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Thursday, July 22, 2010
Updated: August 10, 1:33 PM ET
A golden age for baseball bronzes

By Josh Pahigian
Special to ESPN Sports Travel

Willie McCovey
The likeness of Willie McCovey is one of four baseball statues found at AT&T Park, joining bronzes of former Giants greats Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and Willie Mays along the San Francisco Bay.
• Photo gallery: The statues of Major League Baseball

For road-tripping fans of a sentimental bent, nothing connects baseball's past with its present quite as poignantly as the scores of brilliantly rendered statues that can be found in and around the stadiums of the majors.

These gods in bronze allow fans of all ages to step back in time and to stand eye-to-eye with their favorite former stars, as well as with those legends of the game's even earlier eras. The better baseball statues portray the game's icons just the way we fans like to remember them.

A visit to Monument Grove outside Turner Field in Atlanta, for example, presents a just-right statue of knuckleballer Phil Niekro. "Knucksie" is frozen in mid-delivery, with his knuckles prominently raised atop the baseball.

In St. Louis, similarly, a bronze captures the acrobatic Ozzie Smith diving for a ball that everyone in the ballpark must have figured was headed up the middle ... until they remembered who was playing shortstop.

Outside Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia, meanwhile, slugger Mike Schmidt finishes a swing and looks toward left field, as if watching the trajectory of his latest long ball.

The statues of Major League Baseball

Go around the horn to find the statues at every ballpark in the league:

Arizona Diamondbacks, Chase Field
None

Atlanta Braves, Turner Field
Hank Aaron
Ty Cobb (native son)
Phil Niekro
Warren Spahn

Baltimore Orioles, Oriole Park
at Camden Yards

Babe Ruth (native son)

Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park
Ted Williams with young fan
The Teammates (Bobby Doerr,
    Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky
    and Ted Williams)

Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field
Ernie Banks
Harry Caray (broadcaster)
Billy Williams (unveiling later this year)

Chicago White Sox,
U.S. Cellular Field

Luis Aparicio
Harold Baines
Charles Comiskey (owner)
Carlton Fisk
Nellie Fox
Minnie Minoso
Billy Pierce
2005 World Series (Geoff Blum,
    Joe Crede, Orlando Hernandez,
    Paul Konerko and Juan Uribe)

Cincinnati Reds,
Great American Ballpark

Ted Kluszewski
Ernie Lombardi
Joe Nuxhall
Frank Robinson

Cleveland Indians, Progressive Field
Bob Feller

Colorado Rockies, Coors Field
None

Detroit Tigers, Comerica Park
Ty Cobb
Charlie Gehringer
Hank Greenberg
Ernie Harwell (broadcaster)
Willie Horton
Al Kaline
Hal Newhouser

Kansas City Royals,
Kauffman Stadium

George Brett
Dick Howser (manager)
Ewing and Muriel Kauffman (owners)
Frank White

Florida Marlins, Sun Life Stadium
None

Houston Astros, Minute Maid Park
Jeff Bagwell
Craig Biggio

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Angel Stadium
Gene Autry (owner)

Los Angeles Dodgers,
Dodger Stadium

None

Click here for the continuation of the list.

Some statues go a step beyond merely representing their subjects in such trademark form, but rather depict them as they appeared at specific memorable moments during their careers. To wit, a Nolan Ryan statue at Rangers Ballpark portrays Ryan holding his cap high above his head in a salute to the Texas fans, as he did after striking out Roberto Alomar of the Blue Jays to complete his seventh no-hitter.

Similarly, a Kirby Puckett statue in Minnesota welcomes fans to the league's newest stadium, Target Field, by recalling the magic of the 1991 World Series. Puckett pumps his right fist in the air, as he did when rounding second base after smacking an 11th-inning walk-off homer to beat the Braves in Game 6.

The Twins, for their part, have gotten into the statue business only this season. With the move to Target they unveiled the Puckett statue, as well as those honoring Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew. The fan response to the trio has been tremendously positive.

Justin Schroeder was sitting in the nosebleed seats at the Metrodome on the night Puckett hit the Game 6 homer. Back then he was in high school. Today, he sits much closer to the action in his season tickets to Target Field.

"I was kind of surprised that they used his celebration picture," Schroeder said, recalling his reaction upon first laying eyes on the likeness this spring. "That's very unusual for a baseball statue. I can't think of any other statues showing a player celebrating. But it makes sense, because when people think about Puckett they think about him rounding the bases after that shot, or of him reaching up over the centerfield wall to take a home run away."

Minneapolis sculptor Bill Mack, who created the three Target Field statues, also was a witness to the timely four-bagger that night at the Metrodome. He saw Carew and Killebrew in action during their playing days, as well. He said the Twins deserve credit for the savvy choice they made to present his work at ground level, right on the sidewalk.

