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.

Rich Hanson, TTM Wizardry Since 1988

There’s no teacher like a veteran through-the-mail collector. I asked Rich Hanson a few questions, hoping his TTM adventures would help save some stamps and frustration for other hobbyists.

Q: How long have you been collecting by mail?

A: I’ve been collecting through the mail since 1988, when my 7-year-old son Dylan suggested while watching the All-Star game that we send some of our duplicate cards to players to try to get them autographed. The first player we ever got back was Steve “Psycho” Lyons.

Q: While you don’t ask questions with every autograph request, you’ve occasionally struck gold by asking. Tell about Gene Baker and players with Civil War-era relatives.

A: I really thought Gene Baker’s answer (he hadn’t appeared at a card show because no one had asked) was sad. He was an integral part of black baseball history; along with Ernie Banks being one of the first two blacks to play for the Cubs. Yet he was so overshadowed by Banks that he was forgotten by local card show promoters who’d bring Cubs in from Chicago, rather than give Baker, a Quad Cities native, the chance to share his history.

Adam Rankin Johnson confirmed his relationship to CSA General “Stovepipe” Johnson, and Jim Lytle confirmed that he was distantly related to the Union General William Haines Lytle, an accomplished poet as well as a warrior, who died during the Battle of Chickamauga.

Q: Sometimes you’ve taken pictures of players, later offering them a copy by mail while asking them to sign a duplicate for you. Or, you’re created a double-sided laminated 8-by-10 featuring articles about that player. Have you gotten special replies from the extra effort you’ve shown?

A: I had some interesting correspondence with agent Scott Boras, when I sent him his 1977 St. Petersburg card to get signed. He didn’t realize that he was on a baseball card. I ended up with a signed business card and letter as well from him. I was able to find another card from that set of him and was able to provide him with a card as well.

When Alex Rodriguez played his first professional ballgame, it was in the Quad Cities. One of the Quad City papers ran a picture of him jumping up to avoid someone sliding into second base. With both arms outstretched and being up in the air, it looked like he was flying. I laminated the photo and asked him to sign it when he came to Burlington. He was so impressed with it, he asked if he could take it into the dugout and show his teammates. When he came out, he signed the picture, a cover of Baseball America and three cards for me. Beautiful signatures.

Often, I’ll have players ask if they can have the newspaper photo that I’ve laminated and mounted on construction paper. I’ll grit my teeth sometimes in disappointment, but I always give it to them if they ask.

Tomorrow, learn more about Hanson’s minor league successes. Best of all, he shares some of his top hobby tips from “The Family Section.”

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