When The Baltimore Sun and Babe Ruth Museum teamed up to create the Mount Rushmore of Maryland sports, the goal was to identify the state's four most enduring athletic icons.
As it turns out, that's not as easy as it sounds. After a group of local sports experts and online voting helped winnow a group of about 250 contenders to 10 finalists, the Mount Rushmore committee could not settle on just four athletes. So it went with six: Ray Lewis, Michael Phelps, Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Babe Ruth and Johnny Unitas.
The Babe Ruth Museum exhibit honoring the selections opens to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday and will run through March. The cost of admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military members and $5 for children ages 5 to 16. Group rates are also available. The museum is open daily through September from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (and 7 p.m. for Orioles home night games).
"We think that every community has a Mount Rushmore of local sports," said Mike Gibbons, the museum's former executive director and its current director emeritus and historian. "That is a discussion that goes on casually in bars and man caves and stuff like that on a constant basis: 'If you could pick your top guys, who would they be?' And that's a pretty intriguing discussion typically. But we think here in Maryland that we have a tremendous and unique sports tradition, sports heritage, as is represented by the six athletes who we are honoring as our Mount Rushmore of local sports."
During his 17 years with the Ravens, Lewis was honored as NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice, selected to the Pro Bowl 13 times and voted a first-team All-Pro linebacker seven times. He will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.
Phelps, a Baltimore native, is the most successful Olympian of all time, with 28 overall swimming medals and 23 golds, including eight at his historic 2008 Summer Games. Of his 23 gold medals, 13 came in individual events.
Ripken, a Harford County native, won a World Series and two Most Valuable Player awards in his 21 seasons with the Orioles. The Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop also played in 2,632 consecutive games, setting a record that might prove unbreakable.
Robinson won 16 Gold Glove Awards during his 23 seasons with the Orioles, the most ever by a position player. The third baseman, an 18-time All-Star and Hall of Fame selection, was the first Oriole named the American League's Most Valuable Player, and also earned MVP honors in the 1970 World Series.
Ruth is considered by many to be the greatest baseball player of all time. The pitcher-turned-outfielder from Baltimore hit 60 home runs for the New York Yankees in 1927, then the single-season record, and finished with 714 overall in his Hall of Fame career.
Unitas, also a Pro Football Hall of Fame selection, set 22 NFL records, passed for more than 40,000 yards and for 290 touchdowns, led the Baltimore Colts to championships in 1958 and 1959, and completed at least one touchdown pass in 47 straight games.
"I would put our list up against anybody's, and I think that these are supremely talented and celebrated athletes, and they're ours," Gibbons said. "And we thought it was time to honor them collectively, bring them together and let fans enjoy looking at these top six guys."
The Sun’s Peter Schmuck and Mike Klingaman were members of the selection committee, and online voting was held at baltimoresun.com.