• Video Below: The Bob Gibson Heritage Project
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The rope was untied and the statuette was unveiled.
And everyone ducked.
Not really. But just wait until the life-size statue of Bob Gibson is finished and set outside Werner Park. The statue is a model of Gibson following through after a pitch, his eyes straight ahead. It oozes determination. Mixed with intimidation.
When you see it, you'll consider backing off the plate.
Tuesday was a great day for Omaha sports. The Sarpy County Sports Commission announced the Bob Gibson Heritage Project. The goal is to build a plaza just outside the main gates of Werner Park and recognize all Nebraskans who played professional baseball.
The centerpiece to the plaza will be the statue of Gibson, Nebraska's greatest baseball player.
It's about time. This is long overdue.
Omaha has done some amazing things in sports lately. Shiny new stadiums and arenas have been built. Big-time events keep showing up. We're booming as a sports town.
But Omaha was an amazing sports town a long time ago. Gibson. Bob Boozer. Gale Sayers. Marlin Briscoe. Johnny Rodgers. Eric Crouch. Ahman Green.
The list goes on. The point is, this area has been a cradle of greatness for decades. What we don't do a great job of is advertising it. Too often we take that heritage for granted.
The recent passing of Boozer brought that flaw to light. There was nothing but a simple street sign in west Omaha to say that one of the NBA's greats, an Olympic gold medalist on one of the all-time teams, grew up here.
What do we have to show the world that heritage? What do we have to show a young generation of Omahans?
The Gibson project is a terrific start. I've been around to a lot of cities, seen a lot of statues and tributes and displays. Very few of them have a Bob Gibson. You get a Bob Gibson from your town, you better have a statue of him.
Gibson was a world-class athlete, a Harlem Globetrotter, a guy who could have played in the NBA. Instead, he became a transcendent pitcher who set standards on the biggest stages and changed the way the game was played. The year after his 1.12 ERA in 1968, baseball lowered the pitcher's mound.
It might be hard for today's generation to understand his clout, his presence. Take the best pitcher in baseball today, last year, next year. Gibson was better.
“We used to go watch (Omaha) Cardinals baseball down on 13th Street,” said Bob Batt, president of the Sarpy County Sports Commission. “When you're 10 years old, he's larger than life.
“You should always remember your heritage, and your sports heritage. And these guys, by the way, didn't play for all the money they do today. I knew Bob Boozer all my life. I knew Gale Sayers early on. They were legends from here.”
Gibson was an icon to some for other reasons. He came out of north Omaha, at a time when Jackie Robinson and others were still fighting the color barrier, a time when African-American players weren't welcome in all corners of baseball. Of America.
For Littleton Alston, the sculptor of the Gibson project and an associate professor at Creighton University, the statue represents more than baseball.
“As an African-American, he's a powerful figure for me,” Alston said. “It's just like if I were to do a statue of Jackie Robinson. He (Gibson) is no different in that way. Think about when he started. Think about the challenges he would have to face just to play. Even we tend to forget about that.”
We tend to forget about Gibson, but Gibson has something to do with that, too. He's not a public figure, never has been. He can be, um, difficult at times. People hold that persona against him.
Gibson wasn't at Werner Park on Tuesday. His wife, Wendy, and son Christopher represented him. That may have looked awkward. But the Sarpy folks are looking for donations for this project (www.bobgibsonproject.org). Warren Buffett and Clarence Werner already lead donations.
The word was that Gibson appreciates the project, but didn't want to give the impression that he's asking for help for his own statue. That makes sense. That wouldn't be Gibson.
“It means a lot to him, absolutely,” Christopher said. “All of these people coming here, donating their time, their money, for the heritage of baseball and Omaha.”
Christopher is 27. He knows the Gibson legend. But how many his age know who his father was? They don't have his front-row seat.
“Joe Torre, Bill White, Lou Brock, some of the people who have been over to the house over the years,” Christopher said. “There's a lot of stories, and it's not second hand, it's the people who were in the stories. Very cool experiences.”
These would be cool experiences for Omaha fans, too. It would be nice to see Gibson out more. He did a golf tourney years ago and it was well-received. Gibson has always given as much of himself as he wanted, and you feel thankful for what you get.
Soon, one way or another, he'll be hanging out at Werner Park. Our larger-than-life baseball legend, finally, larger than life.
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