The Hall of Fame’s unofficial greeters are cast in bronze and stand near the museum’s admission booths. Their courage, sacrifice, and commitment to their communities are embodied in the likes of Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Robert Clemente.
According to Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch: “Those three represented so much more than what they performed on the field. To sum it up: “It was the way they lived their lives, not only on the football field, but off it as well. They helped others, led the way, and were the ideal example of what it is to be courageous and strong.”
On Sunday, the Baseball Hall of Fame will induct seven new members, three of whom are still alive: David Ortiz, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva. From Hank Aaron through Robin Yount, every Hall of Famer since the initial induction in 1939 has received the same size plaque, which will be displayed in the gallery.
Some see a statue as the divider. It’s not possible to vote on whether or not someone is deserving of a monument, and there’s no official way to do it. It takes more than just being great on the field to achieve this level of success. If you know, you know.
Last November, Ozzie Smith noted on a podcast hosted by Bret Boone that “Dave Winfield is one of the rare people who doesn’t get a statue—and we make fun of him.” To which Dave replied: “What? Do you not have a statue?” The way he’s looking at you is priceless.”
To his chagrin, Winfield said recently in a phone interview that he does not own a monument of himself, and that his colleagues tease him about it.
“Honestly?” Winfield finally gave in. “Yeah.”
George Brett, a former teammate of Winfield’s in the 1980s who played on eight American League All-Star teams, sees it that way. After playing with the Royals for 21 years, a statue of Brett is located on the outfield concourse in Kansas City.
A more fascinating fact is that teams are more active today in honouring their history than in previous decades, when many great players were merely passing through on their way to richer deals elsewhere.
Most clubs have erected baseball-only stadiums during the stadium-building boom of the 1990s, replacing multifunctional municipal facilities that were not assigned to particular monuments. Outside Veterans Stadium, the Philadelphia Phillies, for example, had conventional sports monuments, but in 2004, they dedicated a new park to Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, and Mike Schmidt as a way of honouring their contributions to the team.
Wrigley Field in Chicago and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, both of which were built in the early 1900s, have recently undergone modifications to provide new public meeting areas. Sandy Koufax was given a statue by the Dodgers in June, while Fergie Jenkins received the same honour from the Cubs in May.
Both Koufax and Jenkins spent much of their careers with the Los Angeles Dodgers, although they also spent time with many other organisations. Gaylord Perry, on the other hand, went on to play for seven different teams over the course of 12 seasons after spending his first decade with the New York Giants.
Perry stood beside Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepeda, all of whom are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, outside Oracle Park in San Francisco. Jenkins, who had a comparable group of superstar teammates later in the decade, was aware of this.
I wondered, ‘When will they place me in a statue at Wrigley Field with three of the greatest guys I ever played with? It was a privilege to share a home with Ernie Banks for three years and to perform with Billy Williams and Ron Santo for seven years.
Giants monuments in San Diego (Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman), as well as the minor league park in Brooklyn, were made by William Behrends (Robinson and Pee Wee Reese). The Mets’ all-time great, Tom Seaver, with his trademark drop-and-drive delivery, was introduced in life-size at Citi Field on opening day.
You’re a long way from it when you get off the metro, according to Behrends. From a distance, it needs to be noticeable.” People who are just 100 feet away should notice it and be compelled to walk over and investigate. A life-size sculpture seems to be smaller when displayed in a wide area because of the effect of scale.
Outside of Yankee Stadium, there is just one big league baseball statue in New York City. A bronze statue of former owner George Steinbrenner stands guard beside the elevator in the Gate 2 lobby at Yankee Stadium, where Don Larsen and Yogi Berra are featured in the team’s museum. There is an outdoor gallery outside the center-field fence, though, where Yankee stars are honoured with a collection of plaques or memorials.
There is a display behind the Kent Hrbek monument at Target Field in Minneapolis that lists Minnesota natives who have played for the Twins. Winfield’s name, at least, appears on it. Only five votes (out of 499) were cast for Hrbek in his one year on the ballot, while the voters sent Winfield to Cooperstown.
When it came to intangibles, Hrbek possessed them: he spent his whole 14-year career with the same organisation that retired his jersey number. He helped lead the Yankees to two World Series championships despite appearing like a man who lives next door to a lakeside fishing shack.
After squeezing the last putout into his glove and lifting his arms in celebration, Hrbek won the inaugural title for the Twins in 1987 with this statue. It’s perfect in every way.