It's fitting for game to take up residence where Ruth lived

John Steadman

July 12, 1993|By John Steadman

You can feel the spirit, a near-mystical presence created by the most celebrated player and personality since Abner Doubleday had the glorious inspiration to happen upon the genesis of baseball. How fitting that the major-league All-Star Game is about to be played on the exact location where Baltimore's most illustrious native son once lived.

Fact is always more amazing than fiction. No poetic liberty has been taken. What once was 406 W. Conway St. -- now short left center field in the new ballpark -- was an early home to George Herman "Babe" Ruth, who gave the game credibility with an exploding bat and a charm that captivated America. Both qualities were inherent.

That intriguing Conway Street link to Ruth is an irrefutable piece of history that has passed diligent research since a meat-cutter, whose hobby was researching old land records, found that in 1914 the address was occupied by the Ruth family as both a residence and place of business. There was a saloon on the first floor, living quarters above.

This is not to be categorized as irony nor is it some unexplainable or inexplicable circumstance. It was meant to be.

From this exact site, Ruth walked through a snowstorm, the blizzard of 1914, to a place of immortality he didn't know about. He was to leave from Union Station with the Baltimore Orioles for spring training in Fayetteville, N.C., and didn't want to miss the departure.

It was the start of the most storied thrill-a-minute ride any athlete ever experienced. Never has any individual in sports or public life, lacking education and sophistication, come from such a humble beginning to attain such lasting fame.

Ruth was actually born on Emory Street, mere fungo distance from the scene of the 1993 All-Star Game, where there's a museum to his achievements.

The inaugural All-Star Game was played in Chicago, 1933, and Ruth, a man of destiny, hit the first home run and made a catch that preserved victory for the American League.

When Ruth, as a child, lived where the current All-Star Game is to be held, he'd go to Lexington Market, running the aisles and kicking over baskets of vegetables.

Stall proprietors would be in rapid pursuit as he ran down Eutaw Street The source of the story is his sister, Mamie, who died last year, but shared the nugget with us. She also said George was in frequent fights with neighborhood boys who shouted he had the name of a sissy.

"The other kids taunted him," Mamie explained, "saying he had a girl's name, Ruth. He blackened a lot of eyes and their mothers would come to our house telling my parents George had beaten up their sons. That was one reason he was put in St. Mary's Industrial School. He was never arrested or involved in any serious trouble."

When Ruth died in 1948 and 80,000 surrounded St. Patrick's Cathedral to pay final respects, a revered American named Connie Mack remarked to some young seminarians in the back of the church, "If we tried for the next 100 years, it would be impossible to repay him for what he was able to do for baseball."

Without the Orioles' discovering Ruth, he would, in all probability, have been lost to the game. Scouting systems were nonexistent in 1914 and players were signed on the recommendations of friends of the manager, in this case Jack Dunn.

All-Star Game visitors ask why the new park doesn't carry Ruth's name. Surveys by this newspaper and two television stations supported such a plan, plus the endorsements of broadcasters, writers and former players, but the governor and Orioles owner, devoid of any identity with baseball, decided to call it Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The sport still hasn't named a major-league field for a player. For an owner, yes, as in Comiskey or Griffith, but not for the players who made the game. Oriole Park is generic and Camden Yards (the street and station adjoining it) honors the Earl of Camden, an Englishman named Charles Pratt, who never set foot in America and died long before Doubleday chased the cows out of the field in Cooperstown, N.Y., so he'd have space to originate the game.

Imagine the favorable attention coming to Baltimore and to baseball if the broadcasts and stories emanating from the press box about the All-Star Game carried a reference to Babe Ruth Park. But this is not to be because of a governor and a club owner, either out of envy or ignorance, botching the play.

If you look into the sky, before the All-Star Game, you might see a message that reads: "The Babe Says Hi." Obviously, heaven-sent.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.