COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The unofficial welcome to the Hall of Fame stands together in bronze at the ticket booths in the museum’s lobby. They are multicultural monuments of strength, sacrifice and service: Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente.
“Those three represented so much more than what they did on the field,” said Josh Ravitch, president of the Hall of Fame. “It was the way they continued to live their lives off the field, to help other people, to step up for other people, and ultimately just a great example of what it means to have character and courage.”
The Hall of Fame will induct seven new members on Sunday, including three living: David Ortiz, Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva. Everyone in the gallery will be recognized on a plaque that measures 15½ inches by 10¾ inches, the standard size for all Hall of Famers — from Hank Aaron to Robin Yount — since the first induction ceremony in 1939.
A divider is a statue for some. There is no vote for the statue honor, no formal process to achieve it. It takes some transcendence beyond sheer brilliance on the pitch. As the saying goes: If you know, you know.
“Dave Winfield, he’s one of the only guys that doesn’t have a statue — and we’re giving him a hard time,” Ozzie Smith said last fall on a podcast hosted by former major leaguer Brett Boone. I’m leaving, come on, Dave, don’t you have a statue? You should see his face. “
In a recent phone interview, Winfield reluctantly admitted that she does indeed miss the statue — and that her peers make fun of her for it.
“Honestly?” Winfield gave up. “Yes.”
To George Brett, Winfield’s teammate on the American League All-Star team in the 1980s, it only stands to reason. Brett has a statue in the outfield in Kansas City, where he played 21 seasons and is synonymous with the Royals franchise.
“A lot of these guys have played in a lot of cities,” Brett said. “Who will have the statue of Winfield?” He played for eight different teams.
Six, actually, but it raises an interesting point: Teams are now more active in celebrating their past, but many great players, especially over the past few decades, have simply moved on to better contracts elsewhere.
After the stadium construction boom of the 1990s, nearly all teams opened baseball-only parks, many replacing multi-purpose, municipally-owned facilities that were not dedicated to individual monuments. For example, the Philadelphia Phillies used to have generic sports statues outside Veterans Stadium, but in 2004 they named a new ballpark honoring Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts and Mike Schmidt.
Several older parks, such as Wrigley Field in Chicago and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, have undergone recent renovations to include public gathering spaces. The Dodgers gave Sandy Koufax a statue at the new ballpark in June, and the Cubs did the same with Fergie Jenkins in May.
With Koufax playing only for the Dodgers and Jenkins playing mostly for the Cubs, he pitched nearly 2,000 innings with other teams. However, Gaylord Perry has played for seven teams in 12 seasons since his first decade with the Giants, who as recently as 2016 earned him a bronze likeness.
Perry joined Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda — all Hall of Fame teammates on the 1962 National League title winners — outside the gates of San Francisco’s Oracle Park. Jenkins, who had similarly stellar teammates later in the decade, took notice.
“I kept saying to myself, ‘I wonder when they’re going to put a statue of me at Wrigley Field with the three greatest players I ever played with?'” said Jenkins, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame with Perry and Rod. Carew in 1991. “I lived with Ernie Banks for three years and played with Billy Williams and Ron Santo for seven years – and believe me, I’m honored to be among them.”
Sculptor William Behrends created all the Giants statues, as well as those in San Diego (Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman) and Brooklyn Minor League Park (Robinson and Pee Wee Reese). His latest piece was unveiled on Opening Day at Citi Field: Mets forever ace Tom Seaver with his famous release, twice life-size.
“When you get off the subway and see it for the first time, you’re away from it,” Behrends said. “It must be from a distance. You want someone 100 feet away to see it and you want to move. Larger spaces are sort of reduced to sculptures; You put a strictly life-size sculpture in a large space and it looks less than life-size.”
Seaver’s statue is the only one outside a major league ballpark in New York. The Yankees feature Don Larsen and Yogi Berra — batting for the only perfect game in World Series history — in their museum at Yankee Stadium, and former owner George Steinbrenner stands near the bronze goalie elevator in the Gate 2 lobby. But the vast constellation of Yankees stars receive plaques or monuments, not statues, in the outfield gallery behind the center field fence.
Some Yankees Hall of Famers, then — Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and so on — don’t have statues anywhere. Others have statues far from the Bronx: Babe Ruth in Baltimore at Camden Airds, near her birthplace; Joe DiMaggio in Chicago, Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame; Mickey Mantle in his hometown of Commerce, Okla. And another at a minor league park in Oklahoma City.
“The Giants made it a little too easy on themselves,” Behrends said, noting the franchise moved from New York in the 1950s. “Mel Ott could have had a statue, but they only featured people who went into the Hall of Fame, like the San Francisco Giants, and there were only five of them, so they get to choose. But with the Yankees, where do they start?
The Chicago White Sox — with a similarly long history but far fewer glory years — have several statues in the park and recognized the 2005 World Series winners with an outdoor monument that depicts important plays in photos and statues. In Cleveland, the late 1990s juggernaut is depicted in a well-traveled statue of Jim Thome, who holds the franchise record with 337 but hit his 400th for the Phillies, 500th for the White Sox and 600th. Minnesota Twins.
“It means even more: all the great players we had in the ’90s, all those great playoffs,” said Tom, who now works for MLB Network and the White Sox. “For a long time, it was a championship team. We didn’t win a World Series, unfortunately, but that goes to all those guys: Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar, Manny Ramirez, Albert Bell, Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield.
Winfield, who had his best seasons with the Padres and Yankees, finished his career with Cleveland in 1995. He won his only championship for the Toronto Blue Jays, who have a statue of former owner Ted Rogers outside the stadium as well. A collection of fan gargoyles – but no player statues.
Winfield’s name, at least, appears behind the Kent Hrback statue at Target Field in Minneapolis, on a window that lists the Minnesota natives who played for the Twins. Voters sent Winfield to Cooperstown on the first try, but Hrbek only garnered five votes (out of 499) in his only year on the ballot.
However, Hrbek had the statue’s intangibles: he played his entire career with his hometown team, spanning 14 seasons, matching his retired jersey. A burly, friendly slugger, he helped win two World Series while looking like the boy next door at the fishing house on the lake.
The statue depicts Hrback’s moment of glory: raising his glove in triumph after winning the Twins’ first championship in 1987. This is everything a statue should be.
“My daughter will go down the hall and get her friends or her kids or her cousins and say, ‘That’s Daddy; That was his favorite play of the game, winning the World Series, catching the ball and jumping off first base,” Hrbek said. “Hopefully this memory will last a long time – and give the pigeons somewhere to sit for a while and let them do their thing.”