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.

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