Dirt sale soils image of Orioles

John Steadman

August 28, 1991|By John Steadman

Selling the infield dirt and clippings from the grass the Baltimore Orioles play on throws professional dignity for a serious loss and, at the same time, makes management appear hard-pressed financially -- when such is hardly the case, considering the way the turnstiles are spinning.

It's annoying to see the Orioles enter into a deal with an outside firm that charges the fans who patronize them $8.95 (rather $12.90 after taxes and shipping fees) for a two-ounce container of soil from Memorial Stadium, with a certificate of authenticity, that proves this is the real dirt.

Now, by way of explanation, the packages contain residue the grounds crew rakes from the playing surface after almost every game. It's never recycled because of the fear there's a bad hop, or two, included therein and this, of course, would create a source of unhappiness among the infielders.

But how did this unprecedented down-in-the-dirt souvenir offering come into being? It merits inquiry. The Orioles are not profiting from the sale, even though public presumption is they are selling something as worthless as a tablespoon of dirt and coining money. It might give that impression but, in truth, it's not the case.

Bob Aylward, a club vice president, said the small percentage the Orioles receive from the promoters of the dirt-pitch benefits the club's charity foundation. The return is so minimal it's not going to amount to much when all the dirt revenue is added up. The city tax payers aren't being exploited either because the used soil, mere leavings, is inexpensive dirt.

It all happened this way: Ken Goldberg and Alan Turner, employed by Kols Containers Inc., attended an Orioles game, as will in excess of 2 million other fans this year, and decided they wanted to do something positive to advertise their company and its capabilities. They decided on toying with the dirt idea.

"Ten percent profit goes to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, we pay a fee to the Baltimore Association of Retarded Citizens for filling the jars, 3 percent is paid to the mayor's favorite charity and the Orioles' Foundation also gets a percentage," says Goldberg, who admits business is good.

"We met with Bob Aylward and he liked our presentation. He told us he'd give us the rights to the dirt if major-league baseball approved. So it happened. Now we are selling it to people here and around the country, the kind of fans who really want a memento of the stadium."

And if you want something more elaborate in dirt, say for $34.95 (or $40.20 with handling and mailing), you can upgrade your purchase. This, too, is accompanied by a certificate of guarantee, plus autographs of two Orioles Hall of Fame members, Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson. The dirt that's being distributed, however, was never a part of the Memorial Stadium when Palmer was pitching there and Robinson was at third base.

"We paid for their signatures," explains Goldberg, which is not surprising because promoters are rushing prominent ex-athletes with all kinds of propositions. But selling their names in connection with plain old dirt never occurred to them. No doubt Palmer and Robinson are in favor of it or they wouldn't have gotten in the dirt business.

Aylward sees the effort as not a rip-off but believes it creates "a lot of goodwill each way because of the charity components and the fact there are fans who want it as a souvenir." By the way, as an aside, a move may be initiated by another entrepreneur to bottle droplets of perspiration from the brow of each Oriole and put it on sale. Interesting.

With Memorial Stadium bowing out in a matter of weeks, there's reason to make sure that the hallowed urn on perpetual view in the lobby, containing earth from military cemeteries from around the world, isn't disturbed. This serves as a poignant reminder of the final resting place of the men and women who died in the service. Now their survivors -- that's all of us -- are able to enjoy going to ballgames because of their sacrifice.

As to this in-depth exploration of facts in the baseball case, you are hereby notified it appears to be clean. In a manner of speaking, there's no "dirt" to be found in the dirt.

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