Where does Hank Aaron’s statue belong? Only one solution exists

By Maria Saporta

A couple of months ago, a couple of Atlanta Braves representatives told me they owned the statue of Henry Aaron hitting the 715 homerun that broke Babe Ruth’s record.

They told me the Braves would be moving the statue to Cobb County as part of their new baseball stadium.

That struck me as odd. All my research up until then had been that the statue belonged to the citizens of Atlanta and Fulton County.

So I retraced my steps to try to figure out who really owned the statue.

When I contacted Violet Travis Ricks, executive director of the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, in December, she responded with this ambiguous email:

“We are in the preliminary phase of itemizing the monuments, statues, etc., at Turner Field. The process for determining owners and future location of property at Turner Field has not started and meetings regarding it will probably not occur until sometime next year.”

When I followed up with the research that I had done on the ownership of the statue, she repeated her non answer.

“Hi Maria, I have not located documentation related to the Henry Aaron Statue. As I stated in an earlier email, we expect to meet and confer with the Braves sometime in the next year regarding decisions related to assets remaining or items to be removed from Turner Field. Happy Holidays. Thanks Violet.”

Hank Aaron statue

Hank Aaron statue (Photos by Maria Saporta)

It was a bit of relief when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a story on February 11 with the headline: “Monument Man: Is Hank Aaron’s statue heading to the suburbs?” Apparently a fellow journalist, Katie Leslie, also was having trouble getting to the heart of the matter about what was really going on with the statue.

So I emailed the Atlanta Braves asking for documentation that they did in fact own the statue. I didn’t get a timely response, so I resent the email to make sure they had received it.

“Thanks, we did receive your email,” responded Beth Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta Braves. “We won’t be commenting.”

So much for that.

Well here is what I do know.

Veteran Atlanta public relations executive, Bob Hope, has given me a detailed account of how the Hank Aaron statue came to be. At the end of this column, I am including the entire email that he sent to me on Dec. 17 after the Braves claimed to own the statue.

Hank Aaron Boulevard

Hank Aaron Boulevard with Turner Field in the background

In a nutshell, Hope championed a community-wide effort to build a statue in Hank Aaron’s honor. The money was raised by the people (the Braves did not contribute to the cause), and the statue was donated to the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority – an entity that belongs to the citizens of the City of Atlanta and Fulton County.

Back in October, I had the pleasure to interview Henry and Billye Aaron – and the topic of the statue came up. At that time, there was no question. The Aarons wanted the statue to stay in Atlanta. Since then the Braves organization have been lobbying them as hard as they can – with mixed results.

Well let me be as clear as I can be.

Until the Braves prove to all of us that they own the statue, they should not be allowed to move it.

The statue does not belong to them. And it doesn’t even belong to Henry and Billye Aaron.

All indications so far show that the statue belongs to the citizens of Atlanta and Fulton County. So we should decide the statue’s fate.

Now to my friends at the Atlanta Braves: here is your one and only play.

Turner Field

Hank Aaron statue resides in front of Turner Field

You can design an elegant, graceful solution.

Of course you know there still are bitter feelings ITP about moving from your home of 50 years to a formerly tree-filled site OTP that’s is not served by rail transit.

Why rub salt in that wound?

Moving the statue to Cobb County would cause even more hard feelings. Plus it would not honor Aaron’s legacy – how it has been inevitably intertwined with Atlanta’s history of racial tolerance and healing.

The only solution is a two-statue solution.

Announce to the world that you will be commissioning a second statue of Henry Aaron. The Colorado-based sculptor Ed Dwight is still alive. You could commission an exact replica. Or you could commission an all new, unique Hank Aaron statue that is worthy of your development at SunTrust Park.

You see Henry Aaron deserves two statues. He belongs in Atlanta where he made history. And he belongs with the Atlanta Braves – to serve as a permanent reminder of the team’s soul.

Aaron’s legacy is big enough to be in both places. No other satisfactory solution exists.

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said a Hank Aaron statue belongs in the center of the city among all the other statues of the Atlanta’s greatest leaders – including Henry Grady, Ivan Allen Jr., Billy Payne, Andrew Young and others.

“We have plenty of iconic areas in downtown Atlanta where the statue would be seen by millions of people all year long,” Robinson said. “The objective ought to be what is the best way for our community to honor Hank Aaron. And to me, that is about visibility, historical relevance and integrity.”

