Phil Wood: Why, 'oh' why interrupt the anthem at Nationals Park?

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It's year eight of Nationals baseball, the ballclub is in a serious pennant race and still there are fans at Nationals Park who insist on shouting "Ohhhh" during the last line of the national anthem.

It's mystifying.

As a real life native Washingtonian who resides in Baltimore County, I understand, perhaps better than many, the melting pot that is the Washington metropolitan area. It's on display virtually every game at Nationals Park. I also understand that many local fans eventually embraced the Baltimore Orioles as their home team during the 33-year gap between the Senators and the Nationals. But it's eight years later, and the whole "Ohhhh" thing is just annoying now when I hear it at a Nats game and they're not playing Baltimore.

Some fans believe that the "Ohhhh" during the anthem is simply part of baseball tradition, that it's not a Baltimore thing at all. I've heard fathers tell sons that it dates back to the beginning of the professional game. Still, others insist that it's been going on in Baltimore since the St. Louis Browns became the Orioles in 1954. Neither is true.

In the late 1970s, the late "Wild Bill" Hagy was the face of Orioles fandom at Memorial Stadium. He would lead a cheer spelling out the word "Orioles" by contorting his body into the letters of the word. He would begin by circling his arms above his head, and everyone would yell, "Ohhhh!"

By the early 1980s, the fans on 33rd Street starting yelling "Ohhhh" during the anthem, and it quickly spread to virtually every corner of the state whenever the anthem was played before a sporting event. (Heck, I even heard it at my daughters' high school graduations.) It was a remarkable thing and continued unabated when the Orioles moved into Camden Yards in 1992.

The late sportswriter John Steadman, who covered Baltimore sports for parts of seven decades, always hated the "Ohhhh" cheer, feeling it was disrespectful of the song itself. Steadman believed that fans that waited to shout it out loud really weren't paying attention to the other lyrics. He also never cared for referring to the Orioles as the "O's" since no one referred to the Yankees as the "Y's" or the Colts as the "C's."

Have I missed something? Are there other countries where fans interrupt their national anthems to shout something that relates to their personal home teams?

Hey, I have tons of respect for the Baltimore Orioles. They're having a magical season of their own after 14 straight seasons of sub-.500 play. They've managed to keep themselves in wild-card contention, and really, what would be better than a postseason Baltimore-Washington matchup? It would be nuts, and the region would be all the better for it.

But seriously, why co-opt what has been "a Baltimore thing" for more than 30 years? Leave the "Ohhhh" shout at the Maryland state line. Give the anthem your undivided attention.

I really doubt it affects your enjoyment of the game.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Phil Wood

Staff reporter - sports
The Washington Examiner