Baseball’s Hall of Famers all have plaques in Cooperstown, but only some of them have been honored with statues. And they won’t let Dave Winfield forget that.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The unofficial greeters at the Hall of Fame stand together, in bronze, by the ticket booths in the museum lobby. They are multicultural monuments to 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 Rawitch, the president of the Hall of Fame. “It was the way they went about life off the field in terms of helping other people, leading the way for other people, and ultimately just being the perfect example of what it means to have character and courage.”
The Hall of Fame will welcome seven new members on Sunday, including three who are living: David Ortiz, Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva. All will be recognized in the gallery with a plaque measuring 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.
In a telephone interview recently, Winfield reluctantly confirmed that he does, indeed, lack a statue — and that peers do mock him for it.
“Honestly?” Winfield conceded. “Yeah.”
To George Brett, a teammate of Winfield’s on nine American League All-Star teams in the 1980s, that only stands to reason. Brett has a statue on the outfield concourse in Kansas City, where he played for 21 seasons and is synonymous with the Royals franchise.
“A lot of these guys played in so many cities,” Brett said. “Who’s going to have a statue of Winfield? He played on eight different teams.”
Six, actually, but that raises an interesting point: Teams are more active now in celebrating their pasts, but many great players, especially over the last few decades, were only passing through on their way to better contracts elsewhere.
Since the stadium-building boom of the 1990s, almost all teams have opened baseball-only parks, with many replacing multipurpose, municipally owned facilities not given to individual monuments. The Philadelphia Phillies, for example, had generic sports statues outside Veterans Stadium, but christened a new park in 2004 with tributes to Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts and Mike Schmidt.
Several older parks, like Wrigley Field in Chicago and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, have made recent renovations to include public gathering spaces. The Dodgers gave Sandy Koufax a statue at their new plaza in June, and the Cubs did the same in May with Fergie Jenkins.
Koufax played only for the Dodgers, and while Jenkins pitched mostly for the Cubs, he logged almost 2,000 innings with other teams. Gaylord Perry, though, roamed to seven teams in 12 seasons after his first decade with the Giants, who still cast him likeness in bronze in 2016.