One option also would be to keep it at or near its current location – depending on how Turner Field is redeveloped.

Georgia State University President Mark Becker, who is working with local developers on a proposal to acquire and redevelop the Turner Field site after the Atlanta Braves have pulled up stakes, has plans showing how GSU would honor Hank Aaron as part of its athletic venues.

“We need to find a way to honor Hank Aaron in a proper way,” Robinson said. “The community should have an opportunity to figure this out because it appears that it was the community that paid for this statue.”

 

Bob Hope’s historical account: 

From: Bob Hope
Sent: Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014
To: Maria Saporta
Subject: history of Hank Aaron statue….

Here is the origin of the Hank Aaron statue.

After I left the employment of the Braves and Ted’s various ventures at the time, I went to work for The Coca-Cola Company.  While attending the 1980 Masters Golf Tournament, I had dinner with former Braves pitcher Pat Jarvis.  Pat noted what a shame it was that there was no significant recognition of Hank Aaron’s record breaking home run in Atlanta, saying he thought it would be nice to have a statue like the one of Stan Musial in St. Louis.  We agreed to try to make that happen.

The next day I called the Braves and they put me in touch with T. Herman Graves, the director of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority.  I was told it was a stadium authority matter and would need approval of their board if I wanted to donate a statue of Hank at the stadium.  T. Herman quickly got that approval.

I formed a 501(c)3 called The Committee to Honor Hank Aaron and we set about the process of pricing, raising funds and selecting a sculptor.  By this time, Pat Jarvis dropped out of the effort.  However, we had a core of about six to eight people and a board of maybe 20 (I have the board and all the donors in a book at home).

Hank Aaron book of donors

Book of donors behind the Hank Aaron statue (Special: Bob Hope)

We decided we wanted to make it a “people’s statue” and would list all donors regardless of how much each gave and present those donors in a book to Hank when the statue was dedicated (the book I have a copy of at home).  I put in an initial $5,000 once we had priced out the cost of a statue and found it would cost in total about $150,000 (which included a marble base and lighting, in addition to the statue itself).

We had a kickoff press conference at the old Downtown Marriott (now the Sheraton).  Bowie Kuhn, the Commissioner of Baseball, was there along with Ted Turner.  I made the announcement of the formation of the committee and the fundraising effort.  Ted committed the “first donation” of $10,000.  In actuality, as an aside, Ted said he would give the last $10,000 once I got that close.  However, when I went to him for it, he told me I was doing a great job and didn’t need him, just to raise the rest of the money.  He didn’t give any more, nor did the Braves, which was frustrating, but fine.

Bob Hunter of Cousins was on the committee and took care of the RFP process with sculptors and narrowed it to three that were acceptable to the stadium authority.  Then, Hank made the decision on a sculptor.  He selected Ed Dwight of Denver, who was the first black astronaut and had never done a statue but was an accomplished sculptor.  I pushed for the guy who did the Iwo Jima statue that is in Washington.  Glad I lost.  Ed did a great job.  My main contribution is that I got all the photos of 715 I could find and told Ed I wanted it to be Hank completing the swing and looking at the ball soar to its highest point, which is what he did and did well.

The Committee to Honor Hank Aaron, Inc., signed the contract with Ed and it was very much “pay as you go”, with payment dates that gave us time to raise funds.

It took about 18 months to raise all the money and was fairly challenging.  We had some very solid contributors of $5,000 each, notables including Vince Dooley and Sam Nunn.  David Easterly, who was publisher of the AJC, stepped in near the end and helped us close out the fundraising (we were focused on paying for the statue and he called around to complete the needs of the marble base, lighting, etc. which somewhat snuck up on us).

We had one delay in the dedication of the statue because the mold collapsed (scary) but then successfully unveiled and dedicated it in September, 1982, before a Braves game.

Unless Bob Hunter did some, there was no paperwork.  We simply gave the statue to the Atlanta Fulton Country Recreation Authority as agreed.

As noted, I have the book listing the donors, showing the board of the Committee to Honor Hank Aaron and with a letter from me to Hank at the front, saying we were pleased to be able to donate the statue of him.

