Honor for Mays concerns Suns' GM

April 29, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - Although city officials - including the mayor - have endorsed the idea of naming Municipal Stadium's field after baseball great Willie Mays, Hagerstown Suns General Manager Kurt Landes said he has some concerns about the idea.

Landes on Thursday said there are possible benefits from the idea, but there are also possible problems, including the loss of as much as $250,000 a year in possible naming rights options.

"I still think it's appropriate" to honor Mays, Landes said, "I just want to make sure it's done carefully."

In a widely publicized event last August, Mays visited the city for the first time since 1950, when he made his debut in the minor leagues.


During that visit, he was forced to sleep in a separate hotel from his white teammates and faced racial remarks when he took the field.

During the visit in August, Mayor William M. Breichner promised Mays that the city would name a street after him. Breichner said recently he thought the gesture would help to ensure Mays' return to the city.

The City Council this year took up the proposal to permanently name a section of Memorial Boulevard after Mays, but the council rejected the idea two weeks ago after an outcry from some city residents, including a group of veterans who said the road was named to honor war veterans.

On Tuesday, Breichner announced a proposal that the city would seek to name the field at the stadium after Willie Mays, as well as rededicate Memorial Boulevard to honor veterans in a Memorial Day ceremony.

Breichner could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Landes said he was not consulted before the name change proposal was announced. The Suns lease Municipal Stadium from the City of Hagerstown, and the team is the primary occupant at the stadium.

Landes said there could be a value to having Mays' name as part of the stadium, making it a national attraction, but the naming could hurt chances of attracting commercial naming rights at the stadium.

Landes said he hadn't researched the issue, but generally commercial naming rights contracts for a stadium the size of the city's could bring anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 annually.

Landes also said the possibility of a new stadium replacing Municipal Stadium should be a factor.

"I just don't want to name the stadium Willie Mays Stadium and tear it down two years later," Landes said. He also said fans might see a problem with the legacy of changing the name from Memorial Stadium, which has been the name for decades, shortly before it is replaced.

Another effort to honor Mays is in the "initial stages," and that is to build a museum as part of a proposed redevelopment plan near the stadium that would hold Mays memorabilia, Landes said.

City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, a supporter of the idea to name the field after Mays, said there's one thing he's not concerned about, and that is naming rights.

"It's our field. It's our stadium. ... The last thing I'm going to do is ask the tenant what they think of us changing the name," Metzner said. "Nobody's going to get naming rights to that stadium unless the City of Hagerstown gives it to them."

Metzner said the money from naming rights at Municipal Stadium would come to the city, and the money is not important, but marking the fact that Mays began his professional baseball career in Hagerstown is.

"It's not that he's just a good ball player. He's a legend," Metzner said.

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