Cooperstown, NY – Unofficial Hall of Famers stand together, in bronze, next to ticket booths in the museum’s lobby. They are cross-cultural monuments of strength, sacrifice, and service: Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente.
“These three represent a lot more than what they did on the field,” said Josh Rawich, president of the Hall of Fame. “This has been the way they go about life off the field in terms of helping others, leading the way for others, and ultimately just being a perfect example of what it means to have character and courage.”
Sunday’s Hall of Fame will welcome seven new members, including three live: David Ortiz, Jim Cat and Tony Oliva. Everything in the gallery will be recognized by a 15-inch by 10-inch board, which has been the standard size for all Hall of Famers—from Hank Aaron to Robin Yount—since their first induction ceremony in 1939.
The separator, for some, is a statue. There is no voting for the statue’s merit, and there is no formal process to obtain the statue. It requires a certain transcendence, as well as absolute excellence in this field. as the saying goes: If you know, you know.
“Dave Winfield, he’s one of the only guys who doesn’t have a bust — and we’re having a hard time with him,” Ozzy Smith said last fall on a podcast hosted by former league chief Brett Boone. I go, ‘Come on, Dave, don’t you have a statue? “You should see the look on his face.”
In a recent phone interview, Winfield reluctantly asserted that he does indeed lack a statue — and that his peers mock him for it.
“Quite frankly?” Winfield admitted. “yes.”
For George Brett, Winfield’s teammate on eight MLS All-Star teams in the 1980s, that only makes sense. Brett has a statue in an outdoor yard in Kansas City, where he played 21 seasons and is synonymous with the Royals series.
“A lot of these guys have played in a lot of cities,” Brett said. “Who would have a Winfield statue? He played for eight different teams.”
Six, actually, but that raises an interesting point: Teams are now more active in celebrating their past, but many of the top players, especially over the past few decades, have only been passing their way to better contracts elsewhere.
Since the stadium-building boom in the 1990s, nearly all teams have opened only baseball parks, with many replaced by multi-purpose, municipal-owned facilities that were not awarded to individual monuments. For example, the Philadelphia Phillies had public athletic statues outside the Veterans Stadium, but a new park was christened in 2004 in honor of Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, and Mike Schmidt.
Several older theme parks, such as Wrigley Field in Chicago and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, have recently made renovations to include public gathering spaces. The Dodgers gave a statue of Sandy Kovacs in their new yard in June, and the Cubs did the same in May with Fergie Jenkins.
Kovacs only played for the Dodgers, and while Jenkins played mostly with the Cubs, he scored nearly 2,000 runs with other teams. Despite this, Gaylord Perry toured seven teams in 12 seasons after his first contract with the Giants, who still cast his likeness to bronze in 2016.
Berry joined forces with Willie Maes, Willie McCuvey, Juan Marechal and Orlando Cepeda — all Hall of Fame teams in the 1962 National League pennant winners — outside the gates of Oracle Park in San Francisco. Jenkins, who had a similar group of fellow stars later in the decade, took note.
“I was saying to myself, ‘I wonder when they’re going to put me in a statue at Wrigley Stadium with three of the best players I’ve played with?'” said Jenkins, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame with Perry and Rudd. Caro in 1991. “I lived with Ernie Banks for three years, and played with Billy Williams and Ron Santo for seven – and believe me, it’s an honor to be among them.”
Sculptor William Bernds created all the statues of giants, as well as those in San Diego (Tony Gwen and Trevor Hoffman) and in Brooklyn’s Little League Park (Robinson and Bee Wee Reese). His latest work was unveiled on opening day at Citi Field: Tom Seaver, the Mets’ eternal champion, in his famous delivery and delivery system, twice the life size.
“When you get off the subway and you see it for the first time, you’re very far from it,” Bernds said. “It has to have a presence from a distance. You want someone 100 feet away to see and you want to go to them. Larger spaces are a kind of scale back sculpture. You put a life-size sculpture in a large space and it looks less than life-sized.”
Sever’s statue is the only one outside a large football stadium in New York. The Yankees house Don Larsen and Yogi Berra—the only perfect game battery in World Championship history—in their museum at Yankee Stadium, and former owner George Steinbrenner stands near the elevator in Gateway 2. But the vast constellation of Yankees stars gets paintings or relics, not Statues, in an outdoor gallery outside the fence of the central square.
Some of the famous Yankees, 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 his hometown; Joe Dimaggio in the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago; Mickey Mantle is in his hometown, Commerce, Oklahoma, and another in a minor league park in Oklahoma City.
“The Giants made it a little easier on themselves,” Bernds said, noting that the franchise moved out of New York in the 1950s. “Mel Ott could have a statue, but they only portrayed the people who entered the Hall of Fame as the San Francisco Giant, and there were only five of them, so that’s the way they choose. But with the Yankees, where are they going to start?”
The Chicago White Sox – which has a similar long history but fewer glory years – has many statues within the park and has recognized the 2005 World Championships winners with a monument outside, depicting pivotal plays in photos and sculptures. In Cleveland, the late ’90s juggernaut was embodied in the well-traveled Jim Thom, who holds the franchise record with 337—but broke his 400th with the Phillies, his fifth with the White Sox, and his 600th. Minnesota Twins.
“It represents so much more: all those great players in the ’90s, all those great matches,” said Thom, who is now with the MLB Network and White Sox. “It’s been a championship-like team for a long time. We’re just sadly not winning the world championship, but it represents all these guys: Kenny Lofton, Carlos Berga, Sandy Alomar, Manny Ramirez, Albert Bale, Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield.”
Winfield, who spent his best seasons with the Padres and Yankees, ended his career with Cleveland in 1995. He won his only championship with the Toronto Blue Jays, who had a statue of former owner Ted Rogers outside their stadium, as well as a set of gargoyles depicting fans – but no statues of the players .
Winfield’s name appears, at least, behind a statue of Kent Hrbek at Target Field in Minneapolis, on a window listing the Minnesota natives who played with the Twins. Voters sent Winfield to Cooperstown on the first attempt, but your escape collected only five votes (out of 499) in his only year on the ballot.
Herbeck, though, had intangible figurines: He played his entire career for his hometown team, lasting 14 seasons, matching his retired uniform number. He helped win two world championships while looking like a man in the lakeside fishing house.
The statue depicts Hbeck’s moment of glory: pressing the final gauntlet into his glove and raising his arms in triumph after winning the twins’ first championship in 1987. It’s everything a statue should be.
“My daughter would go to the playground and take her girlfriends or kids or cousins and say, This is daddy; that was his favorite part of playing the game and winning the world championship and picking up the ball and jumping from first base.” “I hope this memory lasts for a long time – and we give the bathroom a place to sit for a while and let it do its thing.”