Crown lost, but Babe still reigns Legend: Despite the record-breaking home run by Mark McGwire, Babe Ruth is still No. 1 for many fans.

September 10, 1998|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Bernard and Elizabeth Brown just had to stop by the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore yesterday before they returned home to Rocky Mount, N.C.

They had to because Bernard Brown is a baseball fan, and for a baseball fan, Ruth reigns supreme, even as America honors a new home run king, Mark McGwire.

While McGwire is "pretty special," Ruth is more than that, said Brown, a 33-year-old financial officer for a plastics company. "He was the greatest of all time."

But Brown also believes Ruth and McGwire were different people from different eras. "I don't think what one does takes away from the other."

At the rowhouse on Emory Street, near Camden Yards, where Ruth was born 103 years ago, museum officials and visitors such as the Browns graciously tipped their caps to McGwire, even as they said The Babe's aura would never be eclipsed.

The museum unfurled a giant banner yesterday with the insignia of McGwire's team, the St. Louis Cardinals, and bold lettering in the Cardinal colors of red & white. Its message: "Congratulations Mark McGwire."

On Tuesday night, McGwire set the single-season home run record of 62. The day before, he tied the mark of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. Until that year, the record had been Ruth's 60 homers in 1927.

Museum Director Michael Gibbons said Ruth's stature was secure as a larger-than-life figure who helped rescue baseball's tarnished image from a betting scandal during the 1919 World Series and turned the game from speed to power.

"He's kind of like a Paul Bunyan, a Davey Crockett," Gibbons said. "The further away we get from the reality of his life, the larger he looms."

Museum officials say they have seen a noticeable spike in attendance in recent weeks as McGwire and Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa, who has 58 home runs, pursued the record that was Ruth's for 34 years. In each of the past two weekends, they have counted more than 500 visitors to the shrine that includes vintage photos of Ruth in and out of uniform; lighted displays on career highlights such as his "called-shot" in which he supposedly pointed to center field in the 1932 World Series before hitting a home run; and commemorative stamps and other memorabilia.

The amount of e-mail sent to the museum has also grown in the past few days. One signed "Steven," that arrived at 11: 36 Tuesday night, about two hours after McGwire hit the shot heard round the country, read: "McGwire's #62 was great tonight. It feels like baseball is coming back. Just like the Babe made baseball come alive."

A small but steady parade of visitors flowed into the museum yesterday.

Peggy Forgason, 39, of Lubbock, Texas, came to pick up some souvenirs for a friend after she and others attending a Baltimore convention of Meals on Wheels administrators watched McGwire's televised home run Tuesday.

Forgason said McGwire's accomplishment was now "a part of history" that would only enhance what Ruth did.

John Eunis, 50, a Tampa maintenance worker visiting Baltimore for a family reunion, said McGwire's record didn't diminish Ruth's achievements. In fact, the baseball memorabilia collector said, "I would rather collect Babe Ruth's cards than Mark McGwire's cards."

"We don't want you to get the idea that we're putting Mark down," said his wife, Patricia, 58, a receptionist. "It's just that we think Babe is the best."

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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