Monday, July 16, 2012


After all my thirty years at the museum, I am still slightly amazed how the Babe Ruth ‘brand’ continues to hold its top-rung spot in the sports heritage universe, as well as the world of sports collectables. Just the other day a rare photo of the bat-wielding slugger in his Red Sox uniform made the internet rounds, setting off all kinds of excitement. Last month, Ruth’s road Yankee’s uniform went for a record $4.4 million. Sports fans and collectors just don’t seem to be able to get enough of Baltimore’s Bambino. I just wish there was a turn-back-the-clock machine so I could witness the Ruthian whirlwind in up- close-and-personal living color! 

Every year the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation hosts a gala fundraiser to support our mission of preserving local sports heritage, and this year’s edition promises to be something special. On September 5, at the Baltimore Hilton at Camden Yards, we will salute Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, two of the most iconic and beloved Orioles of all time. “An Evening with Cal and Eddie” promises a unique, first-hand opportunity for fans to enjoy the candor of a fireside chat between these Hall of Fame baseball brothers. WBAL’s Keith Mills will moderate the program, with several VIP guests set to pop in.  Tickets went on sale this week, and you can get yours by calling the museum at 410-727-1539.  Reserve your spot today for what promises to be an once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I hope many of you can stop by the museum’s booth at the upcoming National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore August 1-5. We will be featuring some rare Ruth and Baltimore sports artifacts that should make your visit well worth the effort. Thanks to Ray Schulte for his kind assist with this project.

Back in January I prognosticated that 2012 just might be the “Year of Our Birds.” And while the boys of Buck Schowalter may not be pennant bound, they certainly have provided Baltimore fans with a satisfying first half of a season. As I wrote six months ago, it is always all about pitching, pitching, pitching, so if the team can somehow straighten out the starting rotation, we might still be root-root-rooting come September. The team’s winning start, by the way, has jumped average attendance by about 4,500 per game, the third highest climb in the majors this year. Here’s hoping the show goes on!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Baltimore Sports Writers Forum

Last night our Sports Legends Museum partnered with the Baltimore Sun to present a Sports Writers Forum at Johns Hopkins University’s Shriver Hall. Former and current Sun baseball writers Tim Kurkjian, Ken Rosenthal, Roch Kubatko and Ed Encina entertained  the 300 fans or so who braved Baltimore’s 102 degree heat assault to take in the more than 100 years of collective clubhouse experience these four brought to the table.

And while they provided the expected behind-the-scenes insight most everyone had anticipated, they also proved to be funny as all get out. The diminutive Kurkjian, on one occasion, related how when he was a young reporter working for a Dallas newspaper, he was sent to the home of the owner of one of Dallas’ professional sports teams to try and scoop a breaking story. So he knocks on the front door of the owner’s posh home, and when the guy answers, Kurkjian says, “Hi, I’m Tim Kurkjian from the Dallas Morning News.” And, without missing a beat, the guy responds to the teen-aged looking beat writer, “Oh, gosh, l’m sorry, I forgot to pay this month’s bill. How much do I owe you?”!!!

There were stories about certain players not liking certain writers, about how a large number of big-leaguers make discreet use of pine tar, about the impact social media has on their reporting careers, and about the extraordinary deadline demands of their jobs.

But make no mistake, these extremely talented writers exuded huge passion for what they do, and thank their lucky stars to be fortunate enough to cover the game they’ve loved since childhood, up close and personal.

Great night, wish you could have been there!

Mike Gibbons
Executive Director

Friday, May 25, 2012

What’s the Value?

With the advent of television shows like Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, All Star Dealers and Pawn Stars the world of the museum curator has changed.  What was once a steady stream of object donations for museums and historical societies has been reduced to a trickle.  People now think that somewhere in the boxes of family mementos is the golden ticket, the untapped treasure that is going to pay for their kid’s college education or build them a retirement home on a Caribbean island.  Sadly, the notion of preserving something for future generations has been overshadowed by the hope for a cash payout.

Every week I get telephone calls from people wondering if their memorabilia has any value.  And while I usually answer “yes,” my answer seldom equates to the cash reward the caller is hoping for.  See…objects and memorabilia have three types of value; historical, financial and sentimental.  Every item has some, but the latter most often tips the scales.

