Baseball Sculptor Lou Cella Reveals His Game Plan For Ernie Banks Wrigley Field Statue

Mr. Cub at the 2008
Wrigley Field unveiling.
(Photo courtesy Lou Cella)

 Baseball has a Lone Ranger. Maybe a whole team of hard-to-spot superheroes!

I remember the masked man who saves the day and rides away quickly, while us grateful townsfolk mutter, “We didn’t have time to thank him.”

Fast-forward to sculptor Lou Cella. Outside ballparks, he’s creating great baseball bronze artworks. He works with The Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany, often teaming with fellow artistic talents like Oscar Leon. Just when it’s time to take bows, the sculptors are off to the next opportunity to three-dimensionalize baseball’s past.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to attempt to thank these creators this week.

I received a wondrous letter from Cella. I wrote to him to praise his understanding and appreciation of baseball. He began by explaining his vision for the Ernie Banks statue, writing:

“While working on any ball player, I am always trying to focus on a particular period in their career. I am usually narrowing this down to a specific year, and, on occasion, an exact date.

Case in point: The Cubs wanted to depict Ernie Banks as he looked in one of his MVP years (1958 or 1959). The uniform changed a bit in 1959 to what it more traditionally looks like today. The Cubs also asked to have Ernie shown smiling at bat. This is not normal, of course, but as much of a purist as I am when it comes to baseball, I still consider capturing the essence and personality of the person a critical part of the total presentation. This is, after all, a piece of art, and certain ‘licenses’ are going to be taken.

Ernie loved the game was always seen as a man who was having fun playing the game. He comes across as a happy man all the time. Therefore, I was very pleased that the Cubs wanted to go this route. Would Ernie be smiling at bat? No, of course not. But it still works. I think it works better than if we had been strictly realistic. I would never have considered this with Carlton Fisk or Ty Cobb. So you consider the pose and the person as you do this.

Another element I added to the history of this piece is exactly when the moment in time was. Upon telling a close friend of mine, Gary Colobuono, what I was doing he became very excited and told me this story.

August 29, 1959 was the first time Gary went to a baseball game. His father brought Gary and his brother to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs take on the greatest left-handed pitcher ever, Warren Spahn (respects to Koufax) and the Milwaukee Braves. At a certain point, the Cubs were losing, 2-0, with two runners on base. With Ernie Banks on deck, Spahn walked the bases full. So, on August 29, 1959, with Warren Spahn on the mound, the Cubs down by two, the bases loaded, and Gary Colobuono in the stands with his Dad, Ernie Banks hit a Grand Slam.

When Gary told me this story, I immediately decided that any time I was asked when this statue was supposed to be taking place, it would be right before Ernie hit that Grand Slam off Warren Spahn. That is one example of my understanding of baseball. A father, a son, and for them, a moment that will live forever.”

Enjoy this 2009 feature detailing Cella’s college days and his Illinois connections.

(Thanks to for the Banks grand slam report.)

Coming Wednesday: Sculptor Cella’s views on collectibles.

Autograph Collectors: Time To Give Thanks

Don’t be that turkey. Thank
those who help your hobby!

1. The Guy Who Signed Your Autograph

2. The Collectors Who Helped You Learn The Hobby

3. The people who still love you, despite your craziness for baseball.
They give you stamps, paper, ink, time, patience, forgiveness, etc.

We have a lot to be thankful for.

“Yeah, I know.”

Trouble is, they may not know. Tell them! Remind them.

Put the THANKS in thanksgiving.

P.S. – Thank you, Diana.

Coming Tuesday: Insights from Lou Cella, baseball sculptor!

Meet Japan’s Kohei Nirengi, Leading The Way For Major League Fans, Autograph Collectors

“I met with Mr. Bob Wolff and his wife, Mrs. Jean, in New York City in March, 2009, it was my second trip to the U.S. This HOF broadcaster invited me out to lunch as his first fan from Japan. I never forget that he brought my air mails and letters to him at that time. He was a first person who wanted me to become friend in baseball. I had a great time with both. He also hired a Japanese interpreter for me ! My hobby has brought many happiness to me.”
(Photo and words courtesy of Kohei Nirengi)

Some baseball fans collect autographs. Kohei Nirengi collects friendships.

I met Kohei (pronounced CO-hey) after an August e-mail. As a pen pal with former Cub Bob Will, he learned of this blog.

