- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Baltimore museum honoring Babe Ruth is reaching out at a time when interest in the Great Bambino — and the man about to pass him on the all-time home run list — is at a fever pitch.

Officials from the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Official Orioles Museum yesterday began a campaign to raise more than $714,000 to renovate the 32-year-old facility, asking fans of Ruth to donate money in quantities representing Ruth’s career home run total of 714.

San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds recently tied him for second on the all-time list behind Henry Aaron, and has been the subject of intense media attention in part because of his connection to a major steroid scandal. But Ruth, whose accomplishments as a player are now part of baseball lore, also has been brought to the forefront.

“There’s a lot of attention, and you know what? It’s terrific,” said Mike Gibbons, the museum’s executive director. “It’s wonderful publicity for the whole Babe Ruth legacy and what we’re trying to do here to preserve the legacy.”

Museum officials are upgrading the facility to make it comparable to its sister facility, the Sports Legends Museum, which opened next to nearby Camden Yards last year. The renovated birthplace museum, located on Emory Street, will be handicap accessible and have additional space to house the staffs of both facilities. The original space where Babe Ruth was born in 1895 will remain intact.

The renovation is expected to cost $1.5 million. The city of Baltimore is contributing $450,000 and the state will contribute $250,000. To perform the upgrades, the museum will close in October and re-open in April.

Though museum officials were aware of Bonds approaching 714 home runs, the timing yesterday was coincidental, they said. Yesterday was the 71st anniversary of Ruth hitting his final three home runs.

“Over the last couple of months, we had been talking about doing a public drive, and we wanted to do the launch in May,” Gibbons said. “Barry’s been kind enough to be stuck on 714, but even if he had [passed Ruth] it wouldn’t have changed anything.”

The birthplace has seen an uptick in visitors this year, but the increase could be the result of early-season Orioles games featuring the Yankees and Red Sox, a museum spokesman said. The landmark averages about 40,000 visitors each year.

The birthplace and larger Sports Legends Museum have an operating budget of $3 million. Prior to the Sports Legends Museum opening last year, the birthplace museum alone had an operating budget of $900,000. The operating budget will increase following the renovation, but it is still unclear by how much, the spokesman said.

Gibbons said the museum has asked Bonds for memorabilia from the record-tying and record-breaking event. The museum has not yet recognized Bonds’ tying of Ruth.

Those in attendance yesterday said Bonds’ pursuit of Ruth and Hank Aaron has highlighted Ruth’s career.

“You put it all together and you still say the greatest player of all time and the greatest contribution to sports in the 20th century is George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth,” said Vince Bagli, a Baltimore resident and long-time announcer for the Colts before they moved to Indianapolis.

But Gibbons said opinions on Ruth, now that Bonds has caught him, have been quite mixed.

“I think that they embrace the old days of the game, the glory days of the game” Gibbons said. “But on the other hand the constant references to Ruth and the ‘good old days’ has brought out some anti sentiment as well. ‘Babe Ruth didn’t play against as good a player as Bonds plays against today,’ and that kind of stuff. So we’re really seeing it both ways.”

But the museum does expect strong support for its fund-raising effort. Fifteen people, including supporters from New Jersey, Alabama, Colorado and Arizona, made contributions within an hour of the campaign’s start yesterday.

“We’re talking about renovation, but the reason for the renovation is to enable us to continue to do our job, and to make sure that Americans — generation after generation after generation — understand just how important he was to the game and to our country,” Gibbons said.

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