Erardi: The new Pete Rose statue could end up being the best, most iconic sports statue in America

The new Pete Rose sculpture at Great American Ball Park has a chance to become the best and most iconic sports sculpture in the country.

If my travels and eye tell me anything, the artwork could soon take its place as a destination sculpture alongside Michael Jordan's “The Spirit” outside of the United Center in Chicago, Vince Lombardi at Lambeau Field and the fictitious Rocky Balboa near the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Cincinnati Kid’s headfirst slide was dedicated, unveiled and immortalized Saturday at Great American Ball Park.

The stadium giveaway replica of the new Pete Rose statue. (Provided/Reds)

I believe that given the art and science involved, “Headfirst” -- my name for it -- will eventually ascend to occupy the same rung in sports statuary as does the player occupying the all-time hits list.

Part of the reason is the rogue Rose’s polarizing popularity and ostracization from the Baseball Hall of Fame that has kept him in the public eye for more than a quarter-century, despite his last at-bat being in 1986.

But most of the reason for the attention the sculpture is about to receive is what the sculpture represents: The native, West Side son whose signature way of playing the game is symbolized by the headfirst slide that is captured perfectly by local sculptor Tom Tsuchiya.

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The statue is built to withstand an earthquake, appears to defy gravity -- no supportive column or post in sight -- and can literally hold a Jumbo Diaz (and probably a jumbo elephant) on each ankle simultaneously, thanks to GE Aviation technology right here in the Queen City.

The four engineers whose work on the project deserves front-and-center recognition are: Tom Wallace, chief consulting engineer of systems at GE Aviation; Brent Tholke (Western Hills High School alumnus just like Rose), senior technical leader of materials at GE Aviation; Bob Dzugan (formerly of GE Aviation), casting and foam engineer, and structural engineer Doug Crawford, P.E. (GOP Limited), who signed off on all the engineering work.

Artist Tom Tsuchiya working on a plaque of Rickey Henderson. (Provided/Tom Tsuchiya)

“That was the goal -- to make it strong, safe and accessible,” Tsuchiya said.

The “foam” involved is developed for the U.S. Air Force and is not available commercially. It is located between the stainless-steel skeleton and the bronze skin of the sculpture; it keeps the metals from touching one another and keeps everything in place.

Knowing the Rose and Reds fan base as he does, Tsuchiya is aware that fans will be climbing all over Cincinnati’s main man from day one for photos. Side note: It is another native son, Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, who best described Rose’s signature move: “It’s not a slide. It’s Superman’s launch.”

“Climbing all over him” is just as Rose would have it, because if there was one thing that defined his career, it was giving fans their money’s worth, something his statue had to provide as well, figured Tsuchiya.

“Pete was born here and grew up here, and was the epitome of a ‘West Side person,’” Tsuchiya said. “He connected with the fans, was never part of the royalty, just an ‘everyday’ kind of person who went on to become a mega-superstar.”

The best way that I can think of to describe Saturday’s unveiling is to say that Cincinnati will be honoring a precept, not a person: a precept not that all men are created equal, but rather that they are created in unequal measure, which in this case is the measure of the man.

Once one gets past Rose's transgressions off the field, one can celebrate his unparalleled passion, drive and unbridled joy on it.

That exuberance is captured in Tsuchiya's 1,200-pound interpretation of the native son's headfirst slide, which was Rose’s frequent way of arriving at second and third base.

In his 24-year-career, the Hit King smacked 746 doubles, second only to Tris Speaker’s 792, and well ahead of Stan Musial’s 725 and Ty Cobb's 724. Rose’s 135 triples are 75th all-time, well behind Wahoo Sam Crawford’s 309, which is just ahead of Cobb’s 295 and Honus Wagner’s 252.

“There are no rules” when it comes to honoring somebody in bronze, Tsuchiya said, “just that it works.”

And believe me, Tsuchiya’s Rose works.

Rose’s Headfirst will be unveiled at its permanent home between Tsuchiya's interpretations of Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, just up Joe Nuxhall Way from his Johnny Bench.

John Erardi has covered baseball in Cincinnati for 30 years. He is a two-time Associated Press Ohio Sports Writer of the Year and co-author of six books on the Reds, including "Big Red Dynasty" and "Crosley Field."

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