|Fond Farewells to a Beloved
Baltimore Landmark |
By Kim Harris
|Memorial Stadium, 1983, in its hey-day. (Photo
courtesy Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum)
Tuesday, May 15, 2001
BALTIMORE - The memories pour out with bittersweet smiles when you talk to some Baltimoreans about Memorial Stadium, which is being
reduced to a pile of rubble.
“Her time just came, as much as I hate to say it,” says John
Ziemann, community outreach coordinator for the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore. He spent 15 years broadcasting
Orioles baseball from the stadium for WMAR television.
|The stadium's rectangular facade
(center) will be the only thing left standing. (Photo by Kim Harris)
By September, the facade will be the only part of the stadium left standing. A wrecking ball is destroying
the rest to make way for
Stadium Place, a retirement community being built by the nonprofit Govans Ecumenical Development
Corp. and Presbyterian Home Inc.
Ziemann says demolishing the stadium is the right
thing to do, but he can’t forget the games, like the last Ravens
home game in 1997.
|Ravens' ticket for final game in
“The game ended, and they had the former Baltimore Colts come
out on the field. They also had the Colts band come out on the field for the
last time,” says Ziemann, who was a member of the band, now called the Ravens
Marching Band. “They [re-enacted] a play, the last play of the Baltimore Colts. It was a
handoff to Lenny Moore. Then Lenny Moore jogged around the stadium holding the
ball up in the air with one of the younger Ravens players.
Then the Colts band
played the Colts fight song for the last time. After everyone left the field,
the only thing still on the field was the Colts band. It was [fitting], because
the Colts band was the first band on the field for the Sept. 7, 1947" game,
the Colts took on the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Children like to wax sentimental, too.
Natasha Palmer, 7, who only has to cross the street to get
to the stadium from her home, calls it, “the greatest stadium in the whole wide world.”
|View of the stadium from Natasha Palmer's
home. (Photo by her dad, Willis Palmer Jr.)
The stadium also holds a special place in the heart of one
“The memories that I have of course are of Johnny Unitas,
Lenny Moore, other great ball players that saved the National Football League,”
says Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a former governor and Baltimore
He adds he remembers the stadium before it was a stadium--when it had
sand, gravel and earth behind the seats, wooden seats full of splinters. "I have memories of great games, like when
the Orioles won the championship.”
“We won three [championships],” says Ziemann, who says the
first one in 1966 sticks out for him because, “The Dodgers were supposed to
cream us. We beat them in four games.”
Ziemann also points out proudly that the stadium was the
site of six World Series, one Major League baseball All-Star Game and one National Football Championship game.
And it was the
home field of a Super Bowl champion.
Great players crossed through the doors of the stadium: Orioles Cal Ripkin Jr., and Brooks
Robinson; football players Arthur Donovan
and Gino Marchetti, to name a few.
“In 1972, Johnny Unitas’ last game as a Baltimore Colt, we
knew he was going to leave, and he was benched,” recalls Ziemann. "Then, the quarterback got hurt in the
third quarter, and Unitas had to go in. And just then a plane came overhead holding a
sign with ‘Unitas We Stand.’ The crowd went wild. I never heard a stadium roar
like that in my life.”
How did the play turn out? “He scored a touchdown to Eddie
Hinton,” recalls Ziemann.
There would also be visiting legends like baseball player
Mickey Mantle, football players Joe Namath and Terry Bradshaw.
But despite those unforgettable sports moments, for
many Baltimoreans, the fact that the stadium is a memorial to veterans makes its
demolition harder to take.
As the stadium was being rebuilt in the 1940s, there was talk of naming
it after baseball great Babe Ruth, a Baltimore native. But the Gold Star Mothers of Baltimore,
who had lost sons in World War II, joined together and won the battle to name it
It’s a tribute Jim Clifford, 87, a World War II veteran and
past commander of the Kelly Legion Post, takes seriously. He says the legion post
held its first meeting in the locker room of the stadium back in 1946.
(Photo by Kim Harris)
“I just feel close to the big thing,” says Clifford. “It is
a memorial. You don’t tear down memorials.”
The main thing that worries Clifford since losing the
fight is losing the façade--also dedicated to World War II vets. But in a deal worked out between Preservation
Maryland, GEDCO and Baltimore City, the façade will be saved.
And the executive director of
GEDCO, Julia Pierson, says the memory of the stadium will live on through Stadium Place.
“We always said we would have some sort of memorial here,”
says Pierson. “We are keeping the oval shape of the stadium to evoke the feel"
of the it--building around the old structure.
Baltimoreans will also be able to view parts of the stadium,
since the city has been salvaging pieces of it for the Babe Ruth museum archive.
Items preserved include the whole Orioles dugout, chairs, signs and railings.
And many fans will only have to walk into their
living rooms to remember the stadium. In September, the city held a two-day auction
and sale, giving fans an opportunity to take home, among other things, seats, chairs
and other parts of the stadium. The auction and sale benefited the Babe Ruth
museum and helped fund the stadium's demolition.
“It’s just sad,” says Schaefer, of the demolition. “You
know one time, Unitas got hit on the field. They sewed him up on the field, and
he went back on. Can you imagine a ball player doing that now? They would have
seven doctors standing by.”
Copyright © 2001 University of Maryland College of
Journalism. Text and limited photos available, with permission and credit,
for use by Capital News Service clients.
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