Wednesday, December 28, 2011


As the clock keeps ticking towards the holidays, and the rush of last minute shopping gets neatly wrapped and under the tree, many of us will probably take a few minutes to reflect back on the year just passed, and also of the myriad of possibilities that encompass the next twelve months.
For me, I am grateful that our Ravens have provided the thrill of a fourth consecutive playoff campaign. Having a successful sports franchise, year-in-and-year-out, brings a sense of continuity to the community that it otherwise would lack. The Ravens are something everyone wants to talk about, regardless of their level of interest in sports. Aside from the weather, winning sports teams are what communities have in common. Thank you, Ravens!

Looking forward, all I really want from Old Saint Nick is for the Orioles to return to the good graces of the baseball gods. We fans need desperately for our orange and black to be back in contention. If young people thrill to the steady victory of Ravens football, imagine how they will react to a Major League pennant race! Baseball comes at you every day, and it doesn’t get any better than to have your home team battling for a playoff spot deep into the season. Good luck, Orioles, and let’s hope that 2012 will be the year we remember as the start of the turnaround.

Same thing for Maryland Terrapin football and basketball. Our Terps have a new AD and two new head coaches. And while this year’s edition on the gridiron and over at Comcast Center leave a lot to be desired, you have to hope that both programs can generate a healthy turnaround in the immediate and not-too-distant future. Remember Ralph’s first year? Remember how Cole and Comcast rocked with Gary? We need that back, pronto!

So as the year winds down, here’s hoping that all our teams get or stay competitive, and that sports can take its rightful place, along with weather, around the community water cooler, month after month, year after year. That’s the way it should be.

Happy Holidays,

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

“Why are we still doing this?”

Photo by Mark Lane
Last Tuesday night Artie Donovan asked these words to a crowd of more than 700 guests gathered to see the Hall of Fame Baltimore Colt and six others inducted into the Sports Legends Museum’s Hall of Legends.  Donovan couldn’t imagine that after all these years Baltimore still cared.

But Baltimore does care.  These guys, Artie Donovan, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, John Mackey, Weeb Ewbank, and Jim Parker did more than wear a horseshoe on their helmet and give lip service to the fans.  They immersed themselves in the city, they took jobs in our factories, shared drinks in our neighborhoods and became part of our family.  They didn’t just play for Baltimore, they were Baltimore.  And they are as much part of this city today as they were back in their playing days.  Our relationship with them is special.

Baltimore is fortunate to have such legendary sports icons such as Babe Ruth, Johnny Unitas and Cal Ripken to claim.  But we are equally fortunate to have Jim Mutscheller, Bruce Laird, Lydell Mitchell, Toni Linhart, Sam Havrilak, Rick Volk and so many others who are willing, after all these years, to help remember and celebrate the glory days of Baltimore Colts football.  Even though the team packed up and left, the heart and soul of those teams remained true to Baltimore.

Tuesday night’s event was truly a special occasion.  For a few hours the Colts were Baltimore’s again and our heroes wore blue, not purple.  Our favorite defensive end was a Marchetti, not a Redding.  The best tight end was a Mackey and the meanest offensive linesman was a Parker.  The band played the fight song and we all cheered “Fight, Fight, Fight” for the Colts, one more time.

Why are we still doing this?  Because people like Artie, Lenny, Raymond and the rest are more than just retired football players.  They are family.  And like family, they stuck by us and we’ve stuck by them.  We are proud of them and grateful for what they did for us, all those years ago.

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thank You, Baltimore Colts

This December 6 our museum hosts its annual gala at Martin’s West in Baltimore. And as we pause from the busy pulse of the workplace to spend Thanksgiving with our families and friends, I want to shoot out a special offering of thanks to the seven Baltimore Colts we will pay tribute to at the gala.

Weeb Ewbank, Jim Parker, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan are being inducted into our Hall of Legends that evening, because of what they meant to the Colts and to the NFL, but, more importantly, what they mean to Baltimore.

These seven men came along at a time when Baltimore was fighting to reinvent itself. Following the heady manufacturing days of WWII, the city had gone into rapid decline in terms of industry and image. By the late fifties we were best known as the rest-stop between Washington and Philadelphia.

