Ruth Stadium would clear marketing bases

John Steadman

May 01, 1991|By John Steadman

Putting Babe Ruth's name on Baltimore's new baseball park would be an attendance bonanza and bring more attention to the facility than any marketing promotion conceivable. It would be the first stadium that drew fans because of the magic created by its mere identity.

Ruth is a momentous figure in the history of American sports and entered the game because of the good fortune of the Orioles, who signed him without ever seeing him play. His career personifies the American dream -- a poor boy who climbed a stairway to the stars and became one.

Hall of Fame members Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer, broadcasters Jon Miller and Chuck Thompson, and columnists Dave Anderson of The New York Times and Tom Callahan of The Washington Post are in accord: They agree the best thing the Orioles could do for themselves would be to capitalize on the immortality of Ruth.

Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, regarded as a learned baseball historian, simply said, "I can't even understand why there's a discussion. Babe Ruth is Baltimore more than he's Boston, New York or Providence, the other places he played. He was an Oriole first and a Baltimorean."

The final selection is expected to be made within 60 days, a decision to be made by Orioles owner Eli Jacobs and Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Two surveys conducted by Baltimore television stations put Ruth in front of the others. An earlier poll by The Evening Sun had Ruth a strong second to Oriole Park.

Miller, the Orioles' broadcaster, said, "I can't think of anything that would get the attention of a TV-radio audience quicker than to set the scene as 'we're coming to you tonight from Babe Ruth Park,' namedafter Baltimore's greatest gift to America's greatest game."

It should be of interest, too, that the late owner of the Orioles, Edward Bennett Williams, commented in 1984 that it would the perfect arrangement, using Ruth's name. Mike Gibbons, director of the Babe Ruth Museum, was asked to find out how the Curtis Management Group, which protects the names of noted personalities for their estates, would react to the park being named for Ruth.

"The vice president of Curtis, a man named John Appuhn, said it would be considered an honor but, of course, wouldn't want Ruth's name abused with bad merchandise. Curtis' clients also includes the estates of Roberto Clemente, Vince Lombardi, Joe Louis, Judy Garland, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Satchel Paige, Ty Cobb, Buddy Holly, Hank Williams Sr., and others."

A look at the possibilities:

Babe Ruth: It would be the only major-league park named for a major-league player, which would be appropriate since Ruth was the greatest performer and personality in baseball annals, plus the fact his presence lifted the game from the gutter of the Black Sox betting scandal. He was Baltimore-born and had it not been for the Orioles' signing him, the game likely never would have had the man who became its most majestic figure.

Had the Orioles been a big-league team in 1914, Ruth wouldn't have been sold to the Boston Red Sox out of financial necessity by owner Jack Dunn. He was born three blocks from the new ballpark and later moved to W. Conway Street, which is left-centerfield in the planned facility.

Memorial: The present stadium name. The facade, the urn containing earth from every land where U.S. forces have fought, and appropriate landscaping should be retained as a prideful and perpetual memorial. It should not be disturbed; only enhanced in appearance.

Camden Yards: First the name for a street, then a railroad station and finally a freight terminal. Confusing to non-Baltimore residents in that it suggests there's something to do with Camden, N.J., or Camden, S.C.

Oriole Park: Takes us back to a time, a duration of 51 years, when Baltimore was identified with the minor leagues. Also a period in history when black teams were not normally allowed in Oriole Park, which is why they played at Westport and Bugle Field. Black fans were subjected to the indignity of having to sit in the segregated first base pavilion.

The entire area, which eventually will add a football stadium, should be called the Chesapeake Complex. Oriole Park and Camden Yards lacks imagination and is as generically dull as Tiger Stadium or Yankee Stadium. If the Orioles desire individuality they should use the name of their most illustrious alumnus and Baltimore's most famous son.

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