Monday, 4 June 2007

Just Call Him "Le Saviour"

As I was reading through my emails this morning, I received an email from Tyler who had included a link to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column written by Bob Smizik. I am not a regular reader of the Post-Gazette, but knowing how the fans of the Penguins are, I should start making it one of my daily rounds. In Mr. Smizik's column, he proposes that the city of Pittsburgh, in keeping uniform with the other heroes of the city's sports teams, should erect a statue in front of the new Pittsburgh arena that is slated to be built. Mr. Smizik makes some very valid points, and certainly has a case for Mr. Lemieux's inclusion into the Pittsburgh art community. However, I'll let you decide.

In any case, here is Mr. Smizik's article in its entirety as found in the Sunday, June 3 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and is entitled "Penguins need a statue to go with that new arena".

"By most accounts, all is going well with plans for the new arena that will be home to the Penguins.

The site has been selected, buildings are being cleared, plans are being developed. ICON Venue Group, of Denver, will oversee the design and construction. World-renown HOK, of Kansas City, Mo., is involved with the architecture.

Almost everything is covered.


One more piece needs to be added to the mix.

A sculptor.

Without such an artist in place, the arena won't be complete. No sculptor, no statue.

And without a statue of Mario Lemieux in front of the building, no matter how grand the design, no matter how spectacular the finished product, Pittsburgh's new arena won't be complete.

The Penguins, of course, have more important things to worry about, such as getting the building done on time. Besides, there's a bit of an awkward situation involved. Lemieux is not only an owner of the team, but also a man whose modesty equals his hockey skills. It's understandable the team might be reluctant to talk about a statue, particularly at this point in time.

But there's no reason the subject of a statue honoring Lemieux shouldn't be on the table. It's an absolute necessity to make the building right. It should be finished and in place when the arena is finished. It shouldn't be hurried or late.

There is ample precedent in Pittsburgh.

Heinz Field has a statue of Art Rooney, the great founder of the Steelers. PNC Park has a statue of Honus Wagner, the Pirates' greatest player, at its home plate entrance, and statues of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell on the Federal Street side.

The trend has been set, not that honoring Lemieux required one.

It's not just that no one has done more for hockey in Pittsburgh or for the Penguins than Lemieux. That's a well-known fact. The only athlete who played for a Pittsburgh sports team that is remotely comparable to Lemieux is Wagner, still regarded as the greatest shortstop in baseball history, despite having a career that began more than 100 years ago.

Wagner, whose statue originally stood in Schenley Park beyond the left-field wall at Forbes Field and was moved first to Three Rivers Stadium and then to PNC Park, might have matched Lemieux's accomplishments on the field of play - he won eight batting titles - but his contributions to the franchise are not comparable.

Baseball was going to be established in Pittsburgh whether the Pirates had traded with the Louisville Colonels for Wagner (the transaction involved 15 players and $25,000) on Dec. 8, 1899, or not.

But had the Penguins not done their worst late in the 1983-84 season in order to finish last and win the draft rights to Lemieux, there is ample reason to believe the franchise would be elsewhere or out of existence today.

By the sheer magic of his play, Lemieux fostered tremendous growth in the sport both from a playing and spectator standpoint. Little more than 20 years after his rookie season, Pittsburgh amateur hockey has reached the point it is regularly developing professional players, which would have been unheard of before Lemieux. From a spectator standpoint, all it takes is a decent team to draw a capacity crowd to Mellon Arena. In the pre-Lemieux days, when the Civic Arena had a capacity of fewer than 13,000, it was as much the rule as the exception that the building would be half full or less.

Lemieux changed all that and the culture of the franchise. He turned the Penguins from perennial losers to Stanley Cup champions.

He should be honored with a statue and, inside the arena, there should be a Hall of Fame area to honor the many players and people who built the franchise and made it great.

So what will the statue in front of the new building, perhaps to be named UPMC Arena, look like?

It could be the traditional hockey pose, with Lemieux slightly bent, stick crossed in front of him and ready to play.

Better still, Lemieux in full stride, head up, puck on stick with an imaginary goalie quivering in the distance.

Either would be good, but here's our favorite: A joyous and exhausted Lemieux hoisting the Stanley Cup.

What a sight that would be for future generations of hockey fans."

I agree with Mr. Smizik's last statement. Mario Lemieux has saved hockey in Pittsburgh twice, and twice delivered the Stanley Cup. I posted a little image I came up with during the Pittsburgh arena negotiations, and I think this says it all.

If you'd like to reach Mr. Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he can be emailed at Please be respectful if you disagree with his views. People respond better to a well-reasoned argument than an angry diatribe. If you support the idea, please leave a comment here as well. I'll look to forward on all comments, pro or con, to Mr. Smizik for consideration.

In any case, Mario Lemieux has done more for hockey in Pittsburgh than anyone else. I don't think that can be denied. And I think it is a fitting tribute if he should get his image carried on in bronze. Pittsburgh hockey fans, you deserve it as well. Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice! And thanks for the email, Tyler!


Jibblescribbits said...

usually I am against a statue for anyone alive, or at least as Young as LeMieux. Mainly because they still have a chance to villify themselves. But in the case of the PEnguins, they should change thier Penguin mascot to one wearing a #66. He IS that franchise.

Teebz said...

Yeah, I agree, Jibble. You never want to honour someone who could turn out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, but in Mario's case, he has been the blood of that franchise for 20 years.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, jibblescribbits has a good point...after all, my home town has spent the last twenty years having to live down the fact that we've named a major downtown thoroughfare "Pete Rose Way" Eep.

Jibblescribbits said...

What about Mark McGuire Highway in St. Louis. Buffalo had to have an OJ Simpson way too right?

Or the Kirby Puckett stuff in MN. Remember these are athletes, not saints. They can be good at hiding their faults.

Teebz said...

Sarah - yeah, that's not a good name at all, I'd bet (sorry, I couldn't resist). :o)

Jibble - you're right, but we shouldn't villify one guy because of the actions of others. And it's not like Pittsburgh is lobbying for a statue of Barry Bonds. ;o)

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I forgot about the Mark McGwire Highway...I was working in St. Louis for a little while a couple years ago and had to drive on that every day.

Cincinnati actually found a clever way around the Pete Rose Way conundrum. When they rebuilt the expressway that goes across the riverfront, they created a new Second Street (the old Second Street was what had been renamed Pete Rose Way) and routed all the exits onto that, which downgraded Pete Rose Way in importance as a thoroughfare and meant there were no longer any Pete Rose Way exits, with accompanying signage, from the highway, as there had been previously. I thought that was pretty sneaky, but it helped save face...

A pic of the original Pete Rose Way exit here:

Anonymous said...

Mario is a hockey god.

Dear Lord Stanley said...

If they ever built a Barry Bonds statue anywhere, they'd need a detachable head so they could install periodic size upgrades as his massive cranium continues to expand.

Oh, and his statuesque feet would have to grow, too.

Steroids have funny side effects.

Jibblescribbits said...

Phoenix should build a rich Tocchet statue with a slot handle in place of a hockey stick :)

Teebz said...

Sarah/Jibble - McGwire isn't so bad. He admitted to using andro. He just can't bring himself to telling anyone that Canseco "poked him in the bum". ;o)

Gunny - you know it.

DLS - too funny.

Jibble - Phoenix should just open a betting booth at the foot of the statue. :o)