- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 30, 2005

Redskins fans of a few decades might remember a pint-sized quarterback named Eddie LeBaron, a.k.a. the Little General, who quarterbacked George Preston Marshall’s lily-white losers throughout most of the 1950s. Unfortunately excluded from this group is the anonymous person who perpetrated new signs for the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission’s transplanted Hall of Stars at RFK Stadium.

Let me spell it out for you the way LeBaron’s name is displayed on the right-field wall: eddie LABARON.

Undoubtedly the misspelling has escaped the attention of most paying customers who have trooped to RFK so far to celebrate the return of major league baseball to our fair city in the collective person of the Nationals. After all, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower occupied the White House when LeBaron plied his football trade hereabouts, which is going way back.

But mistakes are mistakes, and it does make you wonder what other atrocities might have been committed on the monikers of those who should be household names in these sporting parts.

jack kent COOKIE?


clark GRIFFIN?

mickey VERMIN?


Oh, well, (Joe) Judge not, that ye not be judged. Thankfully, the above names are displayed correctly for the multitudes, along with those of Judge and such other luminaries of Washington’s only World Series winners, the 1924 Senators, as owner Clark Griffith, player-manager Bucky Harris, legendary pitcher Walter Johnson, third baseman Ossie Bluege and outfielder Goose Goslin.

None of which excuses the error on LeBaron.

“I didn’t know about it until now,” Eddie said from his law office in Sacramento, Calif., “but I’m certainly not mad about it. It’s no big deal.”

Perhaps not. But you’d think somebody in authority would remember LeBaron, especially since he was chosen as one of the 70 best Redskins of all time a few years ago.

“It was a mistake — we all make them,” said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, which runs RFK. “We caught it quickly, and besides those signs are temporary. We’re looking into ways to make [the Hall of Stars display] larger and more visible.”

Right now, though, Lane Welter doesn’t feel too good about the goof. He was the point man for HNTB Architecture of Kansas City, Mo., on the RFK renovation project, and he concedes that all sorts of people with his firm and the sports commission had “ample opportunity” to correct the misspelling.

“You know what they say: ‘Doctors bury their mistakes, and architects erect monuments to theirs,’” Welter said over the long-distance telephone. Actually, I’ve never heard that one, but I’ll take his word for it. The poor guy has enough problems.

So what happened?

According to Welter, the names were copied correctly from the old signs that ringed the mezzanine at RFK by the Jack Stone Sign Co. of D.C., but whoever transferred them digitally onto the vinyl banners now on display simply got LeBaron’s name wrong. Though the error was understandable, given human nature, it should have been caught at some stage.

Then the culprit(s) were victimized by a new kind of Sports Illustrated jinx. When the magazine ran a picture of Livan Hernandez throwing the first regular-season major league pitch at RFK in 34 years, “LABARON” was clearly visible in the background.

“I feel real bad,” Welter said. “If my name was misspelled out there, I’d be upset, too. But if that’s the only mistake we made in the renovation, I’d say we did a pretty good job.”

Agreed. Besides, Welter said, the banner should be corrected within two weeks, giving everybody involved a chance to get it right the second time at least.

LeBaron certainly deserves proper representation. Drafted by the Redskins in 1950 from College of the Pacific (coached by football pioneer Amos Alonzo Stagg), he spent two years in Korea before replacing NFL all-timer Sammy Baugh as Washington’s No.1 QB in 1952.

Little Eddie, all 5-foot-7 of him, was an adequate passer (50.0 completion percentage, 104 touchdowns over 12 seasons), but where he truly sparkled was as a ballhandler. Most pro teams used the full-house backfield then, and defenders frequently had trouble discerning which running back had the pigskin. Given the Redskins’ 39-54-3 record during LeBaron’s tenure, there is reason to suspect some of his teammates weren’t sure either.

The Redskins swapped LeBaron to the expansion Dallas Cowboys for a couple of draft choices in 1960, enabling him to go from one lousy team to another. The Cowboys went 0-11-1 that season and 13-38-3 over their first four before Eddie decided practicing law might be safer and more rewarding. Later he served a spell as general manager of the Atlanta Falcons and a member of the NFL’s Competition Committee.

And now, at 74, Eddie is a name once more in Washington — even if it’s the wrong name.

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