May 2, 2012, 2:00 PM EDT
This has almost nothing to do with baseball, so spare me the “slow news day?” comments and just move along if you don’t like it.
There’s a story in the Arizona Republic about how people want to build a statue of Jerry Colangelo, the original owner of the Diamondbacks and previous owner of the Phoenix Suns. The problem: local business politics make it awkward:
Ken Kendrick, the team’s managing general partner, once feuded with Colangelo, who unceremoniously left the team after the 2004 season. Their relationship is much improved, and Kendrick said he’d be supportive of any plans to honor Colangelo. But he also said it “creates some awkwardness for me to participate in this discussion.”
… it would require a new mayor, Greg Stanton, to impose a statue on a [Phoenix Suns] team now owned by Robert Sarver, who has struggled to match the popularity of his predecessor.
At John McLeod’s recent Ring of Honor ceremony, Colangelo and Sarver were introduced in succession. One man received heavy applause, while the other received the opposite reaction. How amenable would Sarver be to furthering that perception with another celebration of Colangelo?
Know what? There are a bunch of statues on the Statehouse lawn here in Columbus. And there are are tons in Washington D.C. There are statues of notable people in every other city too. And there are buildings and museums and colleges and airports and bridges named after famous people all over the place.
Know what else? Until very, very recently, all that naming was done after the namesake was dead. And there was a reason for that: so no one had to worry about whether the honoree’s successors would feel uncomfortable or awkward about it like they do in Phoenix. Also, so that there can be some perspective about the honoree’s accomplishments. It was also done that way in case the honoree, after his statue was erected, decided to go on a multi-state killing spree, thereby leading to more awkwardness about what to do with the friggin’ statue now that it honors a mass murderer or something.
Now we insist on honoring people like this while they’re living for some reason. With politicians, I think it’s done to stake territory and claim some sort of political victory or to rewrite history. Ronald Reagan got the the second largest and most expensive federal building ever constructed named after him — a building which questionably meshes government and private sector functions — despite the fact that he deplored federal power and involvement in the private sector and was an enemy of government sprawl, bureaucracy and waste. But hey: it’s a trophy on some prime real estate and that’s what matters despite the fact that it’s a pretty inappropriate honor for the guy given what he represented while in power.
In the private sector I think there’s something about rich people who are afraid of death. Or who crave immortality maybe. Give them (or their friends, because most people don’t spearhead these things for themselves) a statue or a park or whatever now so that they may bask in the glory and the honor now, while they still can. Which, hey, understandable.
But it doesn’t seem to me that that’s what such honors should be about. They should be about history and lessons for the future and inspiration to others, which are decidedly outward looking, not inward looking, and thus the honoree’s current status — dead or alive — should be irrelevant.
Maybe it’s not the most important thing in the world, but I think of all of this as just one of many ways in which an old civic culture we once had in this country is disappearing. I’ll spare you all of my other examples because they have even less to do about baseball than this thing. But for now: we used to put up statues of dead people. Now we put up statues of living people. And that just seems wrong to me.
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