But then along came the Baltimore Colts, who, under head coach Weeb Ewbank, rapidly rose from a shaky expansion franchise foundation in 1953 to kings of the pro football world in 1958. In their first-ever title game, against the Giants at Yankee Stadium in New York, the Colts triumphed in dramatic, sudden-death fashion, in what became known as the “Greatest Game Ever Played.”

That game, featuring two heart-stopping drives, one in regulation, one in over time, and orchestrated by Johnny Unitas, father of the two-minute drill, put the NFL, and Baltimore, on the map.

Off the field, these seven represented the changing face of a city in transition. Moore, Parker and Mackey, black athletes who overcame the shackles of racism by soaring to superstardom on the gridiron, eased Baltimore’s path to integration. Artie, following his “gladiator” days with the Colts, became “Fatso,” late night TV star and popular radio personality. Gino gave us “The Giant” hamburger, and Raymond made us proud by moving into the head-coaching ranks and taking New England to a Super Bowl.

And then there was Weeb. After leaving the Colts following the 1962 season, he coached the New York Jets to victory in the NFL’s other most important game, a 16-7 vanquishing of our Colts in Super Bowl III. That victory put the AFL on par with the NFL, and set pro football on a path to success it still enjoys today.

So, thanks to our Baltimore Colts honorees. I hope to see you at our very special tribute on December 6. Happy Thanksgiving.

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Next Ice Age

As the Chief Curator of the Sports Legends Museum and the Babe Ruth Birthplace I am often asked what makes athletes like Babe Ruth, Michael Phelps, or Cal Ripken different from everyone else.  What makes a good athlete into a great athlete?  My standard answer has been “skills and talent.”  Any young athlete can be taught the right skills to compete.  But, skills can only build on what gifts the young person naturally possesses.  Just like becoming an artist is more than learning how to hold a paint brush, sports is more than learning proper techniques.  You either have it or you don’t.  This has been my standard answer.   

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of watching an open rehearsal by the Gardens Ice House’s resident skating company, The Next Ice Age.  The NIA is a non-profit company dedicated to “the preservation and growth of artistic ensemble skating through performance and education.”  They call themselves “a dance company on ice.”  But the NIA is certainly much more than that.

Watching the skaters perform was a treat.  Their poise, professionalism and artistry were nothing short of amazing.  Their level of performance certainly exceeded my expectations.  To the spectators there that evening, there was no doubt that they were athletes AND artists.

But the biggest surprise for me came after the performance.  As the guests retreated to a small room upstairs for light refreshments the young skaters made their way around to introduce themselves, express their appreciation for our support and to tell us a little more about the performance we just saw.  They talked about their work ethics, their practice schedules, and their appreciation for the love and support they receive from their families.  Again, their poise and maturity were remarkable.  Clearly their coaches and choreographers were good teachers both on and off the ice.

It was during these conversations that I realized my opinion of what the difference between a good athlete and a great athlete was had a significant flaw.  I forgot about passion…the willingness to practice day in and day out for hours at a time to become better at a craft…the willingness to sacrifice sleep, friends, and other opportunities in order to become the best.  Yes, it takes talent…you either have it or you don’t.  Yes, it takes skill…learning the fundamentals and practicing them everyday is important.  But it also takes a belief that hard work pays off.  These young skaters from the Next Ice Age were amazing…not just for their incredible performance…but for the ability to inspire the rest of us.  Who knows, one of them might just be the next “great one.”

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

So You Want to Build a Sports Statue

Brooks Robinson Statue
Photo by Maroon PR
My home town of Baltimore, Maryland once held the moniker of “Monumental City” because of the hundreds of statues and monuments that adorned our downtown plazas. And while we don’t generate the same kind of burgeoning numbers of artsy tributes today as we did, say, after the American Civil War or World Wars One or Two, you can still go to one or two unveilings a year, regardless of America’s current martial meanderings.