Instantly, I was impressed by the knowledge and passion of this fan from Japan. He was focusing his collection on retired players. Except, he was corresponding with them! It seemed like baseball families were adopting him.

Small wonder. He wrote thorough, insightful letters. He asked great questions. Retirees knew who he was, why he loved baseball and why he wanted THEIR autograph. Then, he’d send thank-you notes, even portraits that this talented artist created out of gratitude.

Kohei is TRI-lingual. He speaks and writes his native Japanese, English and baseball.

Q:. When did you first start collecting Major League autographs by mail? Who was your first?

A: I started it in October, 2004. Bobby Valentine, since he managed the Chiba Lotte Marines at that time. I thought it would be easy for me to get his autograph by domestic mail than by air mail after he would come back to the US.

Q: How did you learn about finding retired player addresses, SASEs and U.S. stamps? How common is it in Japan to collect Japanese player autographs by mail?

A: It was easy to find some good TTM websites by Japanese serious collectors on-line when I decided to start. So I could realize that I would find former player addresses, if I could purchase Harvey Meiselman’s baseball address lists. Much of Japanese collectors wrote about SASE on their websites, too, so that it was easily understand that I should enclose such a thing with my fan letter. U.S. stamps were very difficult to get early in my challenging, so I had to buy many expensive U.S. commemorative stamps via our Yahoo! auction. Then I found a Japanese trader who lives in the West Coast on-line, and I could buy many U.S. stamps from him, but, of course, I had to pay allowance to him. Nowadays I buy them as I have a chance to visit the U.S. This is the best way!

Well, needless to say, you must enclose SASEs with your letters to Japanese players by mail. Also I’m sure the most important thing is to send your passion for baseball and each players with your requests.

Q: Who offered the first response of something more than signing your card? Can you share an example or two of people responding with a letter or extra autographed items, wanting to befriend a fan from another country?

A: Phil Niekro offered his autographed HOF card of himself. Gary Kroll, former pitcher with the Mets, was very kind to offer very nice photos in baseball to me, and told me about a slugfest between the Cubs and Phils at the Wrigley Field. Dwight ” Red” Adams and George Elder responded with my questions by mail. George Green, former outfielder in the Negro Leagues had befriended me, I really appreciated his help to better understand their history.

Q: What percentage retirees (versus current players) do you write to? Why do you have a special interest in FORMER players, being such a young fan?

A: The percentage of retirees to current players on my requests is 90 to 10. Because I just respect the history of this greatest game of baseball, so I want to send my gratitude for each former player. Also I would love to investigate each story in baseball by themselves, all of them would be worth sharing.

Q: What is a typical letter like that you write? How often do you ask questions? What items do you ask to have signed — if any?

A: ” I believe that baseball is the most beautiful game all around the world.” This is my typical note to write on each of my requests, I really mean it. To be honest, I rarely asked questions on my letters until I found your awesome blog about not only collections but also such questions by letters. Then I try to ask a few questions to them often. In my case, I’ve enclosed each baseball card or original Index card which I made by myself to get their autographs by mail.

Q: Do any autograph signers note that they’re surprised that a fan from another country could know so much about American baseball? And how do you keep so well informed about baseball, past and present?

A: Yeah, in fact, few former players from the 1940’s, like Red Borom and Cy Buker, noted they pretty impressed on my knowledge of American baseball. Needless to say, I’m very honored. Well, it was very difficult to keep up with the updated news about MLB here in Japan before Hideo Nomo broke into the Big Leagues with the Dodgers in 1995, and then a couple of monthly MLB magazines in Japanese have published, although, one of them had to stop the publication four years ago. Anyhow, I can get much information about American baseball, past and present, by them. Also I could find many old baseball books in an used-book store in Tokyo. Nowadays I’m blessed to have the Internet to get many updates across the Pacific Ocean. Amazing!

Q: How difficult is it to get American baseball cards — past and present — to get signed?

A: I think it is easy for any Japanese MLB fans to get current American baseball cards on-line. We have some sports’ cards shops over here, they handle not only Japanese sports’ cards, but MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL. Also if you can get into an auction site like Yahoo!, probably you could get past American baseball cards, but it would be expensive often. Our shops or such auction website also handle so many signed baseball cards, so you can get them here in my country.

