In 2009, three towering bronze sculptures were unveiled in the Center Field Plaza at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Sculpted by artist Omri Amrany, they paid tribute to three iconic figures from the history of baseball: Frank “Hondo” Howard, Josh Gibson, and Walter “The Big Train” Johnson.
Each figure stands at about eight feet tall and shows its respective player in a classic pose. Howard and Gibson, both legendary power hitters, are shown bat in hand, while Johnson—regarded as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history—is shown unleashing one of his thunderous sidearm deliveries.
So far, so good. But Amrany had taken the bold decision to present his statues with a motion blur, or what he called the “repetitive motion” of each player. The results were… interesting. Opinion was divided, especially when it came to the statue of Johnson.
From the right angle, the statue of Howard kind of works. You can see the power in his swing as his baseball bat passes through time. The Gibson statue is more surreal, with a strange motion blur seemingly flowing out behind him in a series of tattered arms.
But the Johnson statue, well, it’s bizarre. The Big Train looks like he’s in the midst of a hyperspace jump gone wrong, or like that guy from The Thing (see 1:24 in the clip, unless you’re eating right now). It’s like David Cronenberg made a baseball movie.
When the statue was unveiled, one man was particularly unimpressed. Johnson’s grandson and biographer, Henry Thomas, called it “hideous.” He said that the “big pieces of matter coming out of Walter’s shoulder look like driftwood.” He also took issue with the overall presentation: “He looks awkward. His delivery point is all wrong. His legs are too stiff. The ‘W’ on his uniform is too big.”
Safe to say, then, that Thomas was not a fan of Amrany’s work. But when it comes to the fine tradition of strange statues around the world, the statue of Walter Johnson fits right in.