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March 15, 2013

BP Unfiltered

The Most Surprising Players with Statues

by Ben Lindbergh

Over the past two weeks, researchers from the University of Sheffield discovered a gene that might make it possible to prevent premature birth, started a center dedicated to improving the diagnosis of coeliac disease, and committed to map the human musculoskeletal system for a model that could lead to personalized, effective treatments for chronic bone disorders. And then some other researchers from the University of Sheffield stole their thunder by compiling the world’s first database of baseball statues.

It’s not immediately obvious that the baseball statue database has the same scientific value as some of the University’s other innovations. But someday—after researchers from the University of Sheffield discover a cure, probably—people will forget that coeliac disease ever existed. And on that day, we’ll still need to know where all the baseball statues are. Which, evidently, is pretty much everywhere except the Great Plains*:

So it’s nice to know that someone is keeping track. Especially since we’re living in an era of exponential growth for baseball statues. According to Dr. Chris Stride, one of the two people who’ve spent the past 18 months building the baseball statue database, “90 percent of baseball statues have been erected since 1990, and over half in the last decade,” thanks to “innovative marketing strategies of baseball franchises based around branding through nostalgia and reflected glory.” If we hadn’t started tracking them now, while the number of statues is still manageable, we might never have gotten around to it. And then just when we needed a certain statue, we might not have remembered where we put it.

Most of the statues, as one might imagine, are of famous figures: legends on the field, in the front office, and in the broadcast booth. Others depict people who made some memorable off-the-field contribution to a particular institution or community—long-time college coaches**, and local politicians who brought minor-league baseball to towns. But there are also some big leaguers who got statues without very statuesque stats. Most of them were pretty good players; they’re just below the lofty replacement level for this accomplished group.

Here are the players whom you probably wouldn’t expect to have statues. (Busts, statuettes, and figurines need not apply.) You can see the rest at SportingStatues.com.

Joe Crede
US Cellular Field, Chicago, IL
Unveiled: 11/4/2008

Also featured on the White Sox World Series monument: Geoff Blum and Juan Uribe.

Cesar Geronimo
Cincinnati Reds HOF Museum, Cincinnati, OH
Unveiled: 9/25/2004

Geronimo gets a statue because he shared a lineup with some statue-worthy players.

Cory Lidle
Big League Dreams Sports Park, West Covina, CA
Unveiled: 7/10/2007

Lidle’s high school erected this memorial after his untimely death in October of 2006.

Kent Hrbek
Target Field, Minneapolis MN
Unveiled: 4/14/2012

Kent Hrbek’s career WARP: 31.6. Other batters with between 31 and 32 career WARP: Smoky Burgess, Melvin Mora, Carney Lansford, Tim McCarver, Mickey Rivers, Don Money, Bill Russell.

Jesse Barfield
Silver Cross Field, Home of the Joliet Slammers, Joliet IL
Unveiled: 5/21/2003

At least two other major leaguers have attended Joliet Central High School: Garland Buckeye and Bill Sudakis. So far, no statues for them.

Johnny Podres
National Baseball Hof Museum, Cooperstown, NY
Unveiled: 2/6/2001

Podres had the same career ERA+ (105) as Jack Morris, who will almost certainly have a statue of his own someday.

Dave McNally
Dehler Park, Home of the Billings Mustangs, Billings, CO
Unveiled: 6/29/2008

McNally has both Podres and Morris beat: his career ERA+ was 106.

Joe Altobelli
Frontier Field, Home of the Rochester Redwings, Rochester, NY
Unveiled: 5/9/2010

Altobelli is the “only man ever to serve as a player, coach, manager, general manager, and broadcaster in the storied history” of the Rochester Redwings. In the majors, he hit .210/.277/.323 in 290 plate appearances and managed the Giants, Orioles, and Cubs to a collective .485 record in seven seasons.

Joe Nuxhall
Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati, OH
Unveiled: 7/19/2003

Nuxhall hung around for the better part of two decades as a league-average starter, but plenty of pitchers have done that without getting statues. If you know him, it’s probably because he pitched in the majors at age 15 or because he called Reds games on the radio for almost 40 years.

Ted Kluszewski
Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati, OH
Unveiled: 1/4/2003

Not really surprising—Big Klu hit at least 40 homers and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in three separate seasons—but the value stats suggest that his defense and baserunning reduced his overall value to Hrbek-ian levels.

Willie Horton
Comerica Park, Detroit, MI
Unveiled: 7/15/2000

Horton grew up in Detroit and was a popular player for the Tigers for 15 seasons, so this is more of a sentimental statue. From Horton’s B-Ref Bullpen page: “A good but not great ballplayer, his statue nonetheless proudly graces Comerica Park among the Tiger greats.”

Bill Nicholson
Chestertown, MD
Unveiled: 3/10/1992

Nicholson posted a 161 OPS+ from 1942-1944, a period during which many of baseball’s best players were busy pursuing side projects.

Honorable mention: Don Larsen, whose stats weren’t especially good but whose statue isn’t all that surprising.

*To be fair, the Great Plains are pretty much empty of everything.

**Like Pete Beiden, who coached Fresno State for 21 seasons and whose statue’s inscription includes this confusingly worded quote: “Pete was one of the greatest fundamentalists to ever coach the game of baseball.”

Other quotes from former players about Beiden, from this story on the statue’s unveiling:

1. “If Pete were here today, I know what he’d say. I don’t know what in the heck the gaw-dang fuss is all about.”
2. “He called me Ivanhoe, Visalia, Clem, and a lot of other things I won’t tell you. He just had this charisma. He’d call you anything, and you’d respond. I’m sure he knew everybody’s name, though.”

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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