So many monuments were erected to honor figures in politics, government, religious and military life that Baltimore became known as the "Monumental City." It was the first to erect a statue to George Washington, the father of our country. And then there were similar but more modest creations for Sam Smith, Martin Luther, Edgar Allan Poe and even Simon Bolivar.
With Christopher Columbus, we got carried away. Three such statues pay him tribute. After all, it's justified. He discovered the place. But there's no such tribute for Amerigo Vespucci.
Now the first statue to a sports icon in Baltimore has been unveiled. It's to George Herman "Babe" Ruth, a baseball player of substantial abilities, who brought more attention to his city than any other native son. Babe Ruth is in a league of his own, beyond compare when it comes to evaluations among contemporaries and those who preceded and followed him.
The sculptor, Susan Luery, during a three-year investment, went from shaping a table-sized clay model in a corner of the design department of the Park Sign Co., to a nine-foot-tall, 800-pound bronze replica of Ruth. The finished product, unveiled yesterday at the entrance to Camden Yards, depicts how he looked in 1914 when he signed with his hometown team.
He went on to become America's most productive performer in what was, in his time, the game every boy wanted to play, which serves to underline the immensity of his achievements because he came along to dominate an era when baseball was the foremost sport and all the others fit in somewhere down the line.
Luery naturally expresses profound pleasure to see her hard work come to fruition, with encouragement from the Babe Ruth Museum and the Baltimore Orioles, the Babe's alma mater. "I believe it is located in the proper place," she said. "I imagine fans heading toward the ballpark to see the Orioles will say, 'Meet me in front of the statue.' "
The Babe, no doubt, feels at home. He was born only three blocks away on Emory Street and short left-center field in the park where the Orioles now play was the actual site of a cafe his father owned and where the family lived in adjoining rooms. The area is where he played and the Lexington Market, four blocks to the north, became a place of amusement for him.
However, he created consternation for the stall keepers because one of his favorite pastimes was kicking over their baskets of fruits and vegetables and then engaging them in a foot race as they chased after him along Eutaw Street.
Ruth was getting into fistfights with other boys and doing them physical damage for one so young. He could hit even before he learned to swing a bat at St. Mary's Industrial School, an institution for orphans and wayward children conducted by the Xaverian Brothers, a religious order.
"My father would be so elated with how this looks," said Mrs. Julia Ruth Stevens, the Babe's adopted daughter who was present.
A general reaction to Luery's depiction of Ruth was favorable, even enthusiastic. Doug Roberts, a broadcaster and actor, familiar with the arts, remarked, "It's so beautifully understated. It looks as if it's been here for ages. Think of the thousands of kids who will have their pictures taken standing by the statue."
A bronze tablet later will be placed near the statue and another one with the names of the sponsors who contributed to Luery's work. The inscription on his brief biography, now displayed temporarily near the statue, reads:
"From humble beginnings and $600 a season contract with the 1914 Baltimore Orioles of the International League, the man fondly known as the 'Babe' became baseball's most illustrious individual.
"Revered by teammates, respected by rivals and adulated by the public, he was endowed with exceptional abilities. As a pitcher, he won 94 games. His innate skill as a hitter led to a transition to the outfield and everyday play.
"In 22 years with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Boston Braves, he accounted for 714 home runs, a career average of .342 and produced a home run every 11.8 at-bats.
"His power altered the strategy of the game and, combined with an exuberant personality, allowed him to become one of the most recognizable of all American names. His presence enriched the game and created everlasting fame.
"As a child, he played in these surrounding Baltimore neighborhoods. His nearby birthplace on Emory Street is a National Historical Shrine, visited by thousands every year. At one time, his family lived and operated a cafe at what is now short center field in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"The achievements of the 'Babe' elevated him to the stature of a deity. He was often referred to as the 'Bambino' and 'Sultan of Swat' because of his prodigious performances.
"On his way to prominence, he emerged from the obscurity of Baltimore's St. Mary's Industrial School, where he was being taught to be a shirt-maker. Instead he attained baseball immortality.