Nameplates of the 152 men and women thus far elected to the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame have been placed on public display by the Baltimore Orioles in a gesture that at first reaction merits generous applause. It was the proper thing for a rich and prosperous organization to do. But then you look at where they put the plaques -- between two restrooms.
Small engraved renderings list the year each individual was enshrined and the sports they played. The Hall of Fame commission, headed by Ed Athey and Chester O'Sullivan, which also includes ex-athletes, sportswriters and sportscasters, is a non-paid group that, by its charter, is only supposed to provide a public service.
It has enough money, barely $1,500, to cover expenses. So, with hat in hand, the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame sought a place that would be appropriate to showcase the enshrinees. Lacking a home, the Hall of Fame had earlier availed itself of the kindness of Martin Resnick, who offered the Martin's West ballroom facility.
It was soon found a larger area was necessary for adequate viewing. The Orioles, it was thought, might want to include the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame in the new complex at Camden Yards. When contacted, Janet Marie Smith, representing the Orioles, and Bruce Hoffman, of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said they would be interested in housing the display.
The Orioles paid for the plaques, costing an estimated $10,000, and then erected them outside the restrooms located along the Eutaw Street promenade. Kind of a Maryland "Wall of Fame." The team's own Hall of Fame, as selected by the Oriole Advocates, is about 150 feet away and contains such players as Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, John "Boog" Powell and a score of others.
Oddly enough, Powell's concession stand, featuring beef sandwiches, obscures some of the testimonials to his former teammates. That's a downer. But there's an even more embarrassing negative.
Close by the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame, anchored between the restrooms, is the most impressive piece of sculpturing in the entire facility. It's a magnificent bronze plaque dedicated to Babe Ruth, which used to be on a wall in the lobby of Memorial Stadium. The Oldtimers' Baseball Association of Maryland paid for it to be made.
The text on the remarkable work calls him "Baltimore's Most Famous Baseball Son" but it also could say baseball's most celebrated player and the Orioles' greatest gift to the game. There would be no dispute. Unfortunately, Ruth's memorial is partially blocked by Tom Matte's barbecue ribs stand. It deserves to be the centerpiece in the main lobby.
An expensive creation of such caliber rates more than being outside the restrooms in right field. The Old timers' Baseball Association may call on team president Larry Lucchino to protest. The present Orioles management may give one the impression it is ashamed of Baltimore (why else would it have eliminated the city's name from road uniforms?) and now gives its most illustrious product bush-league treatment.
Ruth, the greatest figure the game produced, was Baltimore-born and discovered in 1914 by the International League Orioles. His performance and personality elevated baseball to a position of popularity it never knew before, coming after the 1920 Black Sox Scandal, when the game lost much credibility.
These comments are written with full knowledge that the Orioles, with Lucchino making the presentation, made a $250,000 award to the Babe Ruth Museum to lead off its fund-raising effort. Certainly, general manager Roland Hemond and public relations director Rick Vaughn, both students of baseball history, ought to conduct a daily class for those ignorant of Ruth's importance so as to alleviate the situation.
The Maryland Hall of Fame even includes an Orioles vice president, Calvin Hill, a football standout. Other performers from 27 sports include Joe Gans, Chuck Foreman, Redmond Finney, Jack Scarbath, Mary Ann Downey Cooke, Jim Lacy, Bob Williams, Gene Shue, Don Heinicke, Lois Waring, Joe Cowan and John Lambros, among others.
They and fellow Maryland Hall of Famers, including Babe Ruth, deserve better treatment. It also would be in the best interests of the Orioles to offer more dignity and prominence to Maryland's finest athletes of the past.