Three of our city’s most recent statues celebrate local sports heroes, their presence on our monumental landscape indicative of how far sports heritage has come in the modern era. Prior to the unveiling of the Babe Ruth statue at Camden Yards in 1995, there had never been a statue dedicated to a local sports icon in the downtown area. In 2002, a statue of Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas was unveiled outside the main portal to M&T Bank Stadium, home of our Baltimore Ravens. And just last month, Mister Baltimore Oriole, Brooks Robinson, was on hand for the unveiling of his nine-foot bronze likeness just west of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Aside from the obvious notion that each of the above-referenced monuments pay tribute to famous Baltimore sports figures, they have one other thing in common: they were all produced by our sports museum!  And after three projects of ‘monumental’ proportion, I can tell you one thing conclusively: the devil is in the detail.

Why? Because even though a statue, at the time of its unveiling, seems like a relatively straight-forward, simplistic, artistic gesture(a bronze figure mounted atop a concrete and granite pedestal, adorned with a couple of plaques for donor recognition and narrative text), it isn’t! Because what you see at an unveiling does not accurately represent the full breadth and scope of complexity of such an undertaking.

Statue projects typically take years and years. Why? Well, once the creative or inspirational spark of an idea translates into enough individual or group motivation to get a project going, coordinators must start to move forward across multiple layers of endeavor, ensuring that all components of the project mesh together seamlessly, and on time. They must select the just-right artist, negotiate a contract, establish a production schedule, garner political approval and civic permission and corporate support, secure a construction company, locate the installation site, garner grass roots enthusiasm from the community, tickle and then grab the attention of local (and perhaps national) media, maneuver through a myriad of unveiling ceremony details, draft and enact long-term maintenance and security contracts, create post-unveiling souvenir and merchandising opportunities, and, in the end, pray that they don’t make any irreversible mistakes or missteps.

When we did our first statue project, Babe Ruth, everything went along relatively well all the way through the unveiling, with the governor and Babe’s daughter pulling the drape from the nine foot depiction of a young Ruth in his Baltimore Orioles uniform. But about a week after the grandstand had been dismantled and the dust had started to settle on the slugger’s bronze likeness, all hell broke loose. The artist had depicted Ruth carrying his right-handed fielding mitt, which would have been fine, except Ruth was a lefty!

Our committee of ‘experts’ surveyed and scrutinized until the cows came home, but not enough to prevent the mistake. News of the error went viral and spread across national news desks faster than one of the Babe’s home runs flying out of Yankee Stadium. Just like that, Baltimore’s first sports statue was notorious. And our statue committee was dumbstruck. What could we do?
The answer, of course, was nothing, except live and learn. Which I think we did, because the Unitas and Robinson statues that followed have no errors that we are aware of, no wrong-handed mitt or uniform malfunctions.

So if you want to build a statue, know that it is complicated, painstaking, unforgiving work, and if you make a mistake, it will be there for generations to contemplate.

The Ruth statue error, by the way, turned out to be not all that bad, because that notorious right-handed mitt has made the Camden Yards monument a ‘must see’ for out- –of-town tourists and locals alike, sixteen years after the discovery…and counting.

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Risks of the Game

On Monday, following the memorial services for Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon, who died last Sunday in the Indycar finale in Las Vegas, drivers and Indycar officials met to discuss how to make the sport safer.  They want to find better ways to protect the drivers.  But can it be done?

Wheldon died from blunt force trama to the head when his car went airborne in a 15-car melee that resulted in the former Indycar champion crashing headfirst into the retaining fence.  Doctors rushed to save Wheldon’s life, but his injuries were too severe.

Auto racing is dangerous, but motorsporting events aren’t the only high-risk sports. Ridge Barden, a 16-year-old lineman from John C. Birdlebough High School in New York, died after sustaining a hit in a varsity football game.  Barden was able to sit up on his own but complained of a bad headache.  He died in the ambulance en route to the hospital.  22-year-old Derek Sheely, starting fullback at Frostburg State University died in August at the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore after he collapsed at football practice.  His father believed his death was due to a head injury.

In each case the argument is made for safer helmets.  But some doctors believe it isn’t the equipment that needs to change but rather our approach to sports.  Dr. Michael Williams of Lifebridge Health’s Sandra and Malcolm Berman Brain & Spine Institute believes that in many sports the evolution of helmets has reached its pinnacle.  Brain injuries are often caused by two factors, a trauma to the head and the impact of the brain hitting the inside of the skull.  A helmet can significantly reduce the damage caused by the former but it can do nothing to alleviate the latter.  Much like taking an egg and shaking it, there is no physical damage to the outside shell, but the yolk inside is clearly scrambled.

