The Babe, Oldtimers deserve more Ruthian treatment from O's

John Steadman

May 28, 1993|By John Steadman

Putting Babe Ruth's bronze memorial tablet high on a wall outside the right-field fence, next to a latrine, isn't in keeping with the accomplishments of the man or his renown as the most famous of all Marylanders and link to the Baltimore Orioles.

He was the Orioles' foremost discovery. The Oldtimers' Baseball Association, which conceived the plaque idea in 1956, erected it in the Memorial Stadium lobby. It was unveiled yesterday in its new location, the downtown ballpark, and the organization is annoyed over the treatment it has been given.

The Orioles inadvertently have insulted a legend who lifted the game out of the gutter of scandal, following the gambling fix of the 1919 World Series, and put baseball on the road to respectability. Ruth's ability and personality drew huge crowds and made enormous amounts of money for owners and players. But, more essentially, he gave it credibility.

Larry Lucchino, president of the Orioles, needs to address the problem and get it resolved. He ought to make every effort to listen to the complaints of the Oldtimers' Baseball Association and, in a spirit of cooperation, attempt to make amends to correct the indignity heaped upon Ruth and the respect he earned.

President Gary Lindamood and his committee of Oldtimers, including the Rt. Rev. Monsignor Martin Schwalenberg, met at Camden Yards for a ceremony to mark relocation of the Ruth plaque, which had been transferred from Memorial Stadium. Unfortunately, not a single Orioles owner, executive or even a second- or third-line official was in attendance at an event that took place right outside their office.

The Oldtimers were hoping to see Orioles vice president Janet Marie Smith so they could discuss their feelings about the placement of the Ruth memorial. Less than 250 feet away, now short center field, was where Ruth lived as a boy and where he actually stayed the night before he left Baltimore with the Orioles' training camp contingent in 1914 on his journey to baseball immortality.

"We are pleased the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Orioles wanted to have the plaque," said Lindamood. "But it would be more in their interest and that of the public to put it in a more fitting place of prominence. I hope it can be worked out and no ill feeling is created."

Joe Corbi, Bill Berkey, Clarence "Jack" Allred, Tom Meeks and Robert Mackinson were other Oldtimers present, representing the 450-member organization that was founded in 1952. They nodded in agreement with the views expressed by Lindamood.

"All the wonderful names in the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame have been put on a wall on the other side of where Ruth is," added Corbi. "I believe all of them would agree Babe Ruth is special. The Ruth plaque belongs in the lobby of the new stadium and not outside two bathrooms."

Monsignor Schwalenberg, in his remarks, said: "The Babe brought great honor to the city of Baltimore and to baseball. His spirit was like nothing sports has ever known. The kindness of Ruth and the way he gave to so many causes set him apart. Our Babe was America's most famous athlete."

The plaque, designed by sculptor Jack Lambert, cost the Oldtimers $1,500 in 1956. It might be five times that much today. The picture Lambert worked from was taken at Oriole Park by Leroy Merriken of The Sun.

The committee in charge of the project included Munroe Henderson, Chauncey "Doc" Ashley, Valentine "Dutch" Lentz, Harry Booth, Eddie Brooks and Jake Bounds.

"It was a great occasion for the Oldtimers when Mrs. Ruth, the Babe's widow, came to Baltimore for the original ceremony," recalled Bounds.

"Mrs. Ruth approved what we put on the plaque to honor the greatest player in history," he added. "Mrs. Ruth also asked Casey Stengel to be present for the event and he complied. It's too beautiful a plaque to be placed outside where the weather will tarnish its finish. The main lobby of the new ballpark is where fTC it belongs, just as it was formerly on display in the Memorial Stadium lobby."

The Oldtimers' request should be respected. This is an unfortunate example of team management's failing to understand something important to Baltimore and Maryland. Those in command of the Orioles are from other places and can't relate to Baltimore's distinctive baseball heritage, so it's necessary they be apprised.

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