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.