It seems that with the improvements to sports equipment has come a false sense of security.  Hockey, lacrosse and football injuries have not decreased because our players, amateur and professional, believe they can hit their opponent that much harder.  A result of trying to make our sports safer is that we’ve actually made them more dangerous.  Just ask Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins who continues to deal with post-concussion symptoms from head injuries sustained in January. 

Recent attempts by the NFL and other leagues to enforce tougher penalties for illegal hits is just the beginning of a change that needs to happen.  We need to remember that sports are dangerous and to pass that message on to the kids playing them.  Safety doesn’t just mean safer equipment, it also means safer practices.

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Monumental City Welcomes Number Five

            When I was growing up in Baltimore back in the 1950s, the city carried the moniker of ‘Monumental’ because it had more statues and monuments per capita than maybe any other US municipality. From the Washington Monument in Mt. Vernon to Battle Monument on Calvert Street, Baltimore’s marble and granite commemorations of glories past were notable and numerous.
            In recent times our monumental tradition has continued, expanded from its usual salutes to local politicians and military heroes by bronze tributes to iconic figures from Baltimore’s burgeoning world of sports.
            To wit: in 1995 a statue of George Herman Ruth was unveiled at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It seemed fitting that Ruth, as the city’s most famous native son and the most celebrated name in international sports to this day, would be the first athlete so honored in Baltimore.
            Seven years later the Johnny Unitas statue became an important part of the M&T Bank Stadium landscape, a place where thousands of fans would come to mingle before Ravens’ games, forever mindful of what their high-topped quarterback meant to Baltimore, and to the NFL.
            But if Ruth and Unitas were so honored, wasn’t there someone equally deserving of a public gesture of permanent tribute? The answer, as any good Baltimore sportsperson can attest, is yes, of course, because if you honor the Babe and Johnny U, you have to do the same for baseball’s ‘human vacuum cleaner,’ Brooks Robinson.
            This Saturday, October 22, Baltimore’s third sports statue will be unveiled in the
Russell Street
plaza just north or Oriole Park, this one commemorating the greatest third baseman in Major League Baseball history. Brooks Robinson finally takes his iconic, rightful place with Ruth and Unitas.
            Ruth is important here because his rags-to-riches, unparalleled greatness uniquely demonstrates the hard-scrabble mettle of the blue-collar Baltimore from which he sprouted. Ruth illustrates Baltimoreans’ innately toughness, and their capacity for achieving the highest heights of any profession.
            Unitas and Brooks, while not native sons, did more through their breathtaking, hall-of-fame careers to change the dreadful profile of post WW2 Baltimore than any other athletes or citizens, before or since.
            As both men started their pro careers here in the middle 1950s, Baltimore was regarded as not much more than a rest stop between Philadelphia and Washington. But, quickly, Unitas and Robinson turned their respective Colts and Orioles into championship franchises that became the toast of the nation. In lightening fashion, the city they represented was re-branded as ‘Titletown, USA.’
            Make no mistake, the unveiling of the Brooks Robinson statue this Saturday is an important, long overdue moment in the history of our Monumental City, an occasion when we provide Brooks his rightful place of prominence among Baltimore’s “Mount Rushmore” of sports statues.

            There will never be another Brooks Robinson, and we finally get to thank him for all he has done, and for all he has meant, to his adopted hometown community along the shores of the Patapsco. I hope to see you all on Saturday for the unveiling of the Brooks Robinson statue.

Go to or for details.

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

Friday, October 14, 2011

Last Game at Memorial Stadium

Last Pitch at Memorial Stadium, October 6, 1991
Twenty years ago last week an era in Baltimore’s sports history ended.  It was October 6, 1991.  The debate about the need for a new ballpark was over.   The hearings were concluded.  The votes had been cast.  Now all that was left was for the players to take the field.  It would be the last time the Orioles would call Memorial Stadium home.

It is hard to believe it has been twenty years since the Orioles played at 33rd Street. The game that day against the Detroit Tigers was not particularly exciting.  The Orioles weren’t fighting for a playoff spot.  In fact, after going 67-95 they were the second worst team in the American League.  But for everyone there that game was still special. 

