Naming park after Brit is bloody crazy

John Steadman

July 03, 1991|By John Steadman

If Baltimore calls its new baseball park Camden Yards it wil be honoring an English nobleman who never heard of the game && or played it. He died in 1794 and didn't have a chance to visit America. Charles Pratt was the first Earl of Camden and, thus, has two streets, Pratt and Camden, carrying his name. Now a ballpark?

To give such distinction to a Englishman would be mockery. Cricket anyone? Camden Yards is named for Camden Railroad Station and Camden Street was named for the Earl of Camden. How can Baltimore ignore its most famous son, Babe Ruth, who lived on the actual site of the new park?

"I can't understand how anyone can say Ruth was a New York Yankee when if it wouldn't have been for the Baltimore Orioles finding and signing him, he would have been lost to baseball," says Ernie Harwell, regarded as one of the country's foremost baseball historians. "I honestly can't comprehend why there is even a discussion. It's such a natural."

If Ruth doesn't figure then why did the city restore the house where he was born, the only American athlete so honored? And why continue with the most coveted award in sports, the Babe Ruth Crown, presented by the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association?

Such respected sportswriters as Dave Anderson of the New York Times, Tom Callahan of the Washington Post and Dave Kindred, formerly of the National newspaper, have endorsed Ruth. So has the Sporting News, baseball's oldest publication.

Larry King, syndicated broadcaster, supports Ruth. So do Jon Miller, the Orioles' announcer; Jeff Rimer, Tom Davis, Phil Wood, Charley Eckman, Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson, who told this reporter, "I've given it a lot of thought and it ought to be Babe Ruth."

The fact that it now comes out, via information provided in the book, "Street Names," by Carleton Jones, and further researched by Bill Cass, that Camden Yards actually bears the name of an Englishman, the Earl of Camden, is a bizarre twist in the saga of what-to-call-the-park.

"I can't imagine a park in Babe Ruth's hometown being anything else but Babe Ruth," added Sid Roche, one-time Loyola College and Temple University athlete and later an FBI agent. "Camden Yards to me is Camden, N.J." A former major-league pitcher, Lou Sleater spoke out, "As Connie Mack once said, 'Every ballplayer in America is indebted to Ruth.' The Babe did for the game what no individual has done for any sport. He gave it popularity and credibility after the Black Sox scandal. The present day ballplayer needs to be told that."

The desire to name parks for athletes is spreading. Queen

Anne's County is considering naming a field for its most celebrated product, Jimmie Foxx, and Kent County, under the urging of civic leaders, wants to erect a statue and name a park for Bill Nicholson. Neither Foxx nor Nicholson ever played professional baseball in their hometowns, unlike Ruth, who was a Baltimore Oriole before he played for Providence, the two Boston teams and New York.

"The arguments against Ruth are weak and contrived," said Harwell. Said Wood, "After all, the Babe's association with the Red Sox, Braves and Yankees doesn't make him anything less of a Baltimorean." And so the controversy continues. Ruth is a magic name. Camden Yards and Oriole Park are bush.

Previous surveys of the public by The Evening Sun, WMAR-TV and Tom Davis for Home Team Sports gave Ruth the preference. It can't be denied he was from Baltimore, played for the Orioles and, in the pages of history, is this city's most notable individual. Plus he lived on the actual ground where the park is being built.

The final decision will be made by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and officials of the Orioles. They never realized that Camden Yards, in the evolvement of names, came from Charles Pratt, Earl of Camden, lord chancellor, third son of Sir John Pratt, born at Kensington, England, and educated at Eton.

Babe Ruth didn't go to Eton but to St. Mary's Industrial School, here, and became one of the epic "rags to riches" stories the world has known. Baseball, Baltimore and the Babe.

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