Statue of The Babe to be sculpted, fittingly near Oriole Park

John Steadman

July 21, 1993|By John Steadman

No longer is it mere discussion or contemplation. A statue, commemorating native son Babe Ruth's momentous contributions to baseball, is planned for a highly visible location near where he lived and played as a child. Appropriately, it's to be placed in close proximity to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and home run distance to where he was actually born.

The Baltimore Orioles, the Babe Ruth Museum and the city have endorsed the idea. A tentative site has been selected, a sculptor commissioned and even a projected date outlined for its completion, the 100th anniversary of Ruth's birth, which is to be celebrated in 1995.

Ruth, the subject of books, movies, TV specials and unchallenged as the most dominant performer in the history of the game, will be cast in bronze wearing the uniform he wore as a rookie Oriole, the team that discovered and signed him in 1914. The Orioles took Ruth from the obscurity of St. Mary's Industrial School and sent him on to world renown in a story-book scenario that surpassed even Horatio Alger.

Life Magazine, in picking the 100 most important Americans of this century, included him in the elite list. The first of a series of books, entitled "People of Destiny," led off with Ruth's story published ahead of such diverse figures as Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Frank Lloyd Wright and Gandhi.

Orioles president Larry Lucchino said there's a need to recognize Ruth's achievements.

"The more the city boasts of Ruth the greater enhancement it will be to civic pride and the Orioles' role in helping Ruth to baseball immortality. I walked around the ballpark with Janet Marie Smith [Orioles vice president], and the site cries out for a statue.

"Such a tribute to Babe Ruth would accomplish the purpose of telling the world he was baseball's greatest player, an Oriole and a Baltimore boy from humble beginnings who attained spectacular heights."

Lucchino says the area on Russell Street would not actually be on ballpark property but close enough, on the periphery, to direct attention to the facility.

The Oldtimers' Baseball Association and the Maryland Professional Baseball Players' Association, which bestows the "Babe Ruth Crown" each year on the game's most productive hitter, will likely be asked for assistance in the effort.

Susan Luery, like Ruth, Baltimore-born, already created an earlier statue of Ruth as an Oriole that is on view at the Babe Ruth Museum. A similar production will soon be placed at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and numerous copies have been purchased by collectors around the country.

Luery, from the preparation aspect, is well under way with the new work. All the historical documentation of Ruth's Oriole uniform, as to detail and design, have been completed and small-scale studies concluded. Luery studied at the Maryland Institute and then in Italy. Her work has been exhibited at some of the world's leading museums, plus a piece was purchased by Rita Lachman in 1982 and presented to the Prince of Wales for his collection.

The only previous statue of an athlete in Maryland was erected last fall in Chestertown to commemorate the accomplishments of one of its favorite sons, Bill Nicholson, the celebrated "Big Swish," who played for the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phils. Now comes a plan for Baltimore to do for Ruth what Chestertown was able to do for Nicholson.

Baltimore called the area outside Memorial Stadium "Babe Ruth Plaza" and one of the first likenesses of an athlete placed on an American stamp was Ruth. In Fayetteville, N.C., where he hit his first training camp home run as an Oriole, a historical plaque marks the spot.

As a baseball player, Ruth was with the Orioles, Providence Grays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Boston Braves. But, as Lucchino reminded, "I believe if the Orioles hadn't found this remarkable talent, the Babe might never have been discovered because scouting systems in his time were rather primitive."

In the past, when the Orioles and Colts were playing at Memorial Stadium, an attempt was made to build statues to John Unitas, Brooks Robinson and Wes Unseld, plus Ruth. Of course, Unseld had never played at the stadium since he participated in an indoor game -- basketball.

The funding of the statues fell far short of its goal and the project never materialized. But now Lucchino is the driving force in the new effort.

It would be fitting to have Ruth stand alone in bronze -- just as he does in any assessment of a game that allowed him to become America's foremost player and its most captivating personality.

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