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Reviewed by:
  • Baltimore Sports: Stories from Charm City ed. by Daniel A. Nathan
  • Stephen Nepa
Nathan, Daniel A., ed. Baltimore Sports: Stories from Charm City. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2016. Pp. 371. Illustrations, notes. $24.95, pb.

Akin to the recent D.C. Sports (2015) and Philly Sports (2016), this collection examines how various teams and personalities shaped the athletic landscape and history of Baltimore, or "Charm City," from the colonial period to the present. With nearly two dozen scholars, sportswriters, and journalists (many with personal ties to the Baltimore area) covering sports from horse racing, football, and tennis to lacrosse, basketball, and swimming, as well as figures such as Orioles manager Earl Weaver and pugilist Joe Gans, Baltimore Sports emerges as one of the most ambitious volumes yet in Arkansas' Sport, Culture, and Society series.

Regionally overshadowed by New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, Baltimore often struggled to assert itself as a metropolis in its own right. Through decades of deindustrialization, popular depictions of the city (HBO's The Wire, for example), recent tragedies (the death of Freddie Gray and subsequent race riots), and a history of intransigence and/or obsolescence among their teams and venues, Baltimoreans had much to lament, perhaps nothing more so than Robert Irsay's 1984 underhanded moving of the NFL's Colts. With such misfortunes, the persistence of athletes, passions of fans, and determination of politicians and financiers allowed sporting culture to thrive and help define Baltimore's spirit; in a particularly fine chapter, Richard Hardesty surveys the "disillusionment" of the city's major league clubs in the 1970s and how forces beyond sports (TV coverage, population loss, for example) stalled the building of modern stadia until the 1990s.

Following the introduction, David Zang (reprising his efforts from Philly Sports) visits gravesites of famous Baltimore athletes. In biographical chapters, Babe Ruth, Johnny Unitas, and Michael Phelps rightly receive attention. Yet Baltimore Sports' greatest strengths are essays that delve deeper into the sporting past and cut across almost every level of play (high school, college, and professional). Although currently home to just two pro teams among the Big Four sports (baseball's Orioles and football's Ravens), both "bird teams" are also given extensive coverage. Additional essays by Stacy Karten, Amira Rose Davis, and Elizabeth M. Nix cover such topics as duckpin bowling legend Elizabeth "Toots" Barger (who schooled a young Karten), Lucy Diggs Slowe and the fight to integrate tennis facilities, and the "physical culture" initiated in the 1880s at the city's Bryn Mawr School for Girls. Ari De Wilde discusses the cultural significance of the annual Preakness Stakes of Triple Crown fame, first held in 1873, while Neil A. Grauer and Jerry Bembry cover, respectively, Johns Hopkins' lacrosse program (long one of the nation's best) and the all-black, record-breaking track-and-field team of Morgan State University. [End Page 119]

Baltimore Sports is more than stories about athletes and stadiums; the essays, whether elegiac, redemptive, or vindictive, intersect with labor history, urban planning, gender studies, race relations, sports writing, and personal memory, making the work equal to (if not broader than) the series' aforementioned volumes. With such range, this collection will appeal to both academic and popular audiences.

Stephen Nepa
Temple University


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pp. 119-120
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