Selecting a name for Baltimore's new baseball stadium, the $104 million structure that has the look of a giant erector set as it's being put together, remains a question that may not be answered for another six months. It's obviously not a priority with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has one or two more important issues to resolve.
The leading suggestions are Babe Ruth Park, Oriole Park, Camden Yards. Oriole Park and Camden Yards are almost generic, lacking imagination. Babe Ruth Park is distinctive and has the support of an extraordinary number of former professional baseball players, including Hall of Fame members Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer.
"Ruth was one of us," said Palmer. "He was a player who contributed more than any individual in the history of the game. The fact he was Baltimore-born and an Oriole, before he went to the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees or Boston Braves, is a strong consideration."
Robinson says much the same. "I gave it a lot of thought," he added. "Why shouldn't a major-league park be named for the greatest player who ever lived? That he's from Baltimore and started with the Orioles makes it all the more logical to give him the honor."
Orioles broadcasters Jon Miller and Chuck Thompson have voiced similar sentiments. "For me, it would have a magical ring," Miller said. "Imagine opening a broadcast, to set the scene and say coming to you from Babe Ruth Park. It would be an attention-getter all over the country and attract fans to Baltimore because of the glamour attached to the name."
Oriole Park? The negatives are numerous. It's a depressing reminder of where Baltimore was sentenced for most of its 51 years in the minor leagues. It's lacking distinctiveness, similar to Tiger Stadium, Yankee Stadium or Dodger Stadium. And, also to be considered, the old Oriole Park was where black spectators were not allowed in the grandstand but were, instead, confined to the first and third base pavilions.
Sam Lacy, veteran sports editor of the Baltimore Afro-American, said, "I had no real feel for the name when the issue came up, but I'm convinced now it should be Babe Ruth, the Baltimore pride."
As for Camden Yards, that was a railroad depot, named after Camden Street, which might have originated with Camden, N.J., or Camden, S.C. -- take your pick.
An interesting comment is offered by Hal Donofrio, chief executive of the Richardson Myers & Donofrio advertising firm, one of the city's most respected agencies. "For Baltimore to have Babe Ruth as its most famous native son and not utilize the connection would be sheer idiocy," he said. "A city doesn't get many chances like this. We ought to take it.
"I've heard suggestions the football stadium should be named after Buddy Young, the great Colt who gave so much of himself to improving racial relations in Baltimore and was such a force for good among all men. I also heard it suggested the entire area, not the park itself, that accommodates the stadia should be known as the Camden Sports Complex or the Chesapeake Sports Complex. Not bad ideas but I think it merits a more vital and profound consideration.
"I personally believe the area should be designated the Schaefer Sports Complex. Not for political reasons but to see that the man who put his neck on the line to get all this built, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, is appropriately recognized. He has earned it and I believe the fans who will enjoy the facility would like to see it happen."
Meanwhile, Eddie Drost and Frank Sliwka, two officials of the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association, say Baltimore would be doing itself a favor by capitalizing on Ruth's name value and contributions to the game. "If you ever had a bat in your hands, you can identify with Ruth. Baltimore should be proud to call him its own," insisted Drost.
"I believe the same way," added Sliwka. "At our Tops In Sports Banquet we've awarded the Babe Ruth Crown for 35 years. It has prestige because of Ruth, the greatest of them all. Ernie Harwell, the Hall of Fame broadcaster who used to be in Baltimore, said there shouldn't even be a discussion because Ruth's name is such a perfect fit for the park. The Babe got his start with the Orioles and once lived in what is now going to be centerfield."
The decision will be made by the governor and Eli Jacobs, owner of the Orioles, in all probability, before Oct. 1 but even that isn't a hard-and-fast deadline. This reporter, in case you are wondering, Babe Ruth Park or Babe Ruth/Memorial Park.