By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
During his playing days with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the late 1940s and 1950s, Jackie Robinson was known for his ability to steal home, a little something he brought with him from his days in the Negro Leagues.
Today, a colorful, life-like handcrafted 100 percent wooden statue of the man who broke baseball’s color barrier is looking to find a home. As a part of the Jackie Robinson Day Ceremonies at Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia, the statue was on display in Ashburn Alley on the concourse behind the scoreboard in left field.
Brian Birrer, who spent over 900 hours working on the statue made of three types of wood, is looking for a place to display the statue permamently. So far, he has contatcted several places including New York’s Citi Field and the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, which he said it would display the statue for a month in August, but hasn’t found any takers on a permanent basis.
“I want this statue to find a home, ideally here (at Citizen’s Bank Park) where people can enjoy him and kids see it and if they don’t who he is, they can ask questions about him and who he was,” said Birrer, who has a full-time job as an information systems consultant. “I want people to take pictures with it and keep (Robinson) in everybody’s consciousness. He belongs at a ballpark. This one or another one.”
Building this statue, which stands six-feet tall on its three-foot high base and weighs 273 pounds, was no easy task for Birrer. He used three different types of wood to craft the statue. Robinson’s socks on the statue are made of walnut, the body of the statue is made of pine. The head and hands are made from basswood, which is often used in carving. The bat on the statue is an authentic baseball bat—the only thing Birrer didn’t make with his own hands.
The difficult part for him was having to carve the statue without having a model to pose for him. It came as result of finding old photographs and film of Robinson.
“I don’t have a live guy modeling for me I had to get as many films clips as possible,” he said.
Birrer said out of all the emails he’s sent out so far, the Phillies have at least allowed to display his statue at Citizen’s Bank Park. He’s hoping that the statue will be on display at this summer’s All-Star Game in Arizona.
The irony of his Robinson statue finding a permanent home in Philly would be apparent to older baseball fans who can remember the hostile reception that Robinson received from Phillies fans.
From a historical standpoint, Birrer said giving the Robinson statue a final resting place in Philadelphia would be ideal because of the racism that he experienced her. Itt was at that point that Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers teammates rallied behind him and it was the beginning of his acceptance by other players around baseball.
“This was where Pee Wee Reese, who is from Kentucky, which was considered the South, put his arm around Robinson to show the Phillies dug out and the fans ‘this is our guy, we’re not backing down, you gotta knock it and apparently that went a long way to easing him in during his first year,” Birrer said.
For Birrer, who grew up in northern New Jersey, the inspiration to erect such a monument was really quite simple as an ongoing effort to keep alive the memory of Robinson and what he contributed not only to baseball, but to society as a whole.
“I think he’s an important figure,” he said. “I think kids should know the story and understand what happened and all the things that he did because it wasn’t that long ago. He’s a Hall of Famer, he changed society, everything. I knew a guy who saw him play and so all those things came together and I thought it was time to do this guy.”