Party held at museum marks Babe's birthday

About 90 people gather for ballplayer's 105th

February 07, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

A month ago, Diane Green was combing the Internet at her home in Northern Virginia for information about one of her favorite baseball players -- Babe Ruth -- and found a Web site about the museum in Baltimore devoted to the legend.

She was all set to pack her family into her car and drive from their home outside Fairfax to Southwest Baltimore, when she decided to delay the visit. The Web site was advertising the museum's annual Babe Ruth birthday party in a few weeks, and she wanted to be there for it.

"We wanted to wait and make our first visit here a special one," said Green, before a champagne toast at the museum yesterday. "We just love the Babe."

Green was one of about 90 people who crammed into the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Baseball Center -- four narrow rowhouses on Emory Street -- to mark what would have been the Sultan of Swat's 105th birthday yesterday. They celebrated with cake and champagne -- ginger ale for the children -- and heard Sun sports columnist and Babe Ruth historian John Steadman speak about the legend.

The museum also introduced a new piece to its collection that it acquired days before the birthday party: the first complete Ruth uniform -- jersey and pants -- the museum has had in its 26 years.

A collector in New York called last week and offered to lend three pieces to the museum: the rare Ruth road uniform, assumed to be from the 1930s, a 1958 autographed Mickey Mantle away jersey and a Mark McGwire jersey from the 1984 Summer Olympics, said museum curator Greg Schwalenberg.

"He really felt it was good to show this stuff to the public," Schwalenberg said of the collector, although he declined to identify the collector.

Last year, another collector lent the museum a traveling trunk used by Ruth.

The gray Mantle jersey and the red McGwire jersey will be added to the museum's display of players who have hit 500 home runs. McGwire is the 16th -- and most recent -- to join the club.

The Ruth uniform will be part of an exhibit this spring honoring Ruth as player of the century, according to several news organizations.

A true rags to riches story, George Herman Ruth signed with his hometown Orioles in 1914, acquired the nickname "Babe" at spring training in North Carolina and went on to become one of America's favorite sports figures in the 1920s and 1930s. He played for the Boston Red Sox for five years before joining the New York Yankees. He wore pinstripes until 1934, then played part of a season with the National League Boston Braves. In his 22-year career, the Babe hit 714 home runs and played in 10 World Series.

His uniform on loan is rare because it has a "3" on the back. Numbers weren't used until 1929,toward the end of his career, said Laurie Ward, a museum spokeswoman.

"He probably only played three or four years with a number on his back," Ward said. "So, for being from the early 1930s, it's in remarkable condition."

Ward said the collector paid $285,000 for the uniform.

Green said her family was impressed with the exhibits, especially a baseball that is believed to be the last one Ruth autographed before he died Aug. 16, 1948. Her sons -- Joshua, 15, Noah, 9, and Matthew, 6 -- play baseball, collect cards and memorabilia.

"They've watched documentaries on Babe Ruth," Green said. "They are really big fans."

The museum opened in 1974 as a way to preserve the home where Ruth was born in 1895. The museum offers baseball exhibits, memorabilia, programs and pictures honoring Ruth, the Baltimore Orioles and Major League Baseball.

Tom Hatch, who learned about the birthday party on the radio, brought his 12-year-old son, Eric, to the celebration. Hatch said he found the collection "mesmerizing."

Hatch was drawn to the old Yankee exhibits. His son preferred the newer Cal Ripken Jr. displays.

"If you're interested in baseball," said Hatch of Alexandria, Va., "you have to love this place."

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