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.