|ADA Services||This sculpture is located on the sidewalk. The adjacent curbs have curb cuts to allow for wheelchair access. The sculpture can be touched.|
There are four massive sculptures of baseball players at the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium and they represent four very different spirits, symbols and histories of Pittsburgh sports. Honus Wagner, who played from 1897 to 1917, was an unlikely hero: bowl legged and barrel chested, with very long arms. However, despite his unlikely physique he is considered by many to have been the greatest player, both offensively and defensively, in the history of the game. Wilver (Willie) Stargell and Roberto Clemente played at the level of stardom for nearly their entire Pittsburgh careers, and Clemente gained a mythic identity when he died in an airplane crash enroute to a mission of mercy in Nicaragua in 1972. Stargell was among the greatest African American players to play for the Pirates, and Clemente was the first Latin/Caribbean player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Clemente and Stargell were “likely heroes,” physically commanding, graceful and powerful.
The fourth sculpture at PNC park depicts Bill Mazerowski, simply running with arms outstretched. Second basemen are usually small, agile players, seldom power hitters, who turn plays that require instinctive acrobatics and pinpoint throws from awkward, off balance positions. The second baseman is the center of ballet-like teamwork in double plays, taking a feed from another infielder, touching the base and firing off balance to first. The position requires wizardry instead of brawn and those qualities, while admired by baseball aficionados, seldom leads to larger than life depiction. Why then, the fourteen-foot bronze Maz at PNC Park?
In the seventh (deciding) game of the 1960 World Series the underdog Pirates defeated the heavily favored New York Yankees on the bat of Bill Mazerowski. His walk-off home run is considered the “greatest” home run ever hit, the only home run to decide a World Series in the bottom of the ninth. It was a lashing swing on an 0-1 pitch that connected perfectly and sent the ball sailing.
Heroic public art often presents a great man (usually) standing on a pedestal or atop a horse, leading troops into battle. These visual statements capture an idea of a moment in history. The sculptures of the Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente can be thought of this way for each depicts the moment in an abstracted and generalized manner. Stargell waits for the ball; bat in the air off his shoulder; a menacing presence. Wagner has completed his swing; his bat has come around and we imagine the ball already on its way out of the park. Clemente has completed a graceful swing and is simultaneously leaving the batter’s box toward first base; his eye on the ball he has just hit. But Maz is simply running, having wheeled his arms in a circle. He has joy on his face, for he just seen the ball fly over the fence and in this moment has become Pittsburgh’s most loved baseball player.
The sculpture was inspired by a photograph by Post Gazette photographer James Klingensmith, who was positioned on the roof of the press box. Looking at a Youtube video reveals that Maz swung his arms just once and thus the photo (and the sculpture) captures what was, in fact, a decisive moment. It is perhaps Pittsburgh’s most typical heroic moment, for Mazerowski was an unlikely hero on a World Series win they were heavily predicted to lose.
The statue is part of a monument that includes a replica of the Forbes Field outfield wall with the actual numerals “406” from the old stadium installed on the border of the monument. The border dedication plaques fans, friends and others purchased to help with the cost of the statue. Mazerowski in bronze is more than two times his normal size, yet he is mounted on the ground level, so fans can experience his presence in a visceral way. The sculpture is also stylistically similar to the Clemente and Stargell statues, all having been made by Pittsburgh sculpture Susan Wagner, and the three pieces are also stylistically consistent with Frank Vitto’s 1950s depiction of Honus Wagner, who gets the place of honor near the main gates of the stadium.
But it is the Mazerowski sculpture that is most mesmerizing. Who cannot dream of winning a World Series in the bottom of the ninth with a walk off home run? The public’s familiarity with Klingensmith’s photo make the sculpture a mnemonic device, an invitation to again celebrate a great moment in sports that was, in fact, a great moment in the history of the community.
By Douglas Harper, sociologist
Douglas Harper, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus at Duquesne University and President of the International Visual Sociology Association. He has written extensively on visual culture and his most recent book, Visual Sociology, is a comprehensive overview of the field.
Susan Wagner is a Pittsburgh native. She is a sculptor and a painter. Her figurative sculptures can be seen throughout Pittsburgh, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and The Vatican.