- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission gets all sorts of phone calls everyday about both its current ballpark and its future one, from complaints about the hot dogs at RFK Stadium to construction issues at the ballpark-to-be-named in Southeast.

Tony Robinson, the commission’s communications officer, got one last week, though, that was out of the ordinary. It was about history and a ballplayer who wore a Washington Senators uniform 73 years ago: Why isn’t baseball Hall of Famer Sam Rice in the Washington Hall of Stars?

That may be a huge oversight, but the question reminded commission members of the importance of the Washington Hall of Stars, particularly to those baseball fans who had only the city’s history of the game to embrace during 34 years without a big league team.

The Hall of Stars previously had been recognized at RFK by banners that were displayed along the railing between the upper and lower decks. But when major league baseball returned in 2005, the display was changed to the large green banner that hangs prominently in right field with the names of the Hall of Stars members.

And it likely won’t be lost next year. Though there is nothing concrete yet, it appears the Hall of Stars will occupy a place in the new ballpark in some form, though don’t expect it to be as prominent as it is at RFK. That will be prime advertising space at the new ballpark.

The Nationals owners, the Lerner family and team president Stan Kasten, said they expect some display at the new ballpark, but they don’t yet know what it will be — possibly on one of the walls of the main concourse, though nothing is certain yet, Kasten said.

Commission chairman Matthew Cutts said the Hall of Stars is “important and consistent with the sports commission’s mission to promote sport in the District of Columbia. We are looking for ways to replicate it into the new ballpark. It is on our radar screen. Those who have been honored should continue to be honored.”

Whatever form the Hall of Stars takes at the new ballpark, it may revive the practice of honoring some of Washington’s sports legends.

Legendary public relations man and Washington godfather of sports Charlie Brotman was involved with the initial committee that was formed in 1980.

“We had a lot of well known figures in this town from sports, about 10 to 15 members,” Brotman said. “We came up with people for consideration, and we voted on them.”

The Hall, with a total of 82 inductees, was heavily Redskins-influenced, of course, because of both the impact of the franchise on the area and the absence of baseball from the city since the Senators left for Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 season. Redskins greats in the Hall include Sammy Baugh, Bobby Mitchell, Len Hauss, Art Monk and Sonny Jurgensen.

Joe Gibbs had been voted on and approved by the committee but never committed to appearing at an induction ceremony, so he is not a member.

“We had induction ceremonies at Redskin games since we had no baseball,” Brotman said. “We had a ceremony at halftime of a Redskin game, and we would induct people into the Hall of Stars. They would get a ring and a plaque. Every year we tried to get Joe Gibbs to come up for an induction ceremony. What we did not want is absentia. We wanted people to be there for the ceremony. He couldn’t make it because of a race or something else, and so he was never inducted, though he was voted on, so he is not a member.”

Those honored from either version of the Senators include Walter Johnson, Frank Howard, Bucky Harris and Chuck Hinton. Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard represent the legacy of the Homestead Grays and the Negro Leagues. The basketball presence includes Red Auerbach, Wizards owner Abe Pollin and Hall of Famer Wes Unseld. The Capitals have one player honored, Rod Langway. Others inducted into the Hall include tennis pioneer Donald Dell, golfer Lee Elder, boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard, jockey Sonny Workman, late columnist Mo Siegel of The Washington Times and, of course, Brotman.

No one has been inducted to the Hall of Stars since the “Heroes of September 11” were honored in October 2001, and the committee has been dormant. With the return of baseball and the new ballpark, Brotman would like to see the commission get behind an effort to revive the committee and the Hall of Stars.

“It is a tribute to the city and our own sports legends,” Brotman said. “It is something that is unique to Washington.”

Cutts said he will support any effort to revive the committee and keep the Hall alive.

“I am excited to hear that Charlie wants to revive the effort and look forward to actively participating,” he said. “I think there are several sports legends from D.C. that should be recognized for their contributions.”

Yes there are — Sam Rice for one.

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