Grave matters concerning Baltimore baseball’s dearly departed

For as long as I remember, I’ve been intrigued by cemeteries. Not just the otherworldly aspects - which seem apropos now that Halloween is a couple of weeks away - but the intricate designs of the headstones and monuments. As a child, I can remember riding by local graveyards and being transfixed by the way the shadows of ornate obelisks and stately mausoleums reflected the moonlight. When my family moved next to Baltimore National Cemetery on the Baltimore City/Baltimore County line in 1984, the military personnel buried there became quiet neighbors, and my mom still swears she can predict impending snowstorms by the size of the nighttime glow around lines of grave markers.

Baltimore’s baseball history is also intertwined in my fascination with final resting places. As a college senior at UMBC, I took a course in the 1890s taught by the late James Arnquist, an ultra-cool professor whose final exam for a mini-mester course on the Beat Generation was comprised of good wine, poetry readings and liberal doses of Thelonius Monk’s mastery of the piano keys - all in his Columbia apartment. For the 1890s class, he allowed us to choose the subject of a research paper. I chose baseball, the 1890s Orioles dynasty and the fact that New Cathedral Cemetery on Old Frederick Road next to Edmondson High School housed the gravesites of more members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame than any other cemetery in the United States.

Regular readers of Orioles Buzz will recall that this fact is critical to author David B. Stinson’s wonderful blending of Baltimore and baseball history in “Deadball: A Metaphysical Baseball Novel.” And the impending arrival of Oct. 31 got me to thinking again about how Baltimore leads the world in burying baseball’s best. Cooperstown has the plaques memorializing the game’s immortals, but Charm City lays claim to the ghosts of the games most revered.

There’s even a cottage Internet industry of marking the gravesites of former ballplayers. One of my favorite sites is Hall of Fame Gravesites, compiled by Stew Thornley. It’s been called “sports’ most morbid Web site” by none other than the New York Times. I like to think of it as a macabre masterpiece memorializing baseball’s great departed. Want photos of headstones and monuments? Just click a link. Want to visit the grave sites? Locations are listed (something some cemeteries charge for, unless you can prove you’re a relative) and GPS coordinates are given

Maryland is the final resting place of 13 Cooperstown enshrinees - only California and Pennsylvania (19), New York (18), Ohio (17), Florida and Illinois (16), and Massachusetts (15) can boast more. Twenty Hall of Famers were never buried, including former Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who was cremated after his Jan. 19 death (other former O’s on the non-burial list, according to Thornley’s site, include Robin Roberts and Dick Williams).

To critique, there are four Hall of Famers interred at New Cathedral, which is appropriately only a long fly ball from the baseball diamond at Edmondson High (that’s more in one cemetery than in 15 other states): third baseman John McGraw, catcher Wilbert Robinson and outfielder Joe Kelley were mainstays for the 1890s Orioles, while Ned Hanlon managed the club. Though he’s not in the Hall of Fame, New Cathedral is also the final resting place of Ed Rommel, a former Philadelphia Athletics pitcher and coach who had the distinction in 1956 of being the first major league umpire to don eyeglasses.

But New Cathedral isn’t the only local cemetery with Hall of Fame connections. Rube Marquard, a 201-game winner who was money for the New York Giants from 1908-15, is interred at Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery on Belair Road. Arbutus Memorial Park on Sulphur Spring Road is home to two of the Negro Leagues’ best players, pitcher Leon Day and first baseman Ben Taylor. Day, who played for the Baltimore Black Sox and Baltimore Elite Giants, died at 78 at St. Agnes Hospital, six days after his election to Cooperstown in 1995; Taylor, who played for the Black Sox after managing them, got his headstone at the African American cemetery only a few years earlier despite the fact that he died in 1953.

Frank “Home Run” Baker is buried in Easton, and Lefty Grove was laid to rest in Frostburg. Maryland’s Washington, D.C., suburbs hold the remains of Clark Griffin, Sam Rice, Walter Johnson and Smoky Joe Wood.

It’s downright fascinating to delve into the burial sites of these baseball greats. Some, like McGraw, have large family mausoleums; most markers, however, make no mention of the game that brought them fame.

In fact, one former Oriole - a Hall of Famer, no less - is buried beneath a nondescript bronze plaque, along with other departed servicemen in the Field of Honor at Palms Memorial Park in Sarasota, Fla., a mile and a half from where the O’s now hold spring training. Do you know who he is? Leave your guesses below - and no peeking at Thornley’s Web site, which holds the answer.

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