The pre-game ceremonies honored Elrod Hendricks for spending more time in an Orioles uniform that anyone else in club history.  The first pitch honors were shared between Brooks Robinson and Johnny Unitas (no one foresaw the Browns moving to town) as everyone expected this to be the last professional baseball or football game to be played at the stadium.

Starting pitcher Bob Milacki had a horrible game, giving up eight hits and five runs in the first 2 2/3 innings.  The bullpen settled down but by the ninth inning when Mike Flanagan came on to get the last out the Orioles trailed 1-7.  But it did not matter.  The crowd was electric.  “To me, it was like the seventh game of the World Series,” Flanagan said.

Immediately following the game the real show began.  Clad in white tuxedoes, the grounds crew dug up home plate and transferred it by limousine to Camden Yards.  Then with the sounds of “Field of Dreams” music echoing throughout the concrete bowl that was Baltimore’s House of Magic, players from every generation, starting with Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell and Jim Palmer began to take their positions.  When all was complete, a giant ring of Orioles, 119 from all four decades circled the field.  The ceremonies closed with Auld Lang Syne and the words “Goodbye Old Friend” on the Diamond Vision.  Long-time stadium PA announcer Rex Barney offered his famous “THANK YOU” from his hospital bed one last time.

It is hard to believe that magical moment in Orioles history occurred 20 years ago.  Rex Barney, Elrod Hendricks, Johnny Oates, Mike Flanagan and many more are gone, but time will not diminish the glory of their deeds…or that day.

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

Friday, October 7, 2011

Between the Lines: A Path to Peace

This month I’m on my way to Oakville, Ontario, to attend the annual conference of the International Sports Heritage Association (ISHA), a fraternity of 130 sports museums and halls of fame from all over the globe. One topic I plan on addressing with my colleagues stems from an article in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated that focused on the burgeoning notion that sports might be on the verge of playing an important role in securing and maintaining world peace for generations to come!

At first, the idea might seem sophomoric, almost silly. But the more you think about it, the more the concept resonates. With few exceptions –the 1972 Olympic basketball game between the USSR and USA being one- sporting events on the international stage have been hugely harmonious, demonstrating that athletes from all sorts of political/economic/ethnic backgrounds can compete, even-keeled, as good, fair-handed sportspersons all.

The SI article examined youth-sports initiatives in a number of developing and challenged countries, noting how athletic programs, stressing hard work and team work, were helping kids to achieve a more positive perspective of themselves, and of their communities. As these initiatives mount and take hold, the end result might be that a kid from some dust-choked field in Afghanistan winds up playing against some kid from a hardscrabble street in Brooklyn in a round of World Cup soccer.

That would certainly be a more positive interaction than Afghans and Americans currently experience.

Good sportsmanship is something all cultures accept and embrace. Athletic competition is governed by rules and regulations that are universally understood. Along with music, mathematics…and love, sports might be one of the few things the whole world can truly and enthusiastically embrace.

So that’s what I plan on discussing at the International Sports Heritage gathering, how sports might be a path to peace, and how ISHA might collaborate to promote an idea whose game-clock is just beginning to tick, tick, tick.

Thanks, Sports Illustrated! Full Article

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Earl "Poppa Bear" Banks
I love the fall…the cooler weather, the changing colors, and, of course, the football. Football’s roots run deep in Maryland.  The City-Poly Game (or Poly-City Game if you are a Poly alumnus) is the second-oldest football rivalry in the country.  Loyola and Calvert Hall’s rivalry is almost as old.  Our colleges, too, have long football traditions.  The Naval Academy, Maryland and Johns Hopkins all boast histories of football legends dating back to the nineteenth century.

One of my favorites comes from Morgan State University.  Throughout the 1960s Morgan State was a football powerhouse.  Led by Earl “Poppa Bear” Banks, Morgan had one of the most dominating football programs in the country. Like any football coach Banks was tough.  But Poppa Bear led his team to a 94-34 record with three unbeaten seasons and five conference championships.  Over a five year period from 1964-’68 the Bears won 32 games in a row!  His .839 winning record as head coach placed Banks’ name among the elite in his field.

