Everyone wants to pitch a name for new ballpark


July 16, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

With great dignity and respect for the occasion, my friend Skip Ball, who has lived here roughly half a century and has

photographed sporting events for several decades, wishes to announce formally that he has the perfect name for Baltimore's new baseball stadium.

"Call it Larry," he declares.

"Larry?" I ask.

"Larry," he affirms.

"Why," I ask, "Larry?"

"Why," he replies, a gentle grin spreading across his features, "not?"

Why not, indeed?

For that matter, if Larry, then why not Moe or Curley?

Baseball's for fun. It's a game in which grown men run around in their skivvies and yell "Hey battabattabatta."

Everybody's taking this business of putting a name on the new stadium much too seriously. This is a ballpark, not a cathedral.

In The Evening Sun recently, columnists Milton Kent and Wiley Hall have each urged naming the new park for Thurgood Marshall, the retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Marshall grew up in Baltimore and went on to rewrite the law books of the nation. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who roused the country's conscience, but it was Marshall who put it into writing. Some have called him the most important lawyer of this confused century.

And that's exactly why we should not name the new ballpark for him. It brings honor to a children's game but diminishes the serious deeds of Marshall.

If we wish to honor him -- and we do, and we should, at the first chance -- then let's do it appropriately: a school, a library, an entire college. If we name a ballpark for Marshall, where do we go from there? Naming a courthouse after Babe Ruth?

Thurgood Marshall Field? Marshall Field? That's a department store, isn't it? If we want the name "Field" on the ballpark's facade, why not Totie Field? W. C. Field? Elysian Field? For that matter, why not Fields Pharmacy?

In Washington, they named a stadium for Robert F. Kennedy. When Redskins fans fill the park on Sunday afternoons, does anyone enter the place with a sense of reverence for Kennedy? Does it bring honor to his name every time a linebacker throws a forearm into a running back's Adam's apple?

Try translating a few athletic idiosyncrasies to baseball players. Would it honor Thurgood Marshall every time some second baseman scratches himself in public? When teammates slap some home run hitter on the rear end, would they say, "This one's for you, Thurgood?"

Some suggest naming the park after Babe Ruth, even though he's best known as a Yankee.

Yankee Stadium's called The House That Ruth Built. But the new Baltimore stadium's being built on the very spot where the Babe grew up. It could be known as The House That Built Ruth.

Some say you can't name a park after a man who gained his fame in New York. They offer the name Camden Yards as an alternative. Beautiful. We go from hints of New York to something that sounds like a city in New Jersey.

But the most appalling thing about naming the new stadium isn't its name at all. It's who's doing the naming. Basically, it's Eli Jacobs and William Donald Schaefer. And this means, it's basically Jacobs. He still owns the ball club. And a lot ofpeople think he owns Schaefer as well.

Two weeks ago, with much anxious talk in the air about the sale of the team and the naming of the new stadium, Sun reporters Mark Hyman and Sandy Banisky tracked down Schaefer after he'd had a private lunch with Jacobs.

"What can you tell us about lunch?" the governor was asked.

"Plain old routine lunch," Schaefer said.

"But what happened?"

"I had Caesar's salad, black bean soup and coffee," said Schaefer.

L "Could you tell us something about the tone of the meeting?"

"Caesar's salad, black bean soup . . ."

Schaefer doesn't want to say anything to upset the sensitive Jacobs who, when last seen, was attempting to sell his baseball team without letting anyone in the immediate worldknow any of the details.

So, let's get this straight: He wants to sell the team, but first hwants the honor of naming its new home? This is a little like a guy putting a baby up for adoption but insisting the kid bear his original family name the rest of his life.

Why should Orioles' fans have to live with his decision long afteJacobs has fled the scene? Let's slow this thing down a little.

The ballpark's builders say they need a name soon, because they've got to order the proper building materials in time for the 1992 opening.

BBig deal. So we don't have any lettering on the facade next April. Isn't it important to do this thing correctly?

Since it's the people of Maryland -- and not the Orioles -- who are paying for this ballpark, why not hold an election and let the people name it?

For that matter, why not name it for the people? People's Park: not so bad.

Or Larry.

Or Totie or W. C.

Not such bad names, while we wait for Eli Jacobs to go off to his reading room.

Then, once the ball club is sold, we can let the people who have the most at stake pick a new name.

The fans.

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