"I have to hand it to the Twins," Mack explained. "They really wanted these to be interactive. If you create a monument and put it high in the air or on a pedestal, it's more of a decoration. With these, people can touch them, pose with them, and even hang from them if they want, although I don't necessarily encourage that. This type of presentation allows for a much more personal interaction."

For the record, the nearly horizontal bat that extends from the Killebrew statue is fortified with a stainless-steel rod and was stress-tested before leaving the California foundry where it was produced. As for the Carew statue, which stands on a sidewalk near a busy intersection, Mack isn't too worried about its longevity either.

"It seems only a matter of time before a car jumps the curb and runs into it," Mack said, then added with a chuckle, "We'll see who wins. My money's on the statue."

The fans who view them and the artists who create them aren't the only ones who appreciate baseball statues. The players thus immortalized -- who give their consent before a statue that portrays them may be created -- usually do, as well, at least judging from the heartfelt comments these players make when their likenesses are unveiled.

Puckett, who passed away in 2006, wasn't able, of course, to comment on his statue's arrival. But Carew and Killebrew, both of whom posed for Mack during his sculpting, were on hand for the unveiling ceremony this spring.

"We're very honored to be, if I can use the word, 'enshrined' here at the ballpark," Killebrew said, speaking for the pair in April. "I think Bill Mack did a wonderful job on it. I'm very pleased."

Digging further back into the ESPN archives we find similar expressions of wonder and gratitude in the voices of other living legends who have gained life eternal in bronze.

Upon laying eyes on his likeness beyond the outfield walls at Petco Park in 2007, Tony Gwynn said, "To be the first guy, the first statue out here in Petco Park, I'm thrilled to death to be a part of it. But more importantly, I'm a San Diegan."

Ernie Banks was so blown away at his statue's unveiling outside Wrigley Field in 2008 that he kept asking, "Is that me?" before composing himself to put the moment in perspective with customary eloquence.

"This is the epitome of American life to be able to have this honor bestowed upon me, think about that," he said. "Just me. And when I'm no longer here, I'll still be here. It's amazing. This is amazing to me."

But not every big league team chooses to honor its heroes of yore in ore. And in fairness, not every team should. Franchises like the Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rockies and Rays still have to let a generation or two pass before their icons become evident.

Some franchises like the Dodgers, Athletics and Orioles, however, possess storied histories but not the statues to match. Most of these teams do justice to their former stars in other ways, though. Best among these alternative approaches, of course, is that of the Yankees. Monument Park is as famous for its uniqueness as for the nostalgia it evokes. The Orioles have just a single statue, that of native son Babe Ruth; but they honor the likes of Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. with four-foot-high monuments of their uniform numbers on Eutaw Street.

The Yankees only recently raised statues within their ballpark, upon opening new Yankee Stadium last year. They depict Don Larsen pitching to Yogi Berra in tribute to Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. The pieces reside in the Yankees museum on the stadium's first level. Choosing one specific moment to portray would appear to be a smart choice for a team that might have otherwise felt overwhelmed by the many deserving candidates for such an honor.

Do Yankees fans feel like there should be a few more of their greats cast in bronze, though? Or how about Mets fans, who find nary a single statue to admire at Citi Field?

We asked New York media personality Jay Ferraro, who serves as executive producer of the radio shows "Baseball Digest Live" and "Gotham Baseball Live" and also hosts the latter.

"World championships are above and foremost on all New York baseball fans' minds, rather than ballpark decorations," Ferraro said. "However, fans in the metropolitan area do love their history and past heroes. You just have to listen to the ovation Bernie Williams or Don Mattingly get at Old-Timers' Day every year, and you can feel the love and excitement in the air.

"The Yankees have chosen to honor their legends in a completely different way with Monument Park and an extensive retired numbers collection. The problem with starting to erect statues now is, where do you start? Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Mattingly, with Jeter and Rivera soon to follow? [The lack of statues] is acceptable because Monument Park has monuments and wall plaques, [but] I would love to see statues on the concourse or outside the stadium gates."

And where in the prospective order of things would be the late George Steinbrenner?

As for the Mets -- who named their Ebbets Field-inspired rotunda after former Dodgers star Jackie Robinson and included a monument there depicting Robinson's No. 42 -- Ferraro was less forgiving.

"The Mets should have named their rotunda the Tom Seaver Rotunda," Ferraro said, "but that's a whole other story topic. Yes, Tom Seaver should be immortalized outside the stadium with a statue because he is New York Mets royalty. His credentials with the Mets speak for themselves.

"I would also like to see a Mike Piazza statue because he meant so much to the Mets organization during his Hall of Fame career and was a key member of the 2000 National League championship team."

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