But Earl Banks wanted more than to develop his players’ athletic abilities, he wanted to develop their character. 

“About two days a week I talk life, not football, to my boys.  I tell them if they act like a man they will be treated like one.  They may come to us as boys, but they leave as men.  Good men with a purpose in life. I want to develop a good citizen, a man who can contribute something-give something back to society” 

He claimed that 99 percent of his players graduated.  True or not, 35 of his boys made it to the NFL.  Four made it all the way to Canton!

Football is uniquely American.  We get it and the rest of the world doesn’t.  It is loud, rough, and full of tradition.  Yes, it is also dangerous…but we like that aspect.  It has its cast of characters.  Earl “Poppa Bear” Banks was certainly one of them.  He inspired his players and, in the process, gave all of Maryland something to be proud of.
Shawn Herne is the Chief Curator for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.

Friday, September 16, 2011

An Evening With Earl

Legendary Orioles Manager Earl Weaver
Last night our Sports Legends Museum hosted an evening with Earl Weaver and it proved to be more than any of us could have hoped for.

Earl Weaver managed his last game for the Orioles to conclude the 1986 season, when he had come out of retirement, mid-season, to try and resurrect a ball club in decline. But his real last game, the one we all remember, occurred in 1982, when his Orioles team closed with a rush to finish a game behind Milwaukee for the division title. After that last game at Memorial Stadium, a disappointing loss that knocked his team out of the playoffs, the Earl of Baltimore received a thunderous, thirty minute standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 53,000. To this day, many consider it the greatest moment in Orioles history.

Ten years later, Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened to rave reviews, a dazzling shrine to the winning legacy of Baltimore Orioles baseball, a legacy expertly crafted by their hall of fame manager, Earl Weaver.

And so as guests gathered at Sports Legends last night, they did in the shadow of Oriole Park, the baseball landmark whose genesis was the winning ways of the man they were there to honor.

The evening began with a one-hour meet and greet with Earl and his family, and special guests including Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter, the radio voice of the Orioles, Joe Angel, and hall of fame third-baseman Brooks Robinson, who stopped by to say hey to his old manager.

Later, with guests gathered in an intimate, semi-circled seating bowl, Earl and WBAL Radio’s Keith Mills, who served as emcee for the program, took center stage for one hour of what would turn out to be the best kind of ‘hot stove’ chat you could ever imagine.

Number four has been out of the game for 25 years now, but you’d never know it by his candid, insightful responses to Mills’ casual yet probing line of questions. Was Earl happy that third baseman Doug DeCinces was traded in 1982? No, but that was management’s decision, he responded. What about Roenicke and Lowenstein, Weaver’s ultra-successful left field platoon? Roenicke was the better athlete, but Lowenstein could “hit a high fastball with the best of them.” How about what he was most proud of? “My players,” the diminutive leader cracked back.

And on and on it went, with questions from the guests, and occasional input from Buck, Brooks and Joe Angel. Earl Weaver might be getting up there in age (81), but he hasn’t lost an insightful step; his recall crystal clear, his grasp of the game as confident as 1968.

Our evening concluded with the ever-gracious star of the show patiently posing for a photo with every guest and, finally, with our museum staff. An Evening with Earl was truly as good as it gets, and then some.

See you out there,

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Power of Sports

Russian Baseball Player, Petr Denisov holding
Babe Ruth's 1927 home run bat
It never ceases to amaze me the incredible power sports has to bring people together.  No other aspect of human civilization crosses ethnic, gender, religious, political and economic lines.  It binds us together like nothing else.  Sports is simply human.

This was again demonstrated to me recently when Russian Petr Denisov of the St. Petersburg North Stars baseball team visited the museum.  The young 24 year old and his friend Mariya were guests of The Johns Hopkins University Assistant Baseball Coach Denny Cox.  They were touring the Baltimore area to learn more about baseball and, of course, Babe Ruth.  The experience, for all of us, was delightful.

Denny, his wife Chris, Petr, and Mariya began their tour at the Babe Ruth Birthplace.  I joined them for their tour of the Sports Legends Museum and we instantly became friends.  That’s the power of sports.

