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How Mr. Boh helped bring baseball to Baltimore

Mr. Boh is as much a Baltimore icon as the Oriole Bird. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Mr. Boh is as much a Baltimore icon as the Oriole Bird. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
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Mr. Boh brought baseball to Baltimore. Okay, that statement includes some degree of hyperbole, but there's truth there as well. And the story behind Mr. Boh's role in the Orioles' arrival in Baltimore is fitting given that the O's are preparing for a three-game set this weekend with the "rival" Washington Nationals.

If you head down to D.C. for a game, ask a Nationals fan why he or she "hates" the Orioles. You'll likely get a response that involves Peter Angelos (fair enough, many O's fans hate him as well) and his efforts to block baseball coming to the nation's capital (not quite as fair).

Granted, Peter Angelos got quite a payday when the Nationals moved to D.C. in the form of a 90 percent stake in MASN that shrinks to 67 percent over time. MLB, which temporarily owned the Expos-turned-Nationals, paid $75 million for its 10 percent of MASN.

However, using territorial arguments as leverage for a payday from a new franchise is nothing new in baseball. In fact, Washington pulled the same kind of stunt back in the '50s as Baltimore worked to acquire the St. Louis Browns (Baltimore has always had a thing for stealing franchises nicknamed the Browns).

Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith opposed the Browns' move to Baltimore. Naturally, he didn't want another baseball team so close to his own Washington Senators. It was one of many complications surrounding the deal. Enter Jerry Hoffberger, president of National Brewing Company, makers of National Bohemian beer.

Hoffberger became part-owner of the Orioles in 1954 and was the team's majority owner from 1965 to 1979. During Hoffberger's tenure as owner, the Orioles won five A.L. pennants and two World Series.

In 1965, he brought Frank Cashen, National Brewing Company's head of advertising, into the fold as the Orioles' executive vice president. Cashen, a former second baseman at Loyola College in Maryland, partnered with General Manager Harry Dalton on, among other things, the acquisition of Frank Robinson in 1966 and the hiring of Earl Weaver in 1968. Hoffberger also hired Chuck Thompson as the voice of the Orioles. Ain't the beer cold, indeed.

Before all that could happen, though, Hoffberger helped grease the wheels of the Browns-to-Baltimore deal.

In addition to compensating the Senators' owner for lost air rights, Hoffberger agreed to a sponsorship deal on the team's radio and TV broadcasts. So before he found a home at Memorial Stadium as the official beer of the Baltimore Orioles, Mr. Boh appeared on billboards and broadcasts in the D.C. area. I like to think of it as crashing on a friend's couch until he found a place of his own.

We forgive you, Mr. Boh, as it was all for a good cause: making sure there was baseball in the Land of Pleasant Living.

Check out the New York Times obituary for Jerry Hoffberger, who died in 1999. Also, give a read to Michael Olesker's farewell to Hoffberger.