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Rosenberg man behind statue of Brooks Robinson

At noon Saturday, the 9-foot bronze likeness of Brooks Robinson is unveiled outside Oriole Park, all eyes will be on the statue, the sculptor and the Hall of Fame third baseman. But no one will savor the moment more than an 81-year-old bystander obsessed with seeing the project through.

For Henry Rosenberg, a Baltimore businessman driven to honor the 74-year-old Orioles icon, Saturday's ceremony wraps up a $700,000 venture seven years in the making and rife with roadblocks.

"I got frustrated a couple of times, working with the city to find a good location, but somebody had to do this," Rosenberg said. "Brooks is a superb individual who represents everything good, both on and off the field. He was, and is, Mr. Oriole."

Rosenberg tackled the project with the same resolve with which Robinson speared scorching grounders and threw out base runners.

"Through it all, I thought, I brought it to this point, by hook or by crook, and, by God, I'm going to see that it gets done," Rosenberg said. "So, that's the way it is."

The statue, which weighs 1,500 pounds, depicts Robinson, ball in hand, set to nail his man at first base. He played 23 years in Baltimore, led the Orioles to two world championships and breezed into Cooperstown in 1983.

Robinson will attend the dedication, as will the sculptor, Joseph Sheppard, of Baltimore. Others expected include Gov. Martin O'Malley, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Admission is free.

Also attending: several Orioles officials and the Oriole Bird.

The statue is erected on a city-owned plaza between Washington Boulevard and Russell Street, a few hundred feet from Oriole Park.

The club stayed out of negotiations, Rosenberg said.

"The Orioles knew what was going on, but we didn't get much encouragement from them," he said.

But club officials said they have their own plans to fete Robinson and other Orioles greats next year, as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of Oriole Park.

"We absolutely love Brooks, and we're fully supportive of Mr. Rosenberg's endeavor to promote him," said Monica Barlow, the Orioles' director of public relations. "There aren't enough ways to honor this great man. And we will announce, by year's end, plans to honor all six Orioles Hall of Famers next season, in a manner that befits their status and accomplishments."

Rosenberg said that about one-third of the cost of the sculpture came from public donations; the rest, from his pocket.

The statue does Robinson proud, he said.

"You'll be amazed by the powerfulness of it," he said. "You can see the veins in Brooks' arms, and the creases in his uniform."

The men are longtime friends, having met in 1968 when Robinson became pitchman for Crown Central Petroleum, where Rosenberg was CEO. After leaving baseball, Robinson stayed on with Crown until he retired in 2003.

"Henry was nice enough to give me a job, in the offseason, when I had three young ones in diapers," Robinson recalled recently. "Then, seven years ago, he said, 'You deserve a statue.'

"I said, 'Henry, that sounds wonderful, but it's a lot of work.'

"Then, for years, every time I'd see him, he'd say, 'It's going to happen.'

"Well, he was right."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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