It's a rich baseball heritage, full of pride and distinction, that gives Maryland an all-time, home-grown all-star team with unmatched capabilities.
Prolific sluggers with names like Ruth, Foxx and Baker give our state a poetic license to proclaim itself "the home of the home run." And Maryland has contributed many other blue-ribbon performers whose records deserve appreciation and recognition. There's no more appropriate occasion to do it than as a grand finale to the annual major-league All-Star week.
Picking the all-time Maryland team isn't difficult. The six Hall of Fame members are automatic qualifers: Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, Al Kaline, Frank "Home Run" Baker and Judy Johnson. Then quickly write in Cal Ripken Jr., a deity-to-be, who is still playing and won't be eligible for the Hall of Fame until five years after retirement.
Any state with such an array of talent has a head start -- and justification to brag. And all sections of Maryland contributed native sons: from the pristine farms of the Eastern Shore, to the clamorous streets of Baltimore, to the coal-mining towns of Western Maryland.
The toughest call to make in reviewing the elite of Maryland's baseball society, dating to the first professional game in 1871 (when Bobby Mathews, a Baltimorean, made the opening pitch), is deciding on the right fielder, to team with Ruth in left and Kaline in center.
The pick for right field is a subjective one, between Charley Keller and Bill Nicholson, two men who had exemplary personal characteristics to go with their extraordinary athletic abilities. They had similar careers as to longevity and performance.
Keller, in 13 years, batted 18 points higher -- .286 to Nicholson's .268 -- but the latter had the advantage in home runs, 235 to 189, and runs-batted-in, 837 to 760. As defensive players they also were close, but Nicholson's arm was superior, as shown by his 118 assists to Keller's 46.
As for catcher, there's less depth at that position, but Gordon "Babe" Phelps has a wide edge. The next best is Walter "Peck" Lerian, who played only two years, with the Philadelphia Phils, before being killed in 1929 by an automobile that jumped a curb in Baltimore and pinned him against a building.
A great strength of the Maryland team is long experience in the major leagues. All nine starters have it, ranging from Phelps' 11 years to 22 for Ruth and Kaline. Now, with trumpets blaring, let's introduce the starting lineup:
First base: Known as the "Maryland Broad Back" because of his wide shoulders and awesome strength. Started as a catcher at age 17 with the Philadelphia A's and played every position except second base in an illustrious career that saw him finish as a pitcher.
While in high school he set the state 100-yard -- record, which held up for 20 years. The first man after Babe Ruth to attain 500 home runs and the first to win the Most Valuable Player award twice and then three times. Hit 30 or more homers 12 years in a row.
Played for the A's, Red Sox, Cubs and Phils. Member of the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born Oct. 22, 1907 in Sudlersville. Died July 21, 1967 in Miami.
Second base: Most of his career in the Negro Leagues was at third base but on this team his size and agility make him a perfect fit at second base.
"Cool Papa" Bell, a fellow Hall of Fame member, once said of Johnson, "He's a solid player who could just get it done. He was dependable, quiet, not flashy at all, but could handle anything that came up."
Served as a scout for the Philadelphia Phils. Lifetime achievements in baseball and high personal values were recognized by Wilmington, Del., when it named its new baseball field in his honor.
Played for the Philadelphia Hilldales, Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born Oct., 20, 1900 in Snow Hill. Died June 15, 1989 in Wilmington, Del.
Cal Ripken Jr.
Shortstop: A superb fielder who makes all the plays with deft hands and a strong, accurate arm. At 6 feet 4, he's the tallest major-league shortstop ever to play as a regular.
Has more home runs than any shortstop in major-league history and is the only Oriole to be a two-time American League MVP. During his 12 full seasons, through 1993, had more extra-base hits than any major-league player during that period.
His durability has him on schedule to surpass Lou Gehrig's longevity record of 2,130 straight games. Next June, if he avoids injuries, Ripken is likely to reach what was previously believed to be an unattainable mark. Played for his father, Cal Sr., when he managed the Orioles during 1987-88.
Born Aug. 24, 1960 in Havre de Grace. Lives in Reisterstown.
Frank "Home Run" Baker
Third base: Acquired his nickname after hitting two game-winning homers in the 1911 World Series, during the era of the "dead" ball when home runs were extremely rare.