Petr and Mariya enjoyed their visit.  We toured the Babe Ruth and Orioles galleries.  We discussed Babe’s love of kids, Babe’s fondness of the camera and even his acting abilities.  We discussed the various teams that have been known as the “Orioles” and the many Oriole traditions that have developed over the years.  They even knew John Denver’s song “Thank God I am a Country Boy.”  We talked about Jackie Robinson and segregation in our Negro League Gallery and discussed the emergence of American football in our Colts and Ravens Gallery.

But I think the highlight for everyone was the private tour of the Museum’s vault.  Looking at the rarely seen artifacts was exciting to Petr and Mariya.  Then came the moment.  I presented Petr with the opportunity to hold Babe Ruth’s 1927 home run bat.  The young man from Russia melted.  It didn’t matter that thousands of miles separated our countries, that language barriers and politics sometimes divide us…for a few moments baseball was the most important thing in the world and the Bambino was still the king.

Our love of sports has an amazing way of tying us all together.  It is a commonality we share with nearly every group in the world.  Yes, it makes up competitive but it also makes us kinder.  It gives us a common thread that we can use to weave a real relationship with someone different.  That is the real power of sports.

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

Friday, September 2, 2011

The New Preakness

Baltimore Grand Prix Harbor Rendering |
 McCormick Taylor, Inc.

The Baltimore Grand Prix is finally upon us. Some people are really excited, others not so much. Will the race make money?  Is it good for Baltimore?  Is it worth the money spent on track construction? Is it worth the strain it has put on the daily commute? My answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES!

Baltimore has a public relations problem. TV shows like Homicide and The Wire have convinced many, from all parts of the country, that our little Charm City is nothing more than a nest of drug dealers, crack heads, and murderers. We’ve done very little to correct that image. Sure, it is true that people get to see Baltimore when the Ravens and Orioles are on TV, and for a few moments when the Preakness is aired.  But those images of Baltimore are restricted to inside views of the ballparks and the Pimlico infield. They don’t show the streets of Baltimore.

The Baltimore Grand Prix with its Indycar TV coverage and American LeMans Series coverage will showcase Baltimore to 120 different countries. Each will be a two hour advertisement of the best the City has to offer.  Viewers will get to see one of the most magnificent racetracks in the world!  Our beautiful skyline, the Inner Harbor, and the stadiums will help show a side of Baltimore the casual TV viewer never sees.  Only Monte Carlo and Long Beach have ever attempted to do what Baltimore has done!

There is no doubt there have been problems. Street closures have been irritating.  Thursday morning traffic was a nightmare. But, it is the event’s first year and we will all learn to do it better. The Baltimore Grand Prix has the potential to be one of the finest car races in the world.  More importantly, it has the potential to boost the city’s image and change the perception that there is nothing to see in Charm City.  It has the potential to boost our tourism industry, meaning more jobs in our hotels, restaurants, and attractions.  The Grand Prix could be just like the Preakness, or Fort McHenry, or our incredible stadiums…something we should all be proud to call our own.

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Mike Flanagan

The ball rests in a small case, all by itself, surrounded by a large graphic depicting the last Orioles game ever at Memorial Stadium, October 6, 1991. The horsehide, red-stitched icon was used to record the final enemy out –ever- at the team’s venerable home on 33rd Street, a strike three that retired Detroit’s Travis Fryman.

The ball is symbolic of that last, historic day at Memorial Stadium, and of that final Orioles game. But, more importantly, it is symbolic of the man who threw it, Mike Flanagan. “Flanny” was chosen for that moment, to record that final out, and to conclude an important chapter in the team’s celebrated story, not because he was the ace closer of that 1991 staff (in fact, he was then in the twilight of his career), but because of what he meant to the Orioles organization.

From 1977 through 1983, a seven-year stretch when Baltimore finished first twice and second four times, winning two American League pennants and one World Series to boot, Flanagan was the bedrock of a talented roster of hurlers. Over that period, the winningest seven years in team history, Flanny went 109 and 68, a .616 winning percentage. During that astonishing run he was third in the AL in wins.

