Descendants of Washington Senators Hall of Famer Walter “The Big Train” Johnson and celebrated Washington Post sports journalist Shirley Povich came together Nov. 6 to celebrate the dedication of the sculpture “Shirley and Walter,” commemorating the two men, at Shirley Povich Field in Rockville.
“Shirley Povich was the greatest sports journalist — certainly in the Washington, D.C., area — and really one of the most notable of the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s,” said Bethesda Community Base Ball Club Founder Bruce Adams. “A great civil rights advocate, he pushed Washington to integrate its baseball and football teams.”
“It has been a five-year dream and a two-year project,” Adams said of the bronze sculpture. “To see it all come together — it was very satisfying.”
Sixteen members of the Povich family attended the dedication alongside several Johnson family members.
The Povich family has been involved with Povich Field since work began on it in 1998. “We, the Povich family including my mother, were there when the first spade went into the ground,” Shirley Povich’s son, TV personality Maury Povich, wrote in an email. “Dad would be so proud of it.”
Shirley Povich spoke highly of Johnson, not only commending his prowess as a pitcher, but also “his modesty, humility, and humanity while surrounded by a game that in his era was the playing field of roughnecks.”
The sculpture shows the two men seated side by side, in conversation.
Johnson’s playing career ended in 1927, and he is still considered one of the best pitchers to ever play in Major League Baseball. Johnson later served two terms as Montgomery County’s commissioner. The home team of Shirley Povich Field is Bethesda Big Train, a collegiate summer team, named after Johnson (himself a Bethesda resident from 1925-1936).
Sculptor Antonio Tobias “Toby” Mendez worked closely with Maury Povich to ensure his father’s likeness was preserved in bronze. “He allowed me to watch along the way making sure he presented the man correctly. And he sure did, down to Dad’s wingtip shoes,” Maury Povich wrote.
Mendez, based in Knoxville, Md., created the Thurgood Marshall Memorial in Annapolis and sculptures of baseball legends at Camden Yards and Fenway Park.
“I thought it was very moving to see both the Johnson and Povich families all together,” said Mendez. “It was moving to hear Maury talk about his father and [Hank Thomas] talk about his grandfather, [Johnson], and how they related to one another.”
Shirley Povich was known for his outspokenness, criticizing segregation in sports leagues. Sports, civil rights and social justice are also prominent themes in Mendez’s work. He said, “I felt that this sculpture brings those worlds together.”