Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ernie Picasso

You know I had to stop by to visit the statue of Ernie Banks at Daley Plaza today. Banks, the beloved shortstop and first baseman of the Chicago Cubs between 1953 and 1971, died last Friday and this city is in mourning. It was announced that the statue which normally graces the Clark Street entrance of Wrigley Field, would be temporarily moved to Chicago's most important public square to honor the man known by just about everyone who cares a hoot about baseball as "Mr. Cub". There was also supposed to be some kind of ceremony honoring him but that never seemed to materialize. Instead, a few local TV crews, about two dozen folks, a friend and I, turned out at lunchtime to stand around and take pictures of each other in front of the likeness of the late ballplayer.

As we walked away, the sight of that familiar batting stance as seen through the Picasso brought something to mind. Wasn't there some connection between Ernie Banks and Picasso?

It didn't take me long to figure it out.

Way back in 1967, the massive sculpture by the great Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was unveiled to a collective groan among much of the population of the city of Chicago. On the minds of most of the city after Mayor Daley the First pulled the cord to unveil the sculpture was: "what the hell is that?" The moment was best described by none other than Mike Royko, in his column the following day*.

Anyway, the uproar against the Picasso became pretty intense and the moment before I snapped the picture above, in a flash I realized the connection. After the sculpture was unveiled, one of our fine aldermen, mortified by the new work of Modern art, introduced a resolution on the floor of the city council, recommending that the Picasso be "deported", and replaced by a statue of Ernie Banks.

"Which alderman?" my friend asked. "I think it was Vito Marzullo" was my answer. That's my standard response to questions about the goofy actions of Chicago aldermen.

It turned out the alderman in question was actually the honorable John Hoellen of the north side 47th Ward, whom if memory serves, was the last Republican ever to serve in the Chicago City Council. That makes sense since A) Marzullo the Democratic machine politician would never have been so brazen to publicly challenge the mayor who supported the sculpture, and B) representing a south side ward, Marzullo would have been much more likely to support a statue of Nellie Fox or Minnie Minoso.

Anyway, it dawned on me after that realization that the long departed alderman finally got his wish, well at least half of it. Nobody today in their wildest dreams would ever think of getting rid of the Picasso. At nearly fifty years of age, it's as much a Chicago icon as the Wrigley Building, the Art Institute Lions, and of course, Ernie Banks.

I know many of my colleagues in the art world would be aghast. but personally, I think old Pablo and Ernie make quite the pair.

The Ernie Banks statue will remain on view in Daley Plaza this week, after which it will be returned to its proper home outside the ballpark that Mr. Banks christened the Friendly Confines.

*Apropos of the passing of Ernie Banks, after reading the Royko piece on the Picasso on the link I shared, please be sure to scroll down and read his brilliant account of attending Jackie Robinson's first appearance in Wrigley Field, written the day after Robinson's death.

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