Monument to Ruth takes stylish shape

August 22, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

Bringing Babe Ruth to life in bronze has been the endeavor of Susan Luery, a sculptor who is about to unveil a quarter-size likeness of a monument that is to be enhanced to a height of 9 feet and be unveiled Feb. 6, on the 100th birthday of Baltimore's most famous son.

In fact, a blue-ribbon jury of evaluators, including educators and historians, for Life magazine named the baseball immortal among the "100 most important Americans of this century."

The effort to honor Ruth is all but completed. His monumental presence will be appropriately placed in the triangular plaza located at the intersection of Russell Street, Greene Street, and Washington Boulevard, only a block from where baseball's greatest player was born and across from the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Had it not been for the Orioles discovering Ruth and signing him to a $600 contract for the 1914 season, it's likely the game's most significant performer and storied personality would have been lost in the shuffle and become a tailor/shirtmaker, the trade he was taught at St. Mary's Industrial School.

The statue Luery developed is called "The Babe's Dream," and has him looking off into the horizon while leaning on a baseball bat, carrying a glove and wearing the uniform he wore as an Orioles rookie. Physically, at age 19, Ruth was 6 feet 1, 210 pounds and on his way to becoming the most celebrated rags-to-riches story in the history of sports.

Luery, who has a previous statue of Ruth on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame, says, "With this piece, I tried to capture the emotions of a young man and his early association with the game, just the way he looked as he was setting out to conquer the world of baseball."

We had a chance to visit with Ruth (bronze version) at the New Arts Foundry, where another stage in the raw bronze casting is being completed.

Gary Siegel, owner of a business that has handled this and hundreds of other similar works for sculptors around the world, looked at Luery's product and exclaimed, "This is going to be a great monument."

The estimated cost is $220,000 and will be paid for by contributions from individuals and organizations, plus contractors interested in volunteering their services. The Babe Ruth Museum, the city of Baltimore and the Orioles were involved in the selection of Luery two years ago.

It's obvious they made a perfect choice of the young Baltimore-born sculptor who studied in Italy under the master designer, Alberto Sparapani, and has had her works acquired by international collectors, including Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

All of her work on the Ruth project has been conducted in a quiet corner at the Park Sign Co., where owner Barry Finglass has provided encouragement and helped with the early financing. Larry Lucchino, former Orioles president, made a sizable personal contribution to help pay the bills as the statue went from a mere idea to a clay model, which took 10 months, then to a mold, then waxing and bronzing.

Finglass watched all phases and says Bailey Thomas, the late and highly admired chief executive officer of McCormick & Co., was deeply interested and hoped his organization would support it since Ruth and McCormick & Co. grew up together in the same neighborhood, not far from Camden Railroad Station.

"If Chestertown, Md., can erect a statue to native son and former baseball player Bill Nicholson, then I don't see how Baltimore can miss with baseball's most renowned individual, Babe Ruth, who stands alone in achievement," added Finglass. "Bob Hillman, a civic leader, feels as I do and formally calls the statue, 'George Herman Babe Ruth, Baltimorean.' "

Detroit with Joe Louis, St. Louis with Stan Musial and Pittsburgh with Honus Wagner and Roberto Clemente, plus Voss, Norway, for coach Knute Rockne, are among cities that have created statues for athletic figures.

Michael Gibbons, who heads the Babe Ruth Museum and sparked the monument-to-Ruth idea, says the dedication will be conducted on Ruth's 100th birthday. This will be one of the first presentations of an extensive season-long program to commemorate Ruth's momentous contributions to baseball.

In a word, "Ruthian." And Gibbons said such an explanation could be fittingly applied because "Ruthian," according to modern usage, is anything that's colossal, majestic or record-setting. The Babe never thought he would invade our language nor was he about to believe a statue might someday be erected to a poor boy who came from such a humble origin.

He'll stand alone, in bronze, for perpetuity . . . Baltimore's most celebrated athlete, standing as a welcoming committee of one as visitors enter the city and spectators congregate on their way to see his old team, the Orioles, at play.

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