been my great privilege to watch the Ravens rise quickly after the franchise arrived in 1996 to reach the Super Bowl in just their fifth season, then win their second title at the end of Ray Lewis’ “last ride” in 2012.
And, speaking of memorable rides, all the times I was at Old Hilltop for the Preakness Stakes, two of which paved the way for Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify and one which ended with the injury to popular 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who captured the hearts of racing fans across the nation before dying months later as a result of that breakdown.
Near the top of the many highlights of my career covering sports for The Sun was being added to the delegation that traveled to Cuba in January 1999 to organize the Orioles’ historic home-and-home goodwill series against a team of Cuban all-stars. The trip was controversial and so were the games that eventually were played in Havana and Baltimore, but it was an enlightening experience that allowed me to view the Cuban-American political conundrum in a much more nuanced light.
What really made it all worthwhile was the way this community allowed me to become a real part of it, not just some carpetbagger from some faraway city hunting for a better paycheck. Although, I guess I probably fit that description at the outset.
For all its faults, Baltimore is a special town full of special people who get up every morning hoping to make it a better place.
More than a half-century ago, I was a 12-year-old kid standing in the parking lot at Anaheim Stadium asking the great Brooks Robinson for his autograph. How could I have even imagined that I would grow up to work all these years in the presence of Brooks and Frank and Boog and Jim Palmer and all of the fans who allowed me to bring them the stories of those great Orioles and so many others in all the sports that matter to Maryland.
I’m also thankful for so many talented, dedicated co-workers that there is not room to list them all here. The Sun is still a great historic newspaper, with another Pulitzer Prize arriving this past week to prove it. In this crazy, mixed-up world, we should all be thankful for the people who work long and sometimes dangerous hours to keep a watchful eye on our government and important institutions.
The same, of course, goes for all of the heroic people who stand on the front lines during this awful coronavirus pandemic.
I just watched ballgames.
This is a farewell column, but I’m not really saying goodbye. Maryland is where my wife, Linda, and I brought up our kids and where our kids had their kids — one of them a brand-new little Peter Schmuck. This has been our home and I’m not going anywhere, not even back to that pretty beach in Southern California.