Yard Birds Stand Tall

By Doug Koztoski

Featuring a retro design, Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards has ranked among the most aesthetically pleasing ballparks in the major leagues since the stadium’s opening in 1992. The Baltimore Orioles made many of their fans happy for another reason as well this year, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Camden Yards in style by making the playoffs as a Wild Card team and finishing with a 93-69 record.

Will the Orioles continue to be in the playoff hunt in the next few seasons? That’s uncertain. But one thing is for sure: Some of the old school O’s will be watching over the current players at the stadium via larger-than-life artwork, making the ballpark even more of an eye-catching experience.

The sports art comes in the form of several new bronze sculptures of iconic Orioles. The statue unveilings started in April with slugger Frank Robinson and the others that have joined him in bronze are manager Earl Weaver, pitcher Jim Palmer, first baseman Eddie Murray, shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. and third baseman Brooks Robinson.

Sept. 6, the anniversary of Ripken Jr. setting the all-time career consecutive games played record (in 1995 in Baltimore), was originally slotted as the final statue unveiling in this Orioles Legends Celebration Series. But the Brooks Robinson statue ceremony had to be postponed in May since the All-Star took ill and could not attend the event. The Brooks Robinson statue ceremony took place Sept. 29.

All of the bronze sculptures are on permanent display in the stadium’s refurbished area behind left-center field.

Group effort
This statue project came together with a great deal of teamwork.

From left to right at the unveiling of the Earl Weaver statue: Cal Ripken Jr., Toby Mendez, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray. Photo credit: Todd Olszewski/Baltimore Orioles

For starters, Monica Barlow, Director of Public Relations for the Orioles, said O’s owner Peter Angelos gave much more than just his OK for the project.

“Mr. Angelos was heavily involved to create a permanent monument for the six men who played such a big role in Orioles history,” said Barlow. “The legends will be recognized for years to come.”

The cooperation of the icons showcased in bronze and selecting sculptor Antonio Tobias “Toby” Mendez rounded out the game plan.

Mendez, of Frederick, Md., first watched many of the O’s legends play during the mid-1970s, and he continued following the team as Ripken began his career in the early 1980s. The 49-year-old artist wanted to capture the essence of each Orioles Hall of Famer with his 7-to-8-foot tall bronze sculptures, which range in weight from 600-1,000 pounds. Part of the design process included researching game-action photos, getting the legends’ input and then translating it all into statues.

As expected, Mendez paid close attention to the tiny details that helped elevate the sculptures to fine art.

“I asked the Orioles (organization) and the subjects about the little things,” said Mendez. “For example, I made sure the shoes and equipment were consistent with the year” the subjects are depicted.

“Jim Palmer wanted the baseball more out toward his fingertips and the glove more toward the batter,” said Mendez. At the pitcher’s statue unveiling, the attention to detail paid quick dividends.

“Eddie Murray noticed Palmer’s grip was for a two-seam fastball,” said the artist, who worked on the six-piece project for about a year. “I like the action feel of Palmer’s sculpture.”

Frank Robinson’s pose, meanwhile, was based on a 1966 World Series photo. Mendez said the slugger asked for the sculpture to be tweaked so his wrists would be smaller to emphasize his forearms. “Frank also asked for his mouth to be opened a little more and to have his name on his bat,” said Mendez.

Ripken said it was “unnerving” to see himself 7-feet tall, according to the sculptor. At his unveiling, Ripken noted how the statues seem to have brought back a certain Orioles team component from years ago: “The magic of the Oriole way, a deep-rooted connection developed over generations of people who dedicated their lives to baseball in Baltimore.”

Mendez said he was surprised how self-deprecating all of the Orioles subjects were. For instance, Murray said of his statue, which portrays the slugger with some memorable sideburns and in his hitting crouch, “You picked the skinny Eddie.”

The artist added that all of the Baltimore legends “were grateful for being done” in statue form.

Ballpark bonus
Not only are the bronze statues at Camden Yards, they are also in several dens and offices and man caves, at least smaller samples. Exact miniature replica versions of the sculptures were given out to each fan attending the game on that particular statue’s unveiling day.

Some of those giveaways have found their way to memorabilia shows and eBay. Hundreds of the replica statues have traded hands over the summer.

The Ripken piece leads the pack thus far, price wise, with most examples ranging from $30-$80. The Frank Robinson and Palmer minis usually top out at around $50, while the Murray and Weaver sculptures are slightly less. So far, Brooks Robinson examples are selling for around $50.

In addition to the replica miniature statues, unused tickets for the unveiling ceremonies have been selling for around $5 apiece. From a display standpoint, the tickets make a nice companion piece to the statues, as do the boxes the minis come in. Both the tickets and the replica statue boxes picture the subject in his Orioles uniform from their career days.

Seeing is believing
Perhaps Murray captured the feeling of the statues best when, during his unveiling day speech, he looked at the artwork and said, “The first thing I would like to say is just, wow, that’s pretty special.”

Taking some time to closely look at these statues, especially in person, it is easy to agree with “Steady” Eddie.

View More Mendez Artwork
Toby Mendez’ Orioles statue series is his largest for any sports project to date. His other baseball statue artistry includes a Nolan Ryan piece for the Texas Rangers and “The Teammates” sculpture at Fenway Park. The latter showcases likenesses of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky, close Red Sox teammates since the World War II era.

Other Mendez sports statues include Don Shula for the Miami Dolphins, the head coach of the undefeated 1972 NFL squad, and bicyclist Major Taylor, who in 1899, became one of the first African-American athletes to reach world champion status.

Mendez’ website, www.tobymendezstudios.com, features images of several of his sculptures, sports and otherwise. Click on Portfolios on the site to see the artwork.
To watch the Orioles statue unveiling day speeches, go to www.BaltimoreOrioles.com and type in the player’s name and “statue” in the Search box.

Doug Koztoski is a freelance contributor to Sports Collector’s Digest. He welcomes comments related to this article at kozpro20@hotmail.com.

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