Statue to honor Brooks

Brooks Robinson gained iconic status during the years he played third base for the Orioles at Memorial Stadium.

Now a local group plans to honor Robinson with a larger-than-life statue that will remind baseball fans of his heroics every time they drive past the Orioles' current home at Camden Yards.

Baltimore's Public Art Commission unanimously approved plans Wednesday for a 9-foot-high, $500,000 bronze statue of Robinson that is scheduled for installation by spring 2011 on a city-owned plaza just west of Oriole Park.

Baltimore businessman Henry A. Rosenberg told the commission that he heads a group that has been working for several years to erect a statue to honor Robinson, who played for the Orioles from 1955 to 1977 and won 16 Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career.

"It's something that has to be done," said Rosenberg, chairman of Rosemore Inc. and former chairman of Crown Central Petroleum, for which Robinson was a longtime spokesman. "Brooks Robinson is 'Mr. Baseball,' 'Mr. Baltimore,' 'Mr. Orioles,' just like Johnny Unitas represents the Colts. We've been working on this for three to five years, and we've finally come up with a location. It's absolutely the right thing to do."

The site approved by the art commission is a narrow pedestrian plaza bounded by Washington Boulevard and Russell and Paca streets. The artist is Joseph Sheppard, a Maryland native who created the statue of Pope John Paul II at Franklin and Charles streets and a sculpture for Baltimore's Holocaust Memorial at Lombard and Gay streets. Richard Jones of Mahan Rykiel Associates is the landscape architect for the site, which might be renamed Brooks Robinson Plaza.

Sheppard showed the panel a study that depicts Robinson at third base in his Orioles uniform, gripping a ball in his right hand, winding up to throw a runner out at first. The figure will be set on a granite pedestal that will lift it 5 feet to 6 feet above the street.

Sheppard said he wants to show Robinson as he looked in his prime, during the 1960s and 1970s. While the statue will be made of bronze, he said, the glove and ball will have a golden hue to make the point that Robinson received so many Gold Gloves. The figure will be sculpted and cast in Italy and shipped here. Sheppard said he looked at 200 to 300 photos of Robinson before deciding on the stance, and that Robinson lent his glove, cap and shoes for authenticity.

Robinson was not at the meeting and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Russell Street statue will be the second to honor him, after one unveiled last year in York, Pa., where he played before coming to Baltimore. The design and funding process is similar to that which produced the statue of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer that was installed last month on city-owned property on the Inner Harbor's west shore, a gift from Baltimore businessman Willard Hackerman.

Rosenberg heads a group that, like Hackerman, has offered to create the statue as a gift to the city, so taxpayer funds will not be needed. Rosenberg said other members of his group include his son Frank and businessmen John "Jack" Luetkemeyer, Leroy Merritt, Steve Geppi and Hackerman.

Henry Rosenberg said the group has raised more than $100,000 to pay for the project and is in the process of securing the rest so the statue can be installed in time for Opening Day of the 2011 baseball season.

Receiving site and design approval from the public art commission, a panel that reviews and approves public art proposed for city property, was one of the main hurdles that Rosenberg's group needed to overcome to proceed with its project. Rosenberg said he was "ecstatic" to receive approval after his first presentation.

Sheppard said he has consulted with attorneys and does not believe he needs approval from the Orioles to depict Robinson in an Orioles uniform, because the uniform is in the "public domain" and the statue is not being used for commercial purposes.

Monica Barlow, the Orioles' director of public relations, said the team is also working to find ways to honor Robinson and other Orioles Hall of Fame players at Camden Yards. She noted that the Orioles recently rehired urban planner and historian Janet Marie Smith as the team's vice president of planning and development, and that Smith will be exploring ways to celebrate the Orioles' heritage as part of the visitor experience at Oriole Park.

"From our perspective, Brooks is one of the finest players and human beings ever to wear an Orioles uniform," Barlow said. "We're proud to share an ongoing strong relationship with him. We currently honor all of our Hall of Fame players with number statues at the entrance to Oriole Park, and we have plans to work with all of our Hall of Fame players to honor them within the confines of the ballpark as well."

Members of the art commission said they believe the Russell Street statue will be a popular addition to the city.

Commission member Walter Daly said he was impressed by the way Sheppard captured Robinson in action. "I love the way the sculpture is a frozen piece in motion," he said.

The piece "feels very dynamic and wonderful and appropriate," said Steve Ziger, a member of the arts panel. "I like the off-center feel."

"This is going to be a very exciting thing," said panel chairman Anne Perkins "Many, many people are just going to love this."

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Zrebiec and Don Markus contributed to this article.

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