Fans approaching Nats Park’s center field gate from Metro’s Navy Yard station this season will see something new, and not just the new metal detectors outside the stadium.
Once they enter the stadium, they’ll encounter open spaces where once were those (odd) bronze statues of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard.
The statues, which arrived before the 2009 season, were relocated to the reverse side of the stadium, near the home plate gate. That entrance already had a timeline of D.C. baseball imprinted on the ground approaching the stadium; the statues have been slotted into their appropriate spots on that timeline.
“These Negro League Baseball, Major League Baseball and D.C. sports icons have now staked claim near Home Plate Gate where they can be seen, admired, discussed and argued over by all who enter the gates of Nationals Park,” the team’s ballpark guide now reads.
There are no plans to replace the statues with other infrastructure in center field; instead, their absence is likely to at least slightly decrease pregame and postgame congestion. The year the statues arrived, the Nats averaged 22,715 fans at home games. By last season, that number was up to 31,844.
The three bronze statues — a joint effort of several groups including the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Nats and the former D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission — have always been something of a conversation piece. Post critic Blake Gopnik panned them after their reveal, writing that “rather than zooming, however, [Omar Amrony’s] bronze appears to glop. It has the unfortunate effect of making his players seem covered in tumorous growths. They also get multiple arms. The creature designers from “Star Trek” have rarely played this fast and loose with bodies.”
You’d imagine that, at very least, they’d work simply to commemorate their three dedicatees. That they’d be the figurative equivalent of a plaque with a name on it: a symbol of the honor we hold these players in, even if the art itself does them no honor. Instead, Amrany makes Gibson, Howard and Johnson look so peculiar, their own mothers might not recognize them. Amrany says that the bronze growths that push out from the players’ backs and legs are meant somehow to indicate the momentum of their actions; that their multiple limbs are meant to convey the players’ moving parts. Instead, his bronzes look like how you’d commemorate the Elephant Man, if he’d been a Baseball Hall of Famer.
Still, fans seemed at least to notice the sculptures, with many posing for photos in front of the bronzes before and during games.