While most Baltimore fans are aware of Mike’s various roles with the ball club following his playing days (pitching coach, broadcaster, VP of baseball operations), we at the museum knew him best as a passionate fan of baseball history. When we were working to open Sports Legends Museum in 2004 and 2005, we occupied a large space on the fifth floor of the Camden Yards warehouse. Flanagan’s office was also on the fifth floor, and he frequently stopped by to see how work was progressing.

Mike Flanagan Tribute at
 Maryland Sports Legends Museum

Once he understood how we used artifacts to help interpret our sports stories, he brought us mementoes from his career dating all the way back to his Babe Ruth League youth baseball days in New Hampshire.

And he brought us the ball he used to strike out Travis Fryman for that final enemy out at Memorial Stadium; an iconic symbol of maybe the proudest achievement of his storied career with our Baltimore Orioles.

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

Friday, August 19, 2011

Babe Ruth: 63 Years and Counting

How serendipitous that Jim Thome would become the eighth player in Major League history to hit 600 career home runs the day before the 63rd anniversary of Babe Ruth’s death. Most articles detailing the event alluded to the fact that the 40-year-old slugger accomplished the rarified fete in the second fewest at bats ever, trailing only, you guessed it, George Herman Ruth.

I mention the Thome milestone and the subsequent link to Babe Ruth because it serves as yet another example of how Ruth lives on in the day-to-day vernacular of our national pastime. 63 years after his death, he remains a baseball standard; still part of the discussion.

And all these years later, Babe Ruth remains relevant not just to the sport he helped define, but to America’s cultural landscape as well. The Bambino was so much the colossus, both on and off the playing field, that he transcended baseball to become a national icon, right up there with Martin Luther King, JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, who, ironically, shares the same August 16 death date as the Babe.

For the past quarter century I have taught a writing course at a Baltimore university. As a way of introducing myself on the first evening of class, I have always asked students to raise their hands if they never heard of Babe Ruth. In twenty-five years, no student has ever raised a hand. They may not all know he was a great ball player. They may not know his slugging records. But they know the name, and that is testament to his continued staying power as one of the most celebrated Americans of all time.

There are lots of reasons why: his extraordinary skills as a ball player; the fact that he arrived in New York at the very height of the countries’ ‘roaring twenties’ swagger; his playful, boyish image. But, and perhaps most importantly, it was Ruth’s understanding of the power of media that helped secure his perpetual celebrity. Almost from the get-go of his professional baseball career, Ruth befriended the press, making certain that each and every beat-writer on the circuit was his friend.

That savvy, that ability to manipulate the most powerful force on earth, media, ultimately propelled Babe Ruth towards his eternal role as an American icon, 63 years after his death and counting.
Mike Gibbons is the executive director for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Brooks Robinson, Mister Oriole

This week a fair amount of attention has been focused on the Brooks Robinson statue, which is scheduled to be unveiled on October 22nd in the plaza between Russell Street and Washington Boulevard, just northwest of Oriole Park.

The project is the brainchild of local businessman Henry Rosenberg, who for more than three decades employed Brooks at Crown Central Petroleum. Henry, as well as anyone, knows how important number five has been to our community, both on and off the playing field. For as ‘other-worldly’ as Brooks’ ability was around the hot-corner, where he thrilled and dazzled us for two decades, he proved equally adept in his role as model citizen.

Since their inaugural American League season in 1954, the Orioles have sported any number of superlative athletes, but none understood nor grasped their role as an integral part of the soul of the community better than Brooks.

And because of that, he is universally regarded as Mister Oriole, and why he and Johnny Unitas remain the face of Baltimore sports. Back in the fifties, when Baltimore was generally perceived as nothing more than a rest stop between Washington and Philadelphia, it was Johnny U’s Baltimore Colts and then Brooksie’s Birds of Baltimore,  Hon, who gave us something to be proud of: world champion football and baseball teams.

Their mild-mannered but prolific athletic swagger landed them not only in their respective sports’ halls of fame, but in the hearts of 20th Century Baltimoreans, forever.

And so on October 22nd the Brooks Robinson statue will be unveiled, depicting the greatest third baseman in the history of the game, as he peers southward towards Camden Yards, built in part on the tradition of excellence he helped to foster.

For information on how you can get involved with the Brooks Robinson statue project, go to

See you out there.

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