Baseball Hall of Fame members compete for statues

COOPERSTOWN, NY – The unofficial Hall of Fame hosts stand together, in bronze, near the ticket booths in the lobby of the museum. They ...


COOPERSTOWN, NY – The unofficial Hall of Fame hosts stand together, in bronze, near the ticket booths in the lobby of the museum. They are multicultural monuments of strength, sacrifice and service: Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente.

“These three represented so much more than what they did on the court,” Hall of Fame chairman Josh Rawitch said. “It was the way they lived life off the pitch in terms of helping others, opening the way for others and ultimately being the perfect example of what it means to have character and character. courage.”

The Hall of Fame will welcome seven new members on Sunday, including three living ones: David Ortiz, Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva. All will be recognized in the gallery with a plaque measuring 15½ inches by 10¾ inches, the standard size for all Hall of Famers – from Hank Aaron to Robin Yount – since the first induction ceremony in 1939.

The separator, for some, is a statue. There is no vote for the dignity of the statue, no formal process to obtain one. It takes a certain transcendence, in addition to pure excellence on the pitch. As they say: If you know, you know.

“Dave Winfield, he’s one of the only guys that doesn’t have a statue – and we’re giving him a hard time,” Ozzie Smith said last fall on a podcast hosted by former major league player Bret Boon. “I’m going, ‘Come on, Dave, you don’t have a statue?’ You should see the look on his face.

In a phone interview recently, Winfield reluctantly confirmed that he was indeed missing a statue – and his peers were making fun of him for it.

“Frankly?” Winfield conceded. “Yeah.”

For George Brett, a teammate of Winfield on eight American League All-Star teams in the 1980s, that goes without saying. Brett has a statue in Kansas City’s outdoor lobby, where he played for 21 seasons and is synonymous with the Royals franchise.

“A lot of these guys have played in so many cities,” Brett said. “Who’s going to get a statue of Winfield?” He played in eight different teams.

Six, actually, but that brings up an interesting point: teams are more active now in celebrating their past, but many great players, especially over the past few decades, were just passing on their way to better contracts elsewhere.

Since the stadium-building boom of the 1990s, nearly every team has opened baseball-only parks, many replacing municipally-owned multi-purpose facilities not assigned to individual landmarks. The Philadelphia Phillies, for example, had generic sports statues outside Veterans Stadium, but christened a new park in 2004 with tributes to Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts and Mike Schmidt.

Several older parks, like Wrigley Field in Chicago and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, have recently been renovated to include public gathering spaces. The Dodgers gave Sandy Koufax a statue in their new plaza in June, and the Cubs did the same in May with Fergie Jenkins.

Koufax only played for the Dodgers, and while Jenkins pitched primarily for the Cubs, he recorded nearly 2,000 innings with other teams. Gaylord Perry, however, has gone through seven teams in 12 seasons after his first decade with the Giants, who still cast his bronze image in 2016.

Perry joined Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda – all Hall of Fame teammates of the 1962 National League pennant winners – outside the gates of Oracle Park in San Francisco. Jenkins, who had a similar set of star teammates later in the decade, took notice.

“I was like, ‘I wonder when they’re going to put me in a statue at Wrigley Field with three of the best players I’ve played with? ‘” said Jenkins, who entered the Hall of Fame with Perry and Rod. Carew in 1991. “I lodged with Ernie Banks for three years and played with Billy Williams and Ron Santo for seven years – and believe me, it’s an honor to be among them.”

Sculptor William Behrends created all of the Giants statues, as well as those in San Diego (Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman) and Brooklyn’s Minor League Park (Robinson and Pee Wee Reese). His most recent work was unveiled on opening day at Citi Field: lifelong Mets ace Tom Seaver in his famous twice life-size drop-and-drive delivery.

“When you get off the subway and see it for the first time, you’ve come a long way,” Behrends said. “He must have a remote presence. You want someone 100 feet away to see it and want to get there. Larger spaces emerge from retractable sculptures; you put a strictly life-size sculpture in a large space and it looks less than life-size.

Seaver’s statue is the only one outside a major league baseball stadium in New York City. The Yankees feature Don Larsen and Yogi Berra – the drum set for the only perfect game in World Series history – in their Yankee Stadium museum, and former owner George Steinbrenner does the bronze sentry near the elevator in the lobby from Gate 2. But the vast Yankees star constellation receives plaques or monuments, not statues, in an outdoor gallery beyond the center field fence.

Some Yankees Hall of Famers, then — Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and so on — don’t have statues anywhere. Others have statues far from the Bronx: Babe Ruth at Camden Yards in Baltimore, near her hometown; Joe DiMaggio at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago; Mickey Mantle in his hometown of Commerce, Okla., and another at minor league park in Oklahoma City.

“The Giants made it a little easier on themselves,” Behrends said, noting that the franchise left New York in the 1950s. Hall of Fame as a San Francisco giant, and there’s only been five, so that’s how they chose. But with the Yankees, where would they start?

The Chicago White Sox – with an equally long history but far fewer years of glory – have several statues inside the park and recognized the winners of the 2005 World Series with a monument outside, depicting coins essential on photos and sculptures. In Cleveland, the late 1990s juggernaut is personified in a statue of the great home run Jim Thome, who holds the franchise home run record with 337 – but hit his 400th for the Phillies, his 500th for the White Sox and his 600th for the Minnesota Twins.

“It’s so much more: all those great players we had in the ’90s, all those great playoffs,” said Thome, who now works for MLB Network and the White Sox. “It was a championship type team for a long time. We unfortunately didn’t win a World Series, but it represents all these guys: Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield .

Winfield, who had his best seasons with the Padres and Yankees, finished his career with Cleveland in 1995. He won his only championship for the Toronto Blue Jays, who have a statue of former owner Ted Rogers on the outside their stadium, as well as a collection of gargoyles representing the fans – but no player statues.

Winfield’s name, at least, appears behind the statue of Kent Hrbek at Target Field in Minneapolis, on a window listing Minnesota natives who have played for the Twins. Voters sent Winfield to Cooperstown on the first try, but Hrbek received just five votes (out of 499) in his only year on the ballot.

Hrbek, however, had intangible assets: he played his entire career for his hometown team, spanning 14 seasons, matching his retired uniform number. A burly, gregarious puncher, he helped win two World Series while looking like a guy in the nearby fishing house on the lake.

The statue represents Hrbek’s moment of glory: clenching the last punch in his glove and raising his arms in triumph after winning the Twins’ first championship in 1987. That’s all a statue should be.

“My daughter will go to the ballpark and take her friends or her kids or her cousins ​​and say, ‘It’s daddy; that was his favorite part of the game, winning the world championship, catching the ball and jumping off first base,” Hrbek said. “Hopefully this memory will last a long time – and give the pigeons somewhere to sit for a while and let them do their thing.”

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