The United States Sports Academy is adding a sixth sculpture by Bruce Larsen, the United States Sports Academy’s 2009 Sport Artist of the Year, to its Sports Sculpture Park on its Daphne, Ala., campus.
The sculpture, “Mr. Baseball,” is being unveiled at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 19 to mark the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Academy, which is the largest graduate school of sport education in the world. The event will also include the awarding of a Distinguished Service Award to Dr. George Uhlig, one of six founding members of the sports institution, for his education contributions.
Like the other works of the found object artist from Fairhope, Ala., Larsen’s latest sculpture reuses a lot of large metal, including old heating pipes from the Academy that were given to him. Larsen says he is happy that Academy President and CEO Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich asked him to do the sculpture to help commemorate the university’s 40th anniversary.
“For Dr. Rosandich to entrust me with this centerpiece for the Academy’s 40th anniversary is both an honor and life affirming,” he says.
“Mr. Baseball” also honors all the American League and National League Most Valuable Players dating back to 1911. The concrete platform the sculpture stands on has the MVPs’ names printed on brick pavers by year.
For the Academy’s 25th Anniversary in 1997, world renowned Spanish artist Cristóbal Gabarrón painted a mural, “A Tribute to the Human Spirit,” featuring Hall of Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson, who was the National League MVP in 1949. The mural also honored the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier in professional baseball. The mural is one of the largest public offerings of art in the United States.
Major league baseball teams honored Robinson league wide on Sunday, April 15, by wearing his uniform number, 42, on the anniversary of his barrier-breaking debut in 1947—65 years ago.
The Academy has marked both its 25th and 40th years with tributes to baseball in part because six baseball Hall of Fame players have come from the Mobile area. They include: Satchel Paige, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Billy Williams, Willie McCovey and Ozzie Smith.
The 40th anniversary artwork, “Mr. Baseball,” has been placed by Larsen in a classic pose of a home run slugger. He is in an old-style uniform with the pants tucked into the socks.
“I say I am attempting to do this because just making metal socks is difficult,” Larsen says jokingly.
Dr. Rosandich says the latest Larsen piece is a great addition to the Academy’s sport art collection.
“As always, Larsen did an outstanding job,” he says. “I’m absolutely delighted with the final product.”
Larsen says he purposely chose to make “Mr. Baseball” look like a player from a bygone era, instead of a modern one.
“I am an old-school man and have great respect for the greatest generation,” he says. “It was a time when players did not require million-dollar contracts and lavish perks. I miss the optimism and the work ethic of those people, who were born into the Depression and who volunteered to fight in World War II.”
Already in the Sport Sculpture Park are other pieces Larsen fashioned from scrap metal, hubcaps, tractor gears, hydraulic cylinders and an assortment of other junk, including “Borzov the Sprinter,” “Arnold the Weightlifter,” “Jordan the Basketball Player,” “Nastia the Gymnast,” and the “Iron Bowl Monument.”
The sculptures can be viewed along with other works of art in the Academy’s American Sport Art Museum & Archives (ASAMA), which contains arguably the largest collection of sport art in the world. ASAMA is open free to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.