A man of gentle demeanor who farmed his entire life and said he was never tempted to taste tobacco or alcohol. Recalled in an interview that Walter Johnson, the legendary Washington Senators pitcher, had admitted trying to hit him intentionally, at the urging of the catcher; Baker was the only hitter shown such respect by Johnson. How did Baker react? "It was either duck or no dinner," he recalled with a satisfying smile.
Played for the A's and Yankees. Member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born March 13, 1886 in Trappe. Died June 28, 1963 in Trappe.
Left field: Universally considered the game's greatest player. His popularity lifted the sport to respectability after the infamous 1919 World Series "fix" scandal.
Won 94 games as a pitcher. At the plate, put together a .342 lifetime batting average, 714 home runs and a slugging percentage of .690 that has gone unchallenged.
Discovered and signed by his hometown Baltimore Orioles for a contract of $600 for the 1914 season. Only American athlete whose home has been restored as both a museum and a registered national landmark.
His 100th birthday, next February, will be celebrated with a long series of events, including the unveiling of a statue in his old neighborhood -- adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Played for the Red Sox, Yankees and Braves. Member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born Feb. 6, 1895 in Baltimore. Died Aug. 16, 1948 in New York.
Center field: Never played a moment in the minor leagues, going directly from Baltimore's Southern High School to the Detroit Tigers, where he spent his career. In his second full season, hit .340 at age 20 to become the second-youngest player (Ty Cobb was the first) to earn the batting title.
Reached the coveted 3,000-hit mark in 1974 while his parents looked on at a game in Baltimore. Superb defensively, with strong throwing arm and ability to cover ground.
Member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born Dec. 19, 1934 in Baltimore. Lives in Detroit.
Right Field: Endowed with a long, powerful batting stroke; when he swung in the on-deck circle, spectators would holler "swish" -- thus his nickname, "Big Swish."
Missed the 1944 MVP award by one vote (189 to 190 for Marty Marion) after accounting for 33 home runs and 122 runs batted in to lead in those departments for the second straight year. His hometown of Chestertown has erected a monument in his honor.
A Washington College alumnus. Applied to the Naval Academy but was rejected for being colorblind. Believes he played the last five seasons of a 16-year career suffering from undiagnosed diabetes.
Played with the A's, Cubs and Phils. Member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame.
Born Dec. 11, 1914 in Chestertown. Lives in Chestertown.
Gordon "Babe" Phelps
Catcher: Batted .367 in 1936, one of the highest marks for a catcher, but still didn't lead the National League. (Paul Waner did, with .373.)
Called "Babe" because of his resemblance to Babe Ruth. On the way to the majors, put up some astonishing hitting records to lead three different minor leagues.
Left baseball to help World War II effort as a railroad dispatcher at Fort Meade.
Played with the Senators, Cubs, Dodgers and Pirates. Member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame.
Born April 19, 1908 in Odenton. Died Dec. 10, 1992 in Odenton.
Robert "Lefty" Grove
Pitcher: One of the fastest throwers of all time and winner of 300 games. The International League Orioles purchased his contract from Martinsburg, W.Va., of the Blue Ridge League for the cost of repairing the outfield fence after it had been damaged in a windstorm.
Won 109 games for the Orioles before being sold for a then-record $106,000 to the Philadelphia A's. His American League season of 1931 saw him put up a spectacular record of 31 wins, four losses and an earned run average of 2.06.
Considered the finest left-hander in AL history; had the league's lowest ERA in nine of his 17 seasons. A hard-bitten competitor known as the "Lion of Lonaconing" or "Mose."
Played with the A's and Red Sox. Member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born March 6, 1900 in Lonaconing. Died May 22, 1975 in Norwalk, Ohio.
For you purists who want a proper batting order, try this: Johnson, Kaline, Ruth, Foxx, Baker, Ripken, Nicholson, Phelps and Grove.
The all-Maryland nine truly is a dream team. Bring on Alabama (with Henry Aaron and Willie Mays), Georgia (Ty Cobb and Jackie Robinson) or even California, with its outfield of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider.
JOHN STEADMAN, a sports columnist for The Evening Sun, played professional baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Of the nine men he picked for his Maryland all-star team, he interviewed and knew all but Babe Ruth.