Barry’s Unintended Help For Babe

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - May 31, 2006
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It seems that Barry Bonds’ chase to 714 and then 715 may finally be having an effect greater than clogging the television and radio airwaves with Barry-didn’tdo-it-yet lead-ins and live broadcast interruptions. A new online fan club,, is hoping that the interest, or possibly more to the point, anger, over Bonds eclipsing Ruth will bring in the donuts from baseball fans wanting to help support The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore.

The museum is located in a brick row house where the little Bambino was born. His family actually lived in an apartment over the bar his father ran, but mom must not have liked the location, instead preferring her mother’s home to give birth to the flat-nosed child who would one day become a national icon.

Located at 216 Emery St., it’s just three blocks from Camden Yards. Sixty baseballs painted on the sidewalk connect the museum to the current home of the Orioles. Inside you’ll find exhibits donated by Ruth’s widow Claire, his two daughter, Dorothy and Julia, and his sister Mamie.

The museum dedicated to the city’s favorite son almost never came to be. In 1967, Baltimore officials had decided to demolish the home as part of an urban renewal program. The building had fallen into disrepair and no one seemed interested in preserving it. Fortunately, Hirsh Goldberg, the press secretary for then-mayor Theodore McKeldin, got involved. Through his efforts a piece of Baltimore history was saved.

So here’s the 411 on the 714 Club. Fans who log on to the web-site can make donations of $7.14, $71.40 or $714. No doubt exceptions will be made for those want to make donations of $7,140 or even a $71,400. The money raised will go, in part, to installing a sprinkler system and making the place handicap accessible.

All this makes you wonder. If Bonds had been more agreeable or had not shot his body full of performance-enhancing drugs, the museum may have limped along facing the daunting economic hurdles confronting museums nationwide. But because of Bonds’ history, and his famed “I got his slugging percentage, his on-base percentage, his walks and I’ll take his home runs. That’s it. Don’t talk about him no more,” speech in 2003, the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum may be facing a financial windfall.

Ironic, isn’t it? Interest in Babe Ruth renewed by a man who wanted to bury his memory.

But on to real inspiration: Last week the University of San Francisco honored a group of silver-haired men who, along with 36 others, long ago chose principle over athletic glory. In 1951 the undefeated Dons (9-0) appeared to be headed to the Orange Bowl when word got around that the Sugar, Gator and Orange bowls would ban any team with an African American player. USF had two black players, linebacker Burl Toler and future Hall of Fame running back Ollie Matson. The coaches gave the team a choice. Leave their teammates behind and fulfill a dream or make a stand against segregation and refuse any bowl offer that denied access to African Americans. To a man, the team refused. No vote was even taken. It was obvious: Either all the Dons would play or none would.

The university presented these men with honorary doctorates in humane letters during the graduation ceremony. Tears flowed when the entire audience of 1,000 stood to recognize what these men had done so many years ago. The ovation was long, loud and well-deserved.

San Francisco never received a bowl invitation, and the program that was facing major budget problems was shut down at the end of the year.

The 1951 Dons will always be remembered for their undefeated season, the team’s three Hall of Famers, tackle Gino Marchetti, end Bob St. Clair and Matson, and for the teams’ sports information director who would later make his mark in NFL, Pete Rozelle.

But for at least one day, a moment of real importance and accomplishment was recognized.

Also, hopefully, never to be forgotten.

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