clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Orioles seem to be cutting back on Natty Boh at Camden Yards, and that really sucks

Thursday night and Friday, the news that Natty Boh's availability would be curtailed heavily or eliminated entirely from Orioles games shook the Baltimore social media world. Why do we even care about it?

Long ago, before this country was even a country, Paul Revere went on his midnight ride to warn the American colonists that the British were coming to take away their guns. You know the story. Thursday night, a Baltimorean went on a midnight ride of his own across the Internet to warn the people of an unfortunate fact: The Belgians are coming! The Belgians are coming to take away your Natty Boh!

If you missed the dustup on Thursday and Friday, here's the abbreviated version. A Baltimore beer enthusiast who is known across social media simply as Beer in Baltimore took to Twitter and Facebook, proclaiming that in the upcoming season, there will be no Natty Boh beer sold at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Even if you don't like the beer, you can probably appreciate why people were upset.

Even as they're busy with the early days of spring training, the Orioles beat writer corps felt compelled to get in on this story. In The Baltimore Sun, Eduardo Encina wrote that, "according to an Orioles club official, Natty Boh will be sold at multiple locations." Actually, he first wrote that Boh would be sold at a dedicated location - singular - which has been corrected to say that "multiple locations are under consideration." Which still sounds like the singular is the only sure thing for now.

The response from the Orioles thus seems like obfuscation in the most generous interpretation we could give it. Other interested people who know people, including Baltimore resident and NFL reporter Jason La Canfora, and fellow Baltimore sports blogger Phil "I Hate J.J. Redick" Gentile, followed up to paint a different picture: Natty Boh is being pushed out because the bigger beer companies insisted on it as a condition to sign a new sponsorship deal with the Orioles.

Boh cans, it seems, were the biggest seller at Camden Yards, and Budweiser, or Miller, or Coors, or whoever (they're all going to be owned by the same Belgium-based global beer conglomerate soon) wanted them gone to sell more of their own products. This picture is one where, as a face-saving measure, a few taps at most of Natty Boh will remain in far corners of the stadium, but that's all. Roving vendors won't carry them, and neither will most of the concession stands.

I hear you out there, the beer snobs who would like to remind all of us that Natty Boh is in fact a crappy beer, and also the truly die-hard Baltimore purists who would like to remind all of us that Natty Boh has not actually been brewed in Baltimore since 1996 and that the company is owned by Pabst, which is itself now owned by a private equity firm. You are not wrong about either of those things.

What is it about Natty Boh, anyway? Why do we even care? Maybe it's about the nostalgia of the connection to a Baltimore of the past, a Baltimore our parents and grandparents knew even if we never did. Not that everything was perfect about that older Baltimore, but it was where they lived and what they lived, so their experiences, particularly as they relate to the golden era of the Orioles we always hear about, matter to us.

National Bohemian is also a name connected to that glorious period of the Orioles: the president of the National Brewing Company, Jerry Hoffberger, owned the Orioles from 1965-1979, and Natty Boh flowed at Memorial Stadium.

When legendary Orioles broadcaster Chuck Thompson proclaimed, "Ain't the beer cold!" he was not talking about Heavy Seas beer or Union Craft Brewery beer. Those are Baltimore-owned and brewed beers and that's great, but if Heavy Seas was a human, it wouldn't be in high school; Union wouldn't be in kindergarten. People have not been drinking that stuff with steamed crabs on a hot summer day since time immemorial.

I will never drink a Duckpin Pale Ale and think, you know, my dad and my granddad might have drank this while they were watching Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver - the franchise greats whose time was mostly over by the time I was born. There's no added connection from that experience. There's no ready-made mental mystique in that can of beer.

Is that worth anything? It's obviously worth less to the Orioles than however much money mega-beer wants to pay them. That's their choice to make, but it still strikes me as a shame. The resurgence of Natty Boh at Camden Yards - and as part of the Baltimore identity - coincided fairly closely with an increase in other kinds of local pride, both relating to the Orioles and not.

Don't forget that not long before Boh's return, the O's also returned the "Baltimore" script to their road grey jerseys, a reminder that it's Baltimore's team to be proud of, not that they gave us much reason to be proud in the late 2000s when first they brought back the Baltimore script. They've since added the Maryland flag patch to the jersey as well, because the Maryland flag, too, is quite fashionable in these parts nowadays.

People in inferior states make fun of the Maryland flag. We know the truth of its greatness. We wear it on our shirts, put it on our bumper stickers, keychains, hats, scarves, shoes, and really just about anything else you might name.

It's a defiant embrace of something that's ours. We're Baltimore, we're Maryland, and we don't really care what the rest of the world thinks. Make all the jokes you want; we'll be here having as much fun as we can in this screwed up place. We know it's screwed up, but it's still our place. Here we are. Come at us, bro.

Natty Boh and the Mr. Boh logo, even if they aren't owned by locals any more, are part of that local identity too. Mr. Boh as a mascot, if we're all being honest with ourselves, is about as kitschy as it gets, but you know what? Baltimore is so damn cool that we can earnestly embrace Mr. Boh and still be cool in the process, although I will admittedly not miss the creepy, hovering Mr. Boh who hung around the Natty Boh bar at Camden Yards and liked to invade my personal space.

What Natty Boh represents is a whole lot more than what it actually is. It is a symbol, and it's a shame that its importance will be diminished. I suppose you might say it's a pretty sad world where cans of overpriced baseball stadium beer are a positive symbol of any kind, and I suppose you're not wrong about that either. Sad or not, it's our world. Boh, the Baltimore script, the Maryland flag's resurgent popularity, it's all connected at least a little bit. Now one pillar of that is being knocked over.

I guess we can still have Mr. Boh as the unofficial local mascot. We just won't be able to buy cans of beer with his face on it at Camden Yards. Revere's midnight ride might have kept the British from taking our guns, but there's nothing we can do to stop the Belgians from taking our beer from Camden Yards.