- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

If Barry Bonds manages to hit 71 home runs this year and get the single-season major league record, do you think there will be a traveling road show of Barry Bonds artifacts 50 years after he is dead?
What would people want to see? His private big screen TV in the clubhouse? His reclining massage chair? The San Francisco Giants team photos that he didn't show up for?
No one will give a hoot about Barry Bonds. His impact won't go beyond the little fortress he has set up in his corner of the Giants clubhouse. They won't care about Barry Bonds in Memphis or Salt Lake City or Des Moines or Oklahoma City.
They still care about Babe Ruth, though, in those places and all around America. Charlie Vascellaro saw firsthand the remarkable, long-lasting passion for baseball's most mythical figure. The former Maryland Baseball public relations executive spent the last four months traveling around the country in charge of a display of Ruth artifacts that the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum dispatched to let people connect with the legend, even if just in a small way.
"Babe Ruth used to barnstorm about the country during the offseason, showing up to play in places where he was not normally seen," Vascellaro said. "That's what this is, a barnstorming tour for the Babe."
Vascellaro drove more than 30,000 miles, starting in April in Memphis and ending up Labor Day weekend in Omaha. He took along a host of Ruth items from the Baltimore museum and other donors, including a bat that Ruth used, a right-handed catcher's mitt Ruth wore on his throwing hand while playing at St. Mary's School, autographed Ruth and New York Yankees team baseballs, the Sports Illustrated Player of the Century trophy awarded two years ago and a copy of the last contract offered to Ruth by the Yankees for $1 Ruth's pink slip from the team.
You would think Vascellaro was carrying around the Holy Grail the way people have responded to the exhibit, which has primarily been set up at minor league ballparks.
"It's amazing how people react," he said. "And all ages are drawn to it. Kids talk about how they did a report on Babe Ruth in school, and the older fans will wax sentimentally about him and hang around the booth just to talk about the Babe together… . Sometimes, depending on the crowds and circumstances, I'll let them touch the bat, and you can see the passion in their eyes when they hold it.
"I don't think there has ever been another player who has kept this kind of hold on fans. I think he is as popular today as he ever was."
That passion may only be matched by that of Vascellaro, who left Maryland Baseball after Peter Kirk sold the operation to Comcast. He had been close to the museum in his role with Maryland Baseball and, with the candy bar Baby Ruth offering more substantial funding for the traveling road show this year than in the past, jumped at the chance to take the temporary assignment. "If you are passionate about baseball, this is a dream job," he said.
It was quite a road trip just Vascellero, the exhibit and a life-size photo of the Babe. "Everywhere I went, I took a picture of the Babe there," he said. "I was driving through Utah, with all of this beautiful scenery, and stopped at one of those vistas along the road. I took him out of the truck, put him on some rocks and took a picture of the Babe with this canyon in the background. Then truckers started to stop along the road and get their cameras out to take pictures, too."
He tried to get him into Graceland in Memphis but couldn't pull it off. That would have been a remarkable meeting of the legends Elvis and the Babe.
But there were other legends the Babe did hook up with, such as Lawrence "Crash" Davis, the minor league legend whose career was the basis for the film "Bull Durham." Davis passed away only weeks later.
Vascellaro also found a real-life connection with the Babe in Durham 93-year-old Mace Brown, a former Pittsburgh Pirate who had a unique meeting with Ruth.
"When the Babe hit his three home runs [for the Boston Braves at the end of his career] in one game, he hit them against the Pirates," Vascellaro said. "He was so tired from running around the bases that he went to the Pirates dugout instead after the third one and sat down to rest. He sat next to Mace Brown."
Most of the time, Vascellaro and the Babe connected with the average baseball fan, like the man in New Orleans who wanted his 8-year-old son to hold the bat. "He doesn't realize how much this will mean to him someday," the man told Vascellaro.
But it wasn't just star-struck seamheads who were enchanted with the Babe. Vascellaro said the biggest Babe Ruth fan he met on his road trip was a former major leaguer Mickey Mahler, who pitched eight seasons for Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Texas, Montreal and California.
This was a man who grew up in a baseball family his brother was pitcher Rick Mahler. Yet he was like a little kid when it came to the Babe. "He came to all four [Salt Lake City Stingers] games, and he monopolized my time the first night, when I was setting up," Vascellaro said. "He couldn't get enough of Babe Ruth. Major league players are not in awe of each other, but they are in awe of Babe Ruth."
The barnstorming tour ended yesterday in Omaha. The Babe and Charlie Vascellaro are on their way back to Baltimore. "I've never enjoyed a job as much as this," he said. "This was way too much fun."
The operative word here is "fun." Babe Ruth was no Boy Scout, by any stretch of the imagination. But he had fun being the Babe, and the people who came to see him had fun. They still do.
No one will ever say that about Barry Bonds. You could hold a Barry Bonds barnstorming exhibit in his driveway, for all the people that would care.


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