Visitors and residents alike will soon be reminded of Mobile’s rich baseball history, as Mayor Sandy Stimpson has announced plans for a Hall of Fame Courtyard at the entrance of Cooper Riverside Park.
Although the plans have been in the works for a while, Stimpson said, the death of 86-year-old former home run king and Mobile native Hank Aaron made the city move up the announcement.
“We felt the need to roll it out so everyone knows what the conversation has been and where it’s going,” Stimpson said. “There has always been a desire to find a place to showcase our rich athletic history. There’s been this desire for a long time.”
The initial design of the courtyard will consist of five, life-sized bronze statues on pedestals of the five members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who share a connection to the city. Those players are Aaron, Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Billy Williams and Ozzie Smith.
Smith was a 13-time Gold Glove winner who made 15 All-Star Game appearances. He was selected the National League (NL) Championship Series Most Valuable Player in 1985. He played for 19 seasons, turning in a career batting average of .262. He made just 281 errors at shortstop for the Cardinals and Padres in more than 21,700 innings played. He stole 580 bases in his career while driving in 793 runs and hitting 69 triples. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2002. He also won the Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente and Branch Rickey awards during his career.
Aaron is No. 2 all-time in home runs with 755, and he played in 25 All-Star Games in his 23-season career. He was named the NL MVP in 1957 and won the NL batting title in 1956 and ’59. He also won the Lou Gehrig Award and won three Gold Gloves. In his career, Aaron played in 3,298 games, hit .305, drove in 2,297 runs, and had 624 doubles, 98 triples and 3,771 hits. He stole 240 bases and scored 2,174 runs. He played for the Braves his entire career, either in Milwaukee or Atlanta, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982, receiving 97.8 percent of the votes.
McCovey was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986. He hit 521 home runs in 22 seasons. He also produced 1,555 RBI, 2,211 hits, 353 doubles and 46 triples. He had a career batting average of .270 and was named to six All-Star Game rosters, earning MVP honors in the 1969 game. He was named the NL Rookie of the Year in 1959 and the NL MVP in 1969 as well as the Major League Player of the Year in 1969. He played in 2,588 games in his career.
Williams played 18 seasons, mostly for the Cubs, but also a short time with the A’s. He played in 2,488 games and boasted a .290 career batting average. He drove in 1,475 runs, hit 426 home runs and had 2,711 hits. He also had 90 stolen bases, 434 doubles and 88 triples in his 18-season career. Williams was named to six All-Star games and earned the 1961 NL Rookie of the Year award. He was also named the 9172 Major League Player of the Year, the same year he won the NL batting crown. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987.
Paige was a standout pitcher for several seasons in the Negro Leagues. He made his Major League debut in 1948 at the age of 42 with the Cleveland Indians. He would spend six seasons in the Major Leagues. In 1952 he had a 12-10 record with the St. Louis Blues at the age of 52. He was the first Black player to pitch in the America League and he was the first electee of the Negro League Committee for the Hall of Fame in 1971. He appeared in two All-Star games and was also known for his barnstorming games with Hall of Famer Bob Feller. In more than 60 Major League games, Paige struck out 288 batters.
Stimpson envisions the courtyard as a driver of local tourism and another step toward his goal of doubling the number of visitors to the city. The move is expected to give visitors more activities to do near the waterfront as well, he said.
“There’s always been a need to increase tourism,” he said. “Tourists want multiple things to do. There has also been an ongoing conversation about activating the waterfront.”
David Clark, CEO of Visit Mobile, also sees the courtyard as a tourism driver in an area of the city where a lot of eyes will see it. Clark said the city sees 250,000 visitors attending conventions and another 250,000 boarding the Carnival cruise ship each year.
“It’s exciting to have those baseball players honored here,” Clark said. “A half-million people will see all of the great things Mobilians have done.”
Mobile native and New York Mets Hall of Famer Cleon Jones said the idea is not just for tourists, but for local residents as well. He said he hopes it provides guidance to children in Mobile, as these players could be looked at like role models.
Jones viewed Aaron this way growing up in Mobile, he said.
“It’s going to do for them what it did for me,” he said. “Hank Aaron was an idol for me when I was a teenager and propelled me to play ball.”
Councilman John Williams, president of the Mobile Sports Authority, took Jones’s idea to another level, suggesting the city always leaves a pedestal empty to give those growing up in sports the opportunity to picture themselves among the great immortalized in bronze.
“I propose we leave an open pedestal so every young man and young lady can aspire to be a statue one day and step up there and take a photo,” Williams said.
In addition to the baseball aspect, Stimpson brought up adding hall of fame players from other sports as well, like Mobile native Robert Brazile, who was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame in 2018.
Stimpson also mentioned the possibility of building a wall or laying pavers for those players from Mobile who have been inducted into team, state or local halls of fame.
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