I usually start by asking some questions.  “Is the item from a memorable moment in time?  Was it used by a legend in the sporting world?  Does it have a specific story to tell?”  These questions help determine if the item has historical value.  Is it something a museum would want to exhibit?

The process gets difficult because historical value often leads to financial value.  But not all items with financial value have historical value.  It is complicated.  A signed Babe Ruth baseball may be worth thousands of dollars but have no historical significance other than being signed by the Bambino.  Now the dilemma of what to do with the item starts to take form.  Should it be preserved in a museum or sold for a financial sum?

The process gets even more complicated when the item has been passed down from generation to generation.  Now emotion has entered the picture.  That same Babe Ruth baseball may have financial value for being autographed and sentimental value if the autograph was obtained by Grandpa when he was a kid. Sentimental value is important.  It is the reason why we have boxes of mementos and memorabilia in our attics in the first place.

Ultimately, determining value is very difficult.  Not everything in those attic boxes is going to sell at auction for a handsome sum.  Your father’s knitted Baltimore Colts hat has very little historical or financial value.  It is definitely not going to be that golden ticket.  But its value lies in the story it tells about the person who cherished it.…and in the end that story lasts longer than any reward from a quick sale.

Shawn Herne is the Chief Curator for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ode to the Preakness

The Preakness is sponsored by the Maryland Jockey Club, the oldest professional sporting association in the country. It also serves as the face of Maryland horse racing, the one day of the year when Pimlico’s turnstiles flap to capacity and her betting windows rake in the green.

The Preakness is hand-painted Black-Eyed-Susans, the call of bugles, boisterous silk hats, the Naval Academy chorus, network coverage, the Woodlawn Vase, and front-lawn parking at $25 a pop.

It is run at ‘Old Hilltop,’ before a mixed crowd of upperly-crusted elite and beer-swilling sun worshippers. It is the hopes-and-dreams of owners and trainers, a national platform for state politicos, and the year’s top chance of being noticed for the who’s who crowd.

It is beautiful women and dashing dudes, yellow summer dresses, white bucks and bow-ties, eagerly watching as the field of thoroughbreds loads into the starting gate.

But mostly the Preakness is Baltimore’s annual opportunity to slip back to the days before the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards, when steamboats and the B&O ruled the Bay and beyond. Simpler days, when the locals were more parochial than global, more cultured than course, and the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown was our cozy city’s chance to shine in the national spotlight.

Friday, May 11, 2012


 May 22nd Fireside Chat to Celebrate Broadcaster’s 14 years in Baltimore

            There’s a reason why Jon Miller is enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The winner of baseball’s prestigious Ford Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting, Miller combines the uncanny ability to call a play as it unfolds with the unique talent of humorous, insightful storytelling.

            I met Jon in the winter of 1983, the year he came to Baltimore to broadcast Orioles baseball on WFBR radio. I had heard that he could do a pretty fair Babe Ruth impersonation, and I was looking for a voice for a Babe Ruth animatron we were producing. We met in Baltimore just before he headed south to spring training that year, and he ‘auditioned’ his Ruthian impression for me in his room at the Belvedere Hotel. I was sold, hook, line and sinker. The next day Jon laid down six short scripts at a local recording studio, and over the course of that one-hour session sound engineer Betsy Harmatz and I came to learn what a treasure Baltimore was about to embrace. In between takes he charmed us with his extraordinary wit and humor, reeling off one-liners like a baseball version of Johnny Carson.

            For the next fourteen years Miller was the voice of Baltimore Orioles baseball, delighting us with his calls of the 1983 World Series victory over Philadelphia, the 1989 “Why Not” season, the opening of Oriole Park, “2131” and Eddie Murray’s 500th home run. But of all his special moments in Baltimore, Jon says the one that stays with him the most is the night in 1988 when the Orioles came home to Memorial Stadium with a record of 1-23. That was when they started the season 0-21, setting an all-time MLB record for season-starting futility. That night at Memorial Stadium, 51,000 fans showed up to root on their orange and black. They called it Fantastic Fans night, and the HOF broadcaster says he never saw anything like it, before or since.

