Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Nationals Park Artworks Unveiled
“I am flattered to be honored in such a way but this guy made be look like a pea shooter," said Washington Senators Great Frank Howard--staring at the newly unveiled statues of himself and Negro League Great Josh Gibson. He (Gibson) hit them further than me!!" Hondo was on site in Centerfield Plaza at Nationals Park for the long awaited Bronze Statues of himself, Gibson and arguably the greatest baseball pitcher of all-time, Walter Johnson. The artwork commissioned by The D.C. Commission for The Arts & Humanities and produced by Omri Amrany. At 11AM this cold and windy Wednesday Morning, a few hundred friends, family and fans gathered to take their first peeks at the new artwork positioned just inside the Centerfield Gates of Nationals Park.
“This is a great honor for us, for the Gibson Family and just for The Negro Leagues in general," proclaimed The Great-Grandson of Josh Gibson--Sean. "Because this statue just doesn’t represent Josh, it represents the history of The Negro Leagues. Anytime that any baseball player from The Negro Leagues can be awarded something of this magnitude, it’s not just for them, it’s for everyone. It's for all of us."
Washington D.C. Baseball Historian and MASN Broadcaster Phil Wood emceed the proceedings and noted some of very reasons why these three D.C. Baseball Greats were being honored in such a long-lasting way.
“This is a way to remind people that baseball once thrived here in Washington, D.C. Great players played here," said Wood. "The whole issue of ‘First in war, First in peace and Last in the League' certainly that wasn’t true when Josh Gibson was playing. The (Homestead) Grays were the absolute powerhouse. They were The New York Yankees. They were the best team in The Negro Leagues year after year. Johnson pitched on some great clubs in Washington. He pitched on some bad one’s too. But his numbers usually reflected how much better he was than the rest of the club. And the fact that Frank Howard can be honored in his lifetime, I think is remarkable. He’s humble, he’s very self-deprecating about what he's accomplished as a player. And even though of the three, he is the only one not in The Hall Of Fame, I think it’s absolutely appropriate he’s the one dead center (placement in Centerfield Plaza at Nationals Park).”
During the ceremonies Phil mentioned some of Gibson's, Hondo's & Johnson's feats.
Did you know?
For every 500 At Bats in the Negro Leagues Josh Gibson averaged 51 Home Runs. He Won 12 Home Run Titles. As Phil so smartly stated, Josh is many times called The Black Babe Ruth, but maybe The Babe was The White Josh Gibson. Gibson passed away at 35 years of age—three months before Jackie Robinson signed with The Brooklyn Dodgers.
Moving to Hondo:
"It fair to say that Frank Howard is still the biggest name in Washington Baseball. If you attended the off-season luncheon The Nationals held for Season Ticket Holders you would have seen what I was talking about. This is Frank’s 50th year in baseball and he’s still a commanding presence. From 1967 to 1970 he lead The Majors in total home runs—including 48 in 1969, that fabulous season where Washington went 86-76 under Ted Williams as manager and we were all dancing in the streets over the joy of it all." Hondo cranked out 237 Homers wearing The Curly "W".
And Phil Wood finished off talking about Walter Johnson:
"Sometimes baseball does the wrong thing. Take the award that baseball hands out to the best pitcher in each league. For some reason they call it The Cy Young Award. But anyone with knowledge of baseball knows that it should be called The Walter Johnson Award…..in arguably the greatest pitcher who ever lived. He was fast. We all know that. But he was also the complete package—command, control—whatever you want to call it."
And added this incredible stat to help convince everyone: "2588 games were started by pitchers in The National League in 2008. There were 61 complete games in The National League last season in total. In 1910 and 1911 Walter Johnson started 79 games and completed 74 of them. He threw a total of 692 innings over those two seasons. He pitched 110 shutouts during his career. The All-Time Record. Number two on the list is 20 shutouts behind him (Grover Cleveland Alexander)."
Not lost in today's unveiling was the bridging of that 33 year long gap Washington, D.C. went without a Major League Team (1972-2005). "This certainly helps," believes The Co-Chair of The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, Bill Hall. "What we are looking to do is narrow that gap so people can start forgetting there even was a gap—while re-introducing baseball to a couple of generations that went without a home team in The Nation’s Capital. Washingtonians that have missed it completely.” Bill Hall negotiated the contract with Major League Baseball on behalf of The District Of Columbia to transfer The Montreal Expos to D.C.
"These artworks add another element to the fan experience of this magnificent ballpark—appealing to baseball historians, fans of art and children alike," concluded Mark Lerner--Principal Owner for Our Washington Nationals. "Josh Gibson, Walter Johnson and my childhood baseball hero—Mr. Frank Howard—were each fantastic ballplayers in their own rights. They (the players) illustrated (on the field) the energy, skill and intelligence of the game and exemplified the excellence which today’s Washington Nationals aspire to achieve."
Also unveiled officially late this morning "The Ballgame" mobile on the main concourse--first base side--of Nationals Park. Located just inside The Grand Staircase Entrance, Walter Kravitz's rotating piece will continually play "Take Me Out To The Ballgame".
Of course no appearance by Hondo can left behind without Big Frank getting off one of his usual self-deprecating one liners. While standing in front of his statue posing for the photographers, Howard proudly stated: "You know, I never graduated from College. I guess I can call this my diploma!!" Frank smiling from ear to ear--happy and content over the attention given this happy day for himself, Sean Gibson's Family and Walter Johnson's (who did not attend).
After the official ceremonies and picture taking concluded--all participants, family and friends were invited inside The PNC Diamond Club for a special luncheon.
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