Oriole Park: The work of designing men and women

Monday Book Reviews

July 12, 1993|By James H. Bready

BALLPARK: CAMDEN YARDS AND THE BUILDING OF A AMERICAN DREAM. By Peter Richmond. Simon & Schuster. 284 pages. $23.

AS THE baseball tycoons and celebs stroll around Oriole Park at Camden Yards tomorrow, many will praise (or pooh-pooh) it. A few will wonder whose design genius (or commercial greed) made Baltimore's new ballpark the place it is.

To most fans, it's an obscure matter. The design architects, Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum and Howard Needles Tammen Bergendoff, sound to a Baltimorean like a foreign language and a National League umpiring team, respectively.

And who cares, after all, besides architects, government officials and corporate executives in charge of awarding construction contracts? In the fall of 1991, when the Orioles were vacating Memorial Stadium and down from the stands spilled a tidal wave of sentimentality, which of the tear-shedders knew much of anything about the actual structure? Could one in 100 have named its designers and builders?

"The credit" is tricky stuff, even dangerous. Call to mind the procession of liars who have claimed to be first to the North Pole. At Rutgers, a graduate student isolated streptomycin; his department head got the Nobel Prize. At Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, allergist Leslie N. Gay gets credit for Dramamine. Yet it was a staff physician, Paul Carliner, who observed and reported that a streetcar-riding maternity patient no longer suffered motion sickness after taking the drug.

So who wrought OPACY? (The initials save space.) Into the multi-million-dollar bramble patch at Camden and Eutaw streets steps Peter Richmond, eager to learn. A sports writer for five successive daily papers and by now a jaunty, impressionist magazine writer, Mr. Richmond knows baseball and the people in it. Baltimore he knows less well. At sentences and paragraphs he is very good; he writes a blue streak, in "Ballpark" mixing in lots of orange and black as well.

OPACY called for decisions. A) Conventional uniform field dimensions, or something individual? B) Fortress-style concrete, or airy steel girders? C) Rising how high on the Baltimore horizon? D) Incorporating the adjacent Camden warehouse of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad? E) Wrapping the pedestrian ramps around the exterior, or stowing them inside? F) Packing in a maximum of ordinary ticket-buyers, or catering to the business-suit set?

Just when Mr. Richmond began attending the meetings that chose the firms that produced the plans is unclear, but his book purports to follow these issues, one by one, as they arise. He introduces us to Joe Spear, Bruce Hoffman, Richard Ayers and Adam Gross, Herb Belgrad, Stuart Smith, Rick Deflon, Eric Moss (the architecture student who first seriously proposed retaining the warehouse) and Janet Marie Smith (the person from Orioles management wielding the power -- "design concurrence" -- bequeathed by Edward Bennett Williams).

A specialty of Mr. Richmond's is the vignette: two guys installing the tower lights, a crew of masons laying the exterior bricks, the Eastern Shore farmer who grew the infield sod. His EBW is to the life -- his Eddie Murray, too.

But at some point Mr. Richmond and the Orioles' Ms. Smith seem to have collided. The author comes away accusing the club official of claiming more than her rightful share of the credit for OPACY's success. "Ballpark" degenerates into personal feuding. Mr. Richmond stands close to Ms. Smith at conferences and ceremonies, apparently hoping she will say something that will look bad in print.

No judgment here, but . . .

The book written, he leaves town. She stays. Also, "Ballpark" omits things, such as the full-dollar cost of OPACY, the fan who suggested tiering the bullpens, the bite taken from the warehouse so Camden Station could be restored, the role of David Ashton. The lone Baltimorean in the design group, Mr. Ashton did the logos, the attendant uniforms, the signs and banners all over the ballpark. Yet he is unmentioned.

There are also errors of spelling, grammar and, especially, fact. The book is indexed, but did anyone edit it? Cal Ripken's recent MVP year is given as 1992. Carroll Rosenbloom was a "Philadelphia man." Fannie Sauer, attending the last game at Memorial Stadium, is from "Hollandtown." After 50 such flubs, I stopped counting. They're so unnecessary. A run-through of the page proofs by a Baltimorean would have turned an interesting book into a good one.

James H. Bready, a retired Evening Sun editorial writer, is the Orioles' historian.

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