Stadium statues celebrate romance of sports figures, not reality


Did you know there is a statue of Bud Selig at Miller Park in Milwaukee?

Yeah, the Brewers are big on bronze giants standing around their ballpark. There’s also a statue there of Hank Aaron (he was a star in Milwaukee long before the National League put a team in Atlanta) and Robin Yount and Bob Uecker.

Actually, there are two of Uecker, including one way up in the cheap seats as a continuation of the theme from those old Miller Lite TV ads that some of you remember and some of you don’t.

That’s the thing with these monuments, whether they are depictions of athletes or coaches or politicians or generals or, in the case of Rocky Balboa at Philadelphia, fictional characters. They draw a lot of attention when first unveiled but as the generations pass become a mere curiosity to young people, provided they are noticed at all.

The statue of Jose Fernandez that Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is planning? Probably too soon for that.

Jose was a dominating pitcher and an exhilarating presence in the dugout, but his death at 24 in a boat crash was caused by unlawful behavior that also cost the lives of two other men. Hal Habib touched on all of the angles of this discussion in a column that ran in Saturday’s Post.

Better to wait a while, in my view, and to include a plaque on the base of any future Jose statue explaining the consequences of the woeful decisions he made that night. Add some real-life education to the sporting inspiration. Loria wants to do it now, though, and it’s his team, so the statue will rise.

Out in Los Angeles another statue was unveiled just the other day, a figure of Jackie Robinson sliding in as he steals home. This one, in contrast, took way too long to happen.

Surely a statue at Dodger Stadium would have been very appropriate to greet fans when the ballpark first opened in 1962, back when Jackie was alive.

Who made me the official arbiter of which and when statues should be built? Nobody. It’s a personal thing, an emotional reaction, which when you stop and think about it is what any powerful work of art is meant to elicit.

There are people, for instance, who are passionate on both sides of the decision that put Joe Paterno’s statue in storage at Penn State. Maybe one day the coach will just be a coach again and honored as such, but probably not in our lifetimes.

All I know is that there will be a Dwyane Wade statue outside AmericanAirlines Arena one day but not now, not while he’s playing postseason basketball for the Chicago Bulls. For my money, there should be one for Alonzo Mourning out there already, and another for Pat Riley if he ever retires.

The two statues that the Dolphins have for Don Shula and Dan Marino seem about right. If you’re going to do something for the perfect Dolphins of 1972, it would have to be some kind of enormous carving of that great collection of players on the side of a mountain and we don’t have anything taller or stouter than a landfill around here.

The Florida Gators have a statue for each of their Heisman winners – Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow – and fans never tire of photographing themselves in front of them.

Florida State has a statue of Bobby Bowden and of others honoring the spirit of sportsmanship and the unconquered spirit of the Seminole tribe. Easier to go that way than to make a distinction on players.

I could say make one for Charlie Ward, who won FSU’s first Heisman Trophy and FSU’s first national championship in the same season, but you could counter by insisting that the Seminoles’ three Heisman winners – Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston – all be included, which, of course, would reignite all the mixed feelings and the squawking about Jameis.

Strangely, the Miami Hurricanes have a statue of legendary baseball coach Ron Fraser on campus but none from the school’s more famous football history. Probably would be different if they had their own stadium.

While we’re leaning toward the strange, in California a statue exists of Jimmy Johnson, but it’s the old San Francisco 49ers’ Hall of Fame defensive back and not the former Hurricanes and Dolphins coach with the same name.

There’s a statue of Howard Schnellenberger at Florida Atlantic, a worthy tribute. Lane Kiffin? Don’t hold your breath. This is about history, not headlines.

Altogether, we probably put a little too much cosmic significance to the commissioning and crafting of a statue. I’m thinking it’s because so few things truly last in our society. Casting something or somebody in bronze, be it a pair of baby shoes or the image of a superstar, is like setting it aside, that golden moment, that special memory, and declaring that no one can ever tamper with it again.

That’s not reality. It’s romance, and we wouldn’t be human without it.



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