- - Tuesday, May 23, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

All season, the Baltimore Orioles are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Camden Yards, their crown jewel ballpark that changed the world of sports.

There will be all kinds of ceremonies and giveaways throughout the season to mark the anniversary, including a commemorative logo the players are wearing throughout the season on their uniforms.

There is one thing, though, that the Orioles can do to truly recognize what gave birth to their home field — correcting an oversight that has gone on for too long.

It’s time to put Larry Lucchino in the Orioles Hall of Fame.

No single figure was more responsible for the birth and creation of Camden Yards than Lucchino, the former Orioles president and owner who went on to lead the Boston Red Sox to three World Series championships. He is among the most influential figures of his time in the game.

Yet there is no place for him in the Orioles Hall of Fame.

There are executives, scouts, public relations executives, even attendants in the team’s Hall of Fame. Last season, there were no inductees.

This year, the natural candidate is Lucchino, who, quite frankly, should have a place there already.

In my book, “Home of the Game — The Story of Camden Yards,” everyone who was a big part of the birth of the ballpark credit Lucchino as the father.

“It was Larry who initiated the whole idea of the design of the stadium even though he was not an architect,” Herb Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority at the time. “And it was Larry who pushed hard through to achieve a lot of what we achieved. It was Larry who initially useD the term traditional old-fashioned ballpark. He had it in the very first memorandum of understanding.

“It was Larry who was in on every negotiating session that I ever participated in,” Belgrad told me “It was Larry who led the fights for steel versus concrete. He’s not an architect and I don’t think he tried to take any credit architecturally but Larry was the moving force. There were different people involved throughout this. Different owners different negotiators. But Larry was the constant.”

He wasn’t the architect. Janet Marie Smith was, and she, too, credits Lucchino. “Larry’s inspiration and continual push and continual push to do this old-fashioned traditional ballpark with modern amenities was one of the most significant things that make Camden Yards what it is,” she said. “He had the idea and he had it in a sound bite, so by the end of the project it might as well have been tattooed on our heads.”

He nearly tattooed it on the heads of the architects, HOK, when, in the early stages of discussion, they brought Lucchino a model of new Comiskey Park — the ballpark they developed in Chicago.

New Comiskey Park opened in 1991 — one year before Camden Yards — but the antiseptic, undistinctive stadium looks nothing like the ballparks that would follow.

Lucchino literally tore the model apart.

“We just ripped one piece out of it after another,” he said. “I said, ‘We don’t want this, we don’t want that.’ One of the architects said, ‘Larry, do you have any idea how much these models cost?’ I said, ‘No, but we’re trying to make a point.’”

That “point” changed baseball.

The performance-enhancing substance that has created record revenues for baseball in the past 25 years has been bricks and mortar, not steroids. Nearly every ballpark that followed — from Coors Field to Nationals Park — owes its legacy to Camden Yards, whether it be the traditional design or the urban location.

Edward Bennett Williams, the famed Washington trial lawyer who was the Orioles owner and Lucchino’s mentor, once considered building the new ballpark in Howard County, part of the effort to make the Orioles the District’s team as well. But in the end his heart changed toward putting a Fenway-style ballpark (his favorite team had been the Boston Red Sox).

After Williams passed away in 1988, Lucchino saw that vision through. And, after leaving Baltimore following the purchase of the club by Peter Angelos in 1993, he did the same thing in San Diego in what became Petco Park. Then, as one of the Red Sox owners, instead of tearing down the original, he oversaw the refurbishing of Fenway Park. It is a Hall of Famer career, worthy of Cooperstown.

But it began in Baltimore, with the creation of Camden Yards. There is no celebration of the 25th anniversary of that game-changing ballpark without recognizing Larry Lucchino with a place in the Orioles Hall of Fame.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play, and the reVolver podcast network.

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