His mission was a stadium

Baltimore Glimpses

April 23, 1991|By GILBERT SANDLER

WITH every game at Memorial Stadium this last year of the Orioles' play there, memories accumulate. Before the last out of the last game of the 1991 season, we are going to be up to our strike zones in history and nostalgia. And in those chronicles no one figured more heavily than a hard-bitten, now largely forgotten News American sportswriter named Rodger Pippen.

Pippen was one of the earliest zealots arguing to build Memorial Stadium, as long ago as 1944, 11 years before the major-league Orioles moved to Baltimore. He argued for it vociferously, sometimes wildly.

In 1948, the most and the best of Pippen's zealotry on what he perceived to be the absolute necessity to build Memorial Stadium was recalled by John Steadman in "Lead All," Steadman's recounting of "Baltimore's best newspaper stories of 1948," published by the Baltimore Press Club.

"At present Pippen is still lodged in battle with politicians and neighborhood complainants over the remodeling of [the old 33rd Street stadium]," Steadman wrote. "During the early stages of the heated stadium discussions Pippen secured the names of 7,000 sports fans who were in favor of the stadium being rebuilt.

"Glenn L. Martin felt the sting of Pippen's literary sock when the noted airplane designer and builder made several proposals about the stadium with which Pippen sharply disapproved. Martin was taken to the Pippen woodshed and a Martin publicist called on Pippen at the paper. Martin's good will ambassador intimated that Pippen wasn't printing the truth. Off came Pippen's glasses. He cocked his fist and started yelling, 'I'll give you 10 seconds to apologize or I'll beat the hell out of you right now!' " (There is no record of either apology or beating.)

Pippen had a lot of loves -- and a couple of hates. High among those hates was the newspaper you're reading, which editorialized against the bond issue for the new stadium. Each day in his News American column, Pippen would go after the Sunpapers. He'd ask his readers: "Have you seen what they said today?" He never would use the words "The Evening Sun" -- he called the paper the "Daily Malarkey," the "Daily Baloney" or "The Daily Wet Blanket."

At Pippen's death in 1959, Gov. J. Millard Tawes commented, "He conducted a one-man campaign for a bigger and better Memorial Stadium." And Mayor J. Harold Grady, on the same occasion, remarked, "The people of Baltimore will never forget the great contribution he made toward building a modern stadium. He made Baltimore major league."

Well, Pippen got his Memorial Stadium and he turned out to be right about it all along. Now it is to be abandoned and maybe torn down. Meanwhile, Pippen's old colleague at the News American, Steadman, moved over to the Daily Baloney, where he's campaigning with a fervor the equal of Pippen's to get the new stadium named for Babe Ruth.

Pippen should be alive to see it.

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