The intense stare is captured, the look of a slugger tracking a ball hit well into the night. The bat is dangling from the bronzed Frank Robinson’s left hand.
“I’m looking at the ball going out in the outfield, but I am ready to drop that bat and get my damn butt down the bases,” the flesh-and-bones Robinson quipped Saturday evening. “I don’t want to stay up there [at the plate] too long.”
Robinson, the Hall of Fame outfielder who led the Orioles to their first world championship in 1966 and a string of three more World Series appearances in the next five years, on Saturday became the first player to have his likeness replicated in a life-size bronze statue in the Garden of the Greats picnic area behind center field at Camden Yards.
The other five Hall of Famers who have been inducted as Orioles — Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. — will be honored once a month throughout the season with their own statues as part of Camden Yards’ 20th-anniversary celebration.
Saturday was Robinson’s night.
And it featured a star-studded group of attendees at the unveiling ceremony, including Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Palmer, Weaver and Murray; former Orioles executive Roland Hemond; Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre; Jackie Robinson’s wife, Rachel; and current Orioles personnel such as executive vice president Dan Duquette, vice president Janet Marie Smith, Louis Angelos, the son of the club’s managing partner Peter Angelos, manager Buck Showalter, first base coach Wayne Kirby and players Nick Markakis and Adam Jones.
“This is a very special place in my heart, Baltimore. Always has been, and it always will be,” Robinson told the crowd of hundreds that braved a steady drizzle to hear No. 20 talk. “And you, the fans, have made it that way. Whenever I come here, you make me feel welcome.”
One older fan yelled, “We love you, Frank.” And Robinson, known more for his fierceness and intensity than exuding warm and fuzzy feelings, shot back, “I love you guys, too.”
Robinson, 76, wasn’t outwardly emotional but seemed genuine in dispersing thank-yous to a legion of people including Weaver — “the best manager I ever played for” — Brooks Robinson, who was unable to attend because of health issues — “my brother, Brooks Robinson. He is one of the nicest individuals that I have ever come across in life or in this game” — and the widows of former teammates Curt Motton and Elrod Hendricks.
“I felt all right going up there until they unveiled it and pulled the cover off of [the statue],” Robinson said. “Then I was really taken aback, really. I’ve seen other statues and things that didn’t look like the individual, not close to what they were or what they looked like. This almost looked like I was standing up there myself, just about. [Sculptor Toby Mendez] did a tremendous job.
Saturday evening was the first time Robinson had seen the statue since it was in the early stages of construction.
“I saw it once when it was in wax in the beginning, and I didn’t want to see it anymore,” he said. “And I am glad I didn’t. And I’m just very happy and very proud to have that honor bestowed on me by the Orioles.”
How does it compare to all his other awards and accomplishments?
“Since this is going to be a lifetime thing as far as the statue is concerned,” Robinson said, “it ranks right up there with the Hall of Fame.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times