Warm Thoughts for a Cold Winter: Stadium Statues

Does anyone make statues anymore? Chances are if you’re wandering through a park and you see a statue, it’s a good 50 years old. I don’t know if the blame lies with Vietnam or the soaring cost of bronze, but at some point, the idea of immortalizing a HERO in art form became passe. If you do see a more recently completed piece of public artwork, it’s likely a large cube or abstract figure, with a purposefully vague one-word title like FREEDOM or PRIDE.

Well, there is one place where you can still see a freshly constructed, representational statue: a baseball stadium. All sports refer to its stars as “heroes” when what they really mean is “guys who play good”, but only baseball backs up that ethical confusion by literally putting its “heroes” on pedestals.

According to this post at Wezen-Ball, all but five MLB teams have at least one statue in their home park. Admittedly, the definition of “statue” is stretched pretty wide in some cases, as in this bizarre thing seen at Toronto’s Rogers Centre (entitled “The Crowd”), or this outfielder that patrols the Tropicana Field bathrooms.

There are also a few “scene” statues with anonymous figures, like this one outside Whatever They’re Calling The Place Where The Diamondbacks Play Now. (A cute idea, but the D’Backs logo on the player’s uni is already outdated. Ooops!) Or this one outside Miller Park, saluting the hard working (and presumably hard drinking) workers of Milwaukee. However, the vast majority of stadium statuary are depictions of legendary baseball players.

The Tigers’ Comerica Park has the most statues of all–seven–and all of them are dedicated to former Detroit greats. (The Phillies also have seven statues, but two of them are generic depictions of baseball action that used to live outside the now-demolished Veteran’s Stadium.) The White Sox run a close second with six, and have the statue portraying the most recent event: their 2005 World Series title. Click here to see not-yet-disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich unveil the statue and get the shit booed out of him by a South Side crowd that had him pegged as a Cubs fan.

Surprisingly, the Yankees only have two (unless you count the plaques in Monument Park, which I do not). And they’re really one large, detached statue: a rather bland depiction of Don Larsen tossing to Yogi Berra during his perfect game in the 1956 World Series. But I’m sure one day there will be a bronze recreation of when Derek Jeter drove all the snakes out of the Bronx.

The Nationals have three statues, despite only existing for five years. Two are of old Senators (Walter Johnson and Frank Howard) and one is of Josh Gibson, a Negro League legend who played for the DC-based Homestead Grays. These statues tried to be adventurous and capture “movement”. An admirable experiment, but the results are kind of terrible. They all wound up looking like multi-limbed cement monsters.

George Brett’s statue gets my vote as the most picturesque, as it looks over the waterfalls of Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium. A close second would be Roberto Clemente’s statue outside PNC Park, which greets fans as they cross the Pittsburgh bridge named after him. Juan Marichal’s statue in San Francisco is an eyeful, as it captures his unique, super-high kick delivery. Stan Musial’s statue is also impressive, although his name on the pedestal, chiseled in huge letters and adorned with gold leaf, makes it look like the title of a musical.

The worst? There’s none that are horrible, honestly, but a few that tip the Weird Scale. The dead, hollow eyes of Steve Carlton’s statue in Citizen’s Bank Park will haunt my dreams forever. Red Schoendienst’s statue outside Busch Stadium is pretty great, showing him turning a double play. But in order to portray that motion in statue form, the sculptor supported him on a column of hardened Play-Doh.

harrycaray.jpgBut for pure WTFness, nothing beats Harry Caray’s statue outside Wrigley Field. If this piece of art just stopped at his torso, it wouldn’t be that bad, although his arm gestures make him look like he’s trying to imitate the redesigned Jesus in Dogma. But the sculptor’s acid must have kicked in when he reached the belt, because all of a sudden, Harry’s pants start MORPHING INTO OTHER HUMANS. AAAAAAAAH!

I don’t know what this is is supposed to convey. Harry rose to the heights (?) of announcerdom because of his fans? Or he stepped in a still wet, small-scale proletarian version of Mount Rushmore? Or he absorbed multiple twins in the womb, and they are just now asserting themselves? I really don’t know how to explain this, but whatever the real story is, I think David Cronenberg should make a movie about it.