Q: You mentioned that your parents are fans of Hideki Matsui. Have you had success writing to Japanese major leaguers here in America? Have you written to them in Japanese? I think every collector would love an Ichiro autograph.

A: Yes, fortunately, I could succeed in getting Hiroki Kuroda, Masumi Kuwata, and Koji Uehara, not many, but I love these autographs ! Yes, of course, I’ve written to them in Japanese. I’ve tried to get Ichiro’s autograph in the mail, but failed, however I’ve seen that one of major Japanese collector got one from this future HOFer by mail ! Many collector would envy his success-haha.

Q. You are a special fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. Why? How are the Phils a specialty in your collection? Who are some of your favorite signatures?

A: Since I did enjoy the 1993 World Series between the Phillies and Blue Jays, this series were my 1st televised MLB games in my life. As far as my collection, the Phils are not special, I’ve treated all responses alike.

Q: Phillies or not, who are some favorite autographs of yours?

A: I venture to pick some of my favorite signatures: Virgil “Fire” Trucks, Curt Simmons, Roy Sievers, Greg Luzinski, and Harmon Killebrew.

Q: What hobby goals do you have?

A: I just want to keep sending my requests to the U.S. along with my appreciation for this greatest game as long as I am able.

Q:. What advice do you have for other collectors?

A: Well, I would make conventional remarks, ” patience” is the most important thing to keep doing this hobby, for instance, I had had to await for getting a response by Vin Scully for 6 years! By the way, Japanese baseball fans enjoy collecting autographs via TTM. That’s good for baseball, also hope that more baseball fans in our both countries just enjoy this wonderful hobby in the future.

Thank you, Kohei. And, thanks for reminding us that, no matter who we are, or where we are, baseball is a universal language.

Dick Adams Managed Joe DiMaggio!

If World War II wasn’t incredible enough…

Dick Adams, known as a first sacker with the 1947 Philadelphia Athletics, managed his Army base team. One fellow soldier was none other than Joe DiMaggio.

Adams remembered:

“Yes, I managed Joe DiMaggio in the Army, then played against him in 1947. I was with the Phila A’s. He was with the Yankees.

He was a very quiet person. Didn’t stay on the Base any longer than he had to. Went to Hollywood a lot. He always had gas tickets and tires.”

[The government rationed both in World War II.]

“His baseball skills were VERY GOOD (like always).”

Speaking of Hollywood, Adams has lived a movie-like existence.

First, he lived the major league dream with brother Bobby Adams. Did they talk about playing pro baseball as kids?

“About my brother and me: we went to a tryout camp in Berkeley, Calif. during Easter vacation, 1939. We slept in the car at night, ’cause we never had any $ for hotel rooms, and then we got a $200 bonus for signing (each of us $200).

We thought we were rich. That’s when we talked about playing in the Major Leagues. He had a much longer career in the ‘show’ (14 years) and ended up with the Cubs.

Baseball today is not like it was in my time! Too much $ nowadays. No team play. All ‘me, me, me’ for $ and long-term contracts.”

Although he’s been gone from the diamond for decades, Adams never left the keyboard. A professional pianist beginning at age 13, he keeps sharing his musical gifts today.

“I just returned from playing a luncheon for old, bold pilots — all WWII pilots. Even several German pilots who have become citizens of USA. Quite a nice occasion. By the way, I had four gigs this past week. I still play piano. Big Band music. WWII stuff.”

To learn more of Adams in World War II (and his life after baseball) check out the always-fine “Baseball In Wartime.”

Coming Friday: Fan and collector Kohei Nirengi, championing America’s Pastime in Japan.



Write To Every Charlie Lea NOW

The website
had this and lots of Leas for $20.40 each.
Through October, he was an easy
sig for two stamps.

Former pitcher Charlie Lea, a Memphis Rebirds broadcaster since 2002, died last week of a heart attack at age 54.

Lea pitched a 1981 no-hitter for the Montreal Expos. He started and won the 1984 All-Star Game.

According to, the results board logged 119 successes in 134 attempts for Lea. He was signing 88 percent of the time.

When I first began collecting autographs by mail during the Stone Age, veteran collectors suggested I get the old-timers first.

That game plan doesn’t always work. Write to your favorites NOW, no matter what the age.

Coming Thursday: Dick Adams, a member of the 1947 Philadelphia Athletics, remembers the team he managed in the Army and a guy named Joe DiMaggio.

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