The unveiling ceremony was very cool.  I have photos of the stage with folks like Maynard Jackson, Andy Young and Sam Nunn participating.  As an aside, I refused to look at the statue until it was unveiled.  I was fearful of being disappointed but was delighted because it seemed perfect.

My only motivation was to please Hank and have a statue for kids to have their photos taken with.  During the fifth inning of the game when the statue was unveiled, I left the stadium to go look at the statue.  The only other person outside looking at it was Hank.

Hope this helps.

That’s pretty much the story.

Bob Hope
Hope-Beckham Inc.

Bob Hope letter

Letter Bob Hope wrote to Hank Aaron that was in the book listing the donors (Special: Bob Hope)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

13 replies
  1. Reinvent_ED says:

    Maria, I have no problem with a two-statue solution, especially if it is proven that the Braves do not own the statue. From what I had read previously, I thought that ownership had already been determined and that the Braves did not own it.   I could be wrong here.   But what I don’t want to see is another public fight like we are having with the King family.   We need to all just get along and find a solution that works for all parties.  And at the end of the day, it would be truly sad if the person whose image is on the statue does not support the final decision.Report

    Reply
  2. John Wolfinger says:

    If we are lucky enough to have Georgia State University take over this real estate, including the baseball stadium, let then also inherit the statue and keep it where Hank Aaron set the record. The Braves are moving to Cobb County to escape their current neighborhood – so that tends to show me how they feel about the City of Atlanta residents.Report

    Reply
  3. HaroldMichaelHarvey says:

    On September 7, 1969 Hank Aaron hit his last home run in old Crosby Field in Cincinnati. It was home run number 549 enroute to a total of 755. Last fall I stopped by the only remaining remnant of old Crosby Field, the home plate, in the middle of a side street in what is now an industrial park. I took a swing, imaging I was Hank Aaron in the top of the 7th inning, with no outs, the bases empty, and Dennis Ribant releasing a fastball towards the plate. I snapped my wrist as fast as I could imagine only Aaron could do, and watched the ball fly out of Crosley Field. It would be nice if the Hank Aaron statute could remain in Atlanta, either at the home plate marker or in the area of the left field bullpen where number 715 landed.Report

    Reply
  4. writes_of_weigh says:

    These “entre-manures” bear watching…….first they tried to steal the team…..then the stadium……a statue of “Hammerin’ Hank” ….and  they refuse to acknowledge that there is an available transit line(the State of Georgia owned Western & Atlantic RR r-o-w) hard astride the “proposed” CobbCo field. Follow the money!Report

    Reply
  5. WTF says:

    The statue shouldn’t be moved. The Braves’ corporate owners certainly can, and should, have a new one commissioned for the new stadium. But if they’re not taking other bits and pieces of Turner Field with them there’s certainly no reason why they should take its sculpture.Report

    Reply
  6. JerryChau says:

    Brava Maria. Give ‘em hell!
    Annex the Cobb County Brave’s Stadium to the City of
    Atlanta? It’s seems less outrageous after reading your piece.
    Let’s offer our nearby Cobb neighbors a MARTA station and encourage
    them to vote for annexation — a reasonable quid pro quo.
    http://tenonline.org/sref/jc1bio.htmlChautin
    Former entrepreneur, commercial mortgage banker &
    business lender
    Currently, commercial real estate & business columnist &
    content blogger
    Volunteer http://www.score.org/ business mentor
    SBA’s 2006 national “http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060311/BUSINESS/603110687/1007” winnerReport

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  7. Noel M says:

    Great one, Maria. Mr. Aaron’s legacy is important and should be respectfully represented. He’s a hero to me. I support your idea.

    On a side note, great response, HaroldMichaelHarvey! 🙂Report

    Reply
  8. HaroldMichaelHarvey says:

    Noel M I think one of the good things about iconic statutes is the ability they give people to connect with a moment in time.   Visiting the Hank Aaron statute in another city would not give the same solemnity to that moment in time, when Aaron made Atlantans proud of their place in baseball history. Ms. Saporta offers a good resolution to the Braves dilemma. I would suggest they commission another statute that would be unique to its new home in Cobb County. Taking a swing outside of a ballpark in Smyrna is just not the same as hearing Milo Hamilton in your ear saying, “Aaron is sitting on 714,” then you swing with all your might, the crowd roars, and Hamilton says, “Move over Babe Ruth…”Report

    Reply

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