1997 Hall inductees exemplify Maryland pride and excellence

March 30, 1997|By John Steadman

Every year there's a new class to be trumpeted for induction into the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame. It's a coveted honor not to be dismissed with cavalier acceptance because of the elite membership it represents, the distinction it portrays and the meaningful criteria that have been established for keeping alive a continuing tradition. They are the ultimate best their home state has produced.

The charter foursome in 1956 consisted of Babe Ruth, Frank "Home Run" Baker and Jimmie Foxx, men synonymous with all-time excellence in baseball, and Robert Garrett, who in 1896 was a standout in the first modern Olympic Games.

Joe Gans, boxer extraordinaire; Elizabeth "Toots" Barger, one of the game's premier bowlers; Jim Lacy, who led the nation in basketball scoring; Doug and Jack Turnbull in lacrosse, and Don Heinicke, marathon runner, followed in ensuing years amid a vast lineup of contenders.

The total count, since this annual selection process began, numbers 168 athletes from 27 sports. As its foremost prerequisite, those enshrined have to have been born in Maryland, or moved here from a foreign country to adopt the grand land of America -- specifically Maryland -- as their home.

Each generation produces men and women whose deeds are recognized and perpetuated via election to the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame, which remains the highest honor their home state can bestow. Ruth, Baker, Foxx and Garrett brought an initial level of accomplishment that few states could begin to match.

Indeed, some states, in a quest for what amounts to artificial publicity, ignore the homebred part, such as Florida, which honors Don Shula and Jack Nicklaus, two Ohio natives, rather than restricting membership to where the candidates were actually born. If Maryland adopted such an open-door policy it would limit the chance of its own athletes achieving such heights because the hall of fame roll would be crowded with such imposing names as John Unitas, Lenny Moore, Wes Unseld, Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer.

They, suffice to say, and quite appropriately, are listed in their own home state halls of fame. Now fast forward to this year's Maryland selections:

Ray Moore of Meadows in Prince George's County, a pitcher for five teams during an 11-year major-league career (1952-63) in which he won 63 games and lost 59. He died in 1995.

Charlie Pittman of Baltimore, a running back at Penn State (1967-69) who led the team in rushing three straight years while being on the winning side in 30 of 33 games.

Ron Swoboda of Sparrows Point, an outfielder for nine years in the major leagues (1965-73) who was a hero of the New York Mets' World Series victory over the Orioles in 1969.

Elmer Wingate of Baltimore, a four-year varsity football end on outstanding University of Maryland teams (1947-50) before playing in the North-South and College All-Star games and then with the Baltimore Colts.

This year, for the first time, a lifetime achievement award will be presented to Jim Phelan of Mount St. Mary's College. The idea, introduced and formulated by selection committee member Stan Goldberg, sports editor of the Frederick News and Post, is to headline a non-athlete, not necessarily a native-born Marylander, who gained outstanding distinction. Phelan has won more games at Mount St. Mary's than any other Maryland basketball coach and, on a national basis, ranks behind only Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp and Clarence "Big House" Gaines.

A dinner will be held in their honor at Martin's West on May 8, and they'll also be spotlighted at Camden Yards before an Orioles game. "We believe we have something the public is going to enjoy," said Dennis Gring, executive director and a non-voting member of the Hall of Fame committee. "Tickets are $35 and can be ordered by calling me at 410-931-0302. It'll be a highlight of the Maryland sports year.

To the credit of the Hall of Fame, it has held to the rigid rules for acceptance while resisting politics, pressure plays and personal agendas. It alternates its panel of selectors so as not to become methodically routine and also to invite a flow of fresh suggestions. The intent at all times was to adhere to the guidelines established by the original 1956 committee that numbered Joe Deckman as chairman and sports editors Rodger Pippen, Paul Menton and Jesse Linthicum, all of Baltimore; Bob Layton, sports editor of the Cambridge Banner; broadcasters Eddie Fenton and Bailey Goss and former athlete and official Charles Ellinger.

They passed the torch of leadership to others, gaining longtime and devoted assistance from Ed Athey, Suter Kegg, Bob Scott, Chester O'Sullivan, Bill Tanton, Bob Maisel and Vince Bagli, among others. It's a strictly volunteer effort on behalf of Maryland by men and women desirous of perpetuating the accomplishments of its superior athletes.

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