With Jacob having returned to West Point and Mary in Germany, Michelle and I are finding ourselves without kids for really the first time in our marriage. Michelle suggested that we start taking day trips on the weekends. She even went as far as to say, “I could even go along if you have Baseball Stuff to do.” I have never been one to have to have been called twice for a meal or look a gift horse in the mouth. This weekend we went to recently opened Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards.
I have been wanting to visit for some time. They opened last year, and with this being less than two hours away (without Beltway Traffic), it was high on my list. One of the things I like about venues like this is not only the holdings, but the container. The Sports Legends Museum is housed in the old Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) train station at Camden Yards. Cincinnati has done much the same thing with the Union Terminal not far from the site of old Crosley Field. Another story for another time.
We arrived at 9:50 as the Museum hours are posted as 10:00 – 6:00 daily from April through October. We found the doors where just being opened and we where permitted to enter and buy tickets early. They offer discounts for both AAA and Active Duty Military which I thought was nice. Since they where just opening, we where told to wait just a minute and someone would be right with us…Enter Mr. Phillip Howard. Mr. Howard is retired and now works at something he truly loves, talking about sports in Maryland. Our first stop was into a small theater where a seven minute film was shown on Maryland Sports Legends. This is a very well done “tongue-in-cheek” production showcasing the talents of a local Baltimore actor know to the audience as Lucky Harry. As Harry recounts his tales to the likes of Boog Powell, Tom Matte, Lenny Moore, Pam Shriver, and others, he shows himself at being at the center of many famous Maryland related Sporting Events. He appears to be the Forest Gump of local sports in the words of Mr. Howard. Harry takes credit for, among many things:
Secretariat winning the Preakness at Pimlico
Getting the Colts to add the Horse Shoe (which he got from Secretariat) to their helmets.
Convincing Johnny Unitas to wear high top cleats.
Keeping Cal Ripken’s streak alive by giving him a daily wake up call.
With the film ending and the museum being very sparsely populated (the Orioles where not in town), Mr. Howard took the time to begin walking and talking with us. Michelle enjoyed this to no end as she has heard enough from me about sports history over the years…Once again, another story for another time. The flow of the displays starts off with Babe Ruth and the early days of baseball in Baltimore. The exhibits are well done and filled with a variety of wonderful items. Mr. Howard made a point of pointing out the Babe Ruth underwear on display and keenly remarked that Jim Palmer was not the first Baltimore area player to endorse such product lines. I think we can all agree that we are thankful that Palmer’s product line was not the fashion norm in the Babe’s day. Not sure that would have been a sales generating site.
In this same portion of the Museum, you begin to see the focus is not just about people who played in Baltimore, but are native to the State of Maryland as well. There is a wonderful and rare Jimmy Foxx jersey from the 1934 Tour of Japan. Foxx, born in Sudersville on Maryland’s eastern shore, was part of the entourage that included journeyman catcher Moe Berg…the player who was said to have been “able to speak seven languages, but not able to hit in any of them.”
The museum then begins to enter into Oriole’s Country where displays are available for the more notable players and the Orioles Hall of Fame. Mr. Howard asked about where I was from, and when I told him I had grown up in Cincinnati, he smiled an suggested we might want to just skip through the Brooks and Frank Robinson displays as “Brooksie” killed the Reds in the 1970 World Series, and well for Frank??? Milt Pappas for an “old 30” Robinson. For Ripken fans, there is a very well done display for Cal featuring bats, gloves, spikes, helmets and various awards and milestone balls. All of the bats on display where Louisville Slugger black P72 models.
As you leave the Hall of Fame area and go downstairs, there are various numbers along the wall. Mr. Howard asked me, with a bit of smile, if I knew the significance of the annotation of “49-122-.316”….My reply was something to the effect…yeh, I know an “old 30 in 1966” as these where Frank Robinsons numbers for the 1966 season as he won both the AL Triple Crown and MVP Award. I felt, but restrained the sudden desire to ask Michelle for her lipstick so I could write “12” on the wall in the same area (Milt Pappas win total for the same season). I bring this up not simply to open old wounds, but to show that great lengths have been made in this museum to keep the visitor thinking and observing throughout the entire journey.
The down stairs focus in on sports at large in Maryland. Mentioned and shown are exhibits from the Negro Leagues as well as local talent once again. The have a great flannel jersey and picture of Hall of Famer Al Kaline as a 14 year old playing youth baseball. Makes me wish I had held on to my threads from the then Cincinnati Knothole powerhouse Thomas Funeral Home…yes, another story for another time.
As you get about halfway through the bottom floor, you will find some well done planning. Here you will find restrooms, benches, and a series of displays for younger visitors. Kids can play soccer on the floor with an virtual soccer ball, they can produce their own broadcast calls of famous events, or even go into a locker room and try on uniforms and equipment that enables them see what it would be like to be an Oriole, Raven, Maryland Basketball star, or God forbid, a Midshipman football player at Annapolis. We moved quickly past this only to find a very well done display devoted to the Army-Navy Football rivalry (WE ARE SOOOO OVERDUE).
The bottom floor ends with the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame. I felt the best artifacts in this area where a jacket and catchers mask of Jimmy Foxx from his days in Boston as well as a rare and just gorgeous NY Yankees sweater from Frank “Home Run Baker.”
The stairs take you back up to the first floor for Football in Baltimore. How does this town feel about the Colts? The first display is done in the form of the back of a Mayflower Moving fan with equipment boxed up and recording of news broadcasts covering what many refer to as the ultimate “sneak play” in the history of professional football….the unannounced sale and move to Indianapolis. The football displays are rightly so, Colt heavy with wonderful examples of uniforms, equipment and memorabilia. We saw a late 1940s Colts jersey that was green and white. I pointed this out to Michelle and asked her if she noticed something odd. She remarked that it looks like a diaper that the kids would wear the pre-school she works at…It’s called a crotch piece dear, and I was referring to the color. Visiting places like this are great for seeing things like this as most of the older images available to us from the period are black and white.
Johnny Unitas is well represented in this part of the Museum as you would well expect. There are helmets, jerseys, and shoes along with many trophies, awards and personal artifacts. I think I embarrassed Michelle as I was trying to look for just the right angle to try to catch a size on the tagging of a late 50s Unitas Colts jersey manufactured by MacGregor. I was squeezing myself along the wall looking back and up into the display case, but to no avail because of the fold in the material. If you have ever been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, then you will know that the vast majority of the jerseys on display are not behind glass and this information can be ascertained.
The tour ends with the Baltimore Ravens and then as expected, brings you out into the Gift Shop. The selections are about what you would expect in terms of clothing, books, memorabilia and glassware. As with everyone else we met, the staff was very friendly and upbeat.
If you are looking for a day trip along the east coast or some other reason to come to Baltimore (growing up in Cincinnati, I did not acquire a taste for Crab Cakes), then the Sports Legends Museum clearly qualifies. It is very easy to find as it is right behind the B&O Warehouse at Camden Yards. The only draw back I saw was the lack of parking. If you are in town anyway, then you could probably just walk from the local hotel as that is where the bulk of the parking is available. There are also a number of nice restaurants close by as this always helps with Michelle.
On the drive back I did some prelim work to see how this panned out and it was positive. I am thinking that a longer drive to Philadelphia and a tour or interview with the folks at Mitchell & Ness could be done under the guise of showing Michelle the city as Mary is looking at Penn. Another story for another time and one I hope to tell soon.
MEARS Auth, LLC
The website for the Sports Legends at Camden Yards is: