Good call, bad call HD: Schaefer, Jacobs make naming blunder of Ruthian proportions

John Steadman

October 04, 1991|By John Steadman

What's the sad, regrettable aspect to the naming of the new stadium is that neither man invested with the authority to make the selection has a baseball background. So the decision was placed in the conciliatory hands of Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Eli Jacobs, owner of the Baltimore Orioles. It became an Alphonse and Gaston act of extraordinary proportions.

Unfortunately, neither one played the game at any level of formal competition, and they lack knowledge of the rich tradition Babe Ruth, Baltimore's most illustrious native, who contributed so abundantly to America's most renowned pastime. What they know about baseball could, collectively, be written on the head of a pin.

To call a facility "Oriole Park at Camden Yards" gets a zero for imagination. Little wonder the Orioles, owned by Jacobs, disgraced themselves on the field and the once proud and historic state of Maryland, under Schaefer, regressed to perhaps its lowest level of respectability.

Surveys conducted by The Evening Sun, WMAR-TV and Home Team Sports showed an overwhelming desire to utilize Ruth's name. The Sporting News expressed a similar editorial view. "It's such a natural," said the noted announcer/historian Ernie Harwell, "that I don't even know why there's a discussion."

Hall of Fame Oriole Jim Palmer added, "Ruth deserves the honor. Rather Baltimore should be elated to take advantage of the prominence of one of its own and the contributions he alone made to the game. It's embarrassing a stadium has never been named for a player. What could have been more fitting than to have a park, on the spot where he lived, carry the name of Babe Ruth?"

A civic leader, one Bettye Speed, expressed a similar view. "All these months and Schaefer and Jacobs, like two little boys, come to this. How could Babe Ruth be ignored? He is Baltimore's most important figure of all time. I personally believe Schaefer has made Harry Hughes, the former governor, look better by the minute."

Baltimore, as George Vecsey in the New York Times, pointed out "needs all the local ring it can muster" and he, too, believed Ruth should have been the choice. When asked why that didn't happen, the governor replied, "Ruth was never in the game." This is a blatant admission that enforces the contention of how little Schaefer and Jacobs knew about what they were doing -- that Baltimore, Baseball and the Babe have become synonymous.

The Orioles, in years to come, when the new park has vacant seats, might like to make a correction. They'll find Ruth's name will be a belated magnet at the box office. Ticket buyers from all over the country, even the world, would be drawn to a ballpark that was a monument to the game's greatest personality and performer.

That will not happen with something as bland as "Oriole Park at Camden Yards." It must be pointed out, for purposes of history, that Oriole Park is remindful of the 51 years Baltimore was confined to the minor leagues. And the policy then, with few exceptions, prohibited black teams from renting it to play there. Black fans also were confined to segregated seating.

As for Camden Yards, it's origin began with the Earl of Camden, a British nobleman, who died before baseball was invented. The Earl of Camden, one Charles Pratt, had Camden Street named for him. Also Pratt Street. Now he has a baseball park bearing his name while passing over a perpetual hometown and international hero, Babe Ruth. And Camden Yards, in the words of announcer Jim McKay, "sounds like some place in New Jersey."

"I am deeply sorry over what happened," added Gil Dunn, a resident of Stevensville, who went on to point out, "this was a great opportunity for Baltimore. The Babe didn't need it. He's more famous than any man in Maryland history. In my opinion, Baltimore booted the ball. Our city needs all the good advertising it can get and Ruth would have been terrific. Maybe our next governor will have sense enough to correct what Schaefer and Jacobs have done."

Schaefer, when asked to explain the decision, said the verdict was made by Jacobs and cited the state's contract with the Orioles (virtually all on the side of the team) as giving him little input. It had the ring of political double-talk.

Yes, Governor, but didn't you support the move to build the team a park that, all told, is going to cost $200 million, and shouldn't you have had some say in the issue? "Yes, but I'm telling you Ruth was never in the game," he reiterated, "Mr. Jacobs was firm on that."

Tommy D'Alesandro III, former mayor of Baltimore, who was responsible for saving the Babe's Emory Street birthplace and turning it into a museum, was asked for reaction. "It's a different time and a different world," he answered. "I guess, unfortunately, Ruth's reputation wasn't strong enough to carry over to the present era. I was for Babe Ruth and I wish they had called it that. A sign of the times. Just a different set of values."

The governor could have swung the bat for the Babe but took three strikes without making a swing and went back to the bench. He became an automatic out. A blunder for Baltimore.

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