One of the city of Baltimore’s, as well as one of it’s biggest sports cheerleaders has passed away. William Donald Schaefer, former governor of Maryland and mayor of the city of Baltimore, the city he loved, passed away last evening at the age of 89. Schaefer will forever be remembered for the role he played in raising the profile of Baltimore by championing projects such as Harborplace and the National Aquarium. He also will be remembered by sports fans for leading the efforts for building Camden Yards to keep the Orioles in town, and for his tireless work to bring a football team back to Baltimore when the Colts left for Indianapolis.
Not to repeat the tired history, but many hearts were broken the night the Colts left town, but none moreso than the then-mayor of the city. While he never got along very well with Robert Irsay, the owner of the Colts at the time, Schaefer kept working to do what he could to keep the Colts in town, even as the team suffered through some terrible seasons towards the end of their time in the city. While Irsay kept talking about moving to one city after another, then lying about not leaving town at the very end, Schaefer and his “do it now” attitude tried to keep Irsay appeased, until finally Irsay had the team move under cover of darkness. The loss of the Colts stung Schaefer, who for years tried to lure or get the NFL to add a team back to a city that helped make the game of football what it had become. During the expansion derby of the early ’90s, Baltimore sold out a pre-season game between two teams it had no rooting interest in, all in an effort to regain what it had lost. In fact, Baltimore met or even exceeded many of the milestones the NFL placed in front of it in its all-out effort to get a football team. Sadly for Schaefer and Baltimore fans, it was not to be. Yet Schaefer laid the groundwork that his successor in Annapolis, Parris Glendening, was able to claim as a success in getting the Cleveland Browns to come to Baltimore.
The loss of the Colts also made Schaefer work to keep the Orioles in town. Afraid that the Orioles would leave just like the Colts did, Schaefer pushed to have a new stadium built to replace Memorial Stadium. While Memorial Stadium held many memories for Oriole and Colt fans, it had become outdated. Schaefer was at the forefront of a movement that saw new stadiums crop up to keep teams in town or to lure teams from other locales to come in. Camden Yards stands today as a jewel of a baseball stadium, some twenty years after first opening, thanks to the efforts of the former governor.
The public face of the city for over 30 years, even as he moved to Annapolis to serve as governor, and later Comptroller, will be missed. But his shadow looms large over the city’s two biggest sporting franchises, even if he never threw a touchdown pass or hit a home run.