            Jon Miller will be at Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Central Library on May 22 for “Sports Legends Museum presents Jon Miller,” one of several programs our museum is doing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the opening of Oriole Park. That night, after a meet and greet with fans, Jon will take to the stage to once again share with his Baltimore fans the sense of humor and hyperbole that landed him in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

For ticket information for “Sports Legends Museum presents Jon Miller,” call 410-727-1539.

Mike Gibbons
Executive Director
Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation

Friday, May 4, 2012

Behind the Scenes for the Opening of Oriole Park

           In the hectic days and weeks counting down to the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992, with our museum engaged in myriad activities and events, my primary focus was the dedication ceremony that had been scheduled during the Saturday evening, April 4th, black-tie gala that would provide 4,000 guests with a sneak preview of what everyone else would see at the home opener two days later.

            My job was to write the park’s dedication speech, to be recited by none other than the distinguished actor, James Earl Jones, and then establish a long-distance line of communication with the “Field of Dreams” star, presently in England working on a new feature film. Back then, before the days of global internet and cellular service, transatlantic dialogue was slow and tedious, but by the time he arrived in Baltimore the afternoon of the 4th, we had edited the speech to his liking, while at the same time securing the signoffs of Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer and Orioles president Larry Lucchino.

            With an able assist from Baltimore actor and museum enthusiast Doug Roberts, I was also working with the Morgan State choir, which was providing a wonderful choral arrangement to accompany Mr. Jones’ powerfully evocative baritone testimonial. Doug and I enjoyed an afternoon rehearsal led by Morgan’s choirmaster, the brilliant Nathan Carter, before I set off to fetch James Earl from a high-end downtown hotel.

            While waiting for the famous actor in the hotel lobby, I was entertained by a formally attired bride and groom, who were just about to exchange their nuptial vows near the hotel’s grand staircase. But then down those steps strode Mr. Jones, whose celebrity caused a brief hiccup in the ceremony, as the bride and groom stopped to get his autograph!

            A couple of hours later, with the gala in full swing, Doug, James and I awaited our ceremony cue in the Orioles’ not-yet-used clubhouse. Small talk dripped to dry as the minutes ticked away, but then James broke the silence. “Michael,” he said, “I have to pee!”

            And then it was show time. The choir sang, the actor spoke, the new ball park was dedicated, and my words never sounded so good!

            Happy 20th anniversary, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, you remain baseball’s best!

Mike Gibbons
Babe Ruth Birthplace and Sports Legends Museum

Mike Gibbons is the executive director for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Ode to Opening Day

For Baltimore baseball fans, Opening Day conjures up a myriad of sentiments and sensations that tug close to the heart and delve deep into the mind. It also signals the restart of the day-to-day rituals associated with following our home team Orioles. Like getting up each morning, coffee, cream and sugar, to pour over yesterday’s line score and where we are in the standings, which spills over to a string of mental probes centered on our prospects for the next game up. Can the starting pitcher get into the seventh? Will the GM call up the Double-A hotshot who’s been ripping it up a Bowie? Will the return of the cartoon bird bring about a magical return to our winning ways (how’d that one slip in there?). Is the left-fielder really fast enough to bat leadoff? And on and on it goes, every day, for six months. Morning to night. The daily ritual of baseball fandom.

But Opening Day also means the smell of cut grass, of fathers and sons, side-by-side, year after year. Of playing catch, the iconic crucible of horsehide pounding leather. And getting out of school early and feeling special. And wearing that old Orioles warm-up jacket, and being proud it still almost fits. And remembering other home openers, from the first time you walked up the ramp and saw the perfectly manicured green and brown diamond in 1954, to the sunny April 1st day when the wind chill was so severe they called the game and all the media at first took it for an April Fools joke. 

But mostly Opening Day is about renewal; the real start of Spring, when we look forward with hope to the new season, while at the same time remembering and sensing all that came before, all that got us to this moment in time. Baltimoreans have a long tradition of Orioles’ home openers that dates back to 1882, the year the team took its name. Since then they’ve played in the American Association, the National League, the International League and the American League, but play they have, establishing one of the great legacies in all of sport.

And for Baltimore baseball fans, the startup of yet another campaign brings all those years and all those team, and all their fans, and all those memories, together to make for one hell of an orange and black smorgasborg!

Happy Opening Day, Baltimore!

Mike Gibbons
Executive Director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation