Update on the Dickie Kerr Statue

8/20/1966: Stan Musial at the Dickie Kerr Statue dedication in the Astrodome in Houston.

8/20/1966: Stan Musial at the Dickie Kerr Statue dedication in the Astrodome.

Update on the Dickie Kerr Statue

The Pecan Park Eagle does not really possess any breaking news on the immediate or long-term future public display of the Dickie Kerr statue except to underscore for all concerned that we are but one post of active interest in Houston as to the future handling of this publicly underwritten, magnificently artful tribute to one of the good guys in baseball who made Houston the home for his heart in his later years – the late Richard “Dickie” Henry Kerr.

So, who was Dickie Kerr? And why was he so special to Houstonians that many private citizens would rally to the idea of paying for a statue in his honor – one that would be placed on display for the ages in the Astrodome? Well, those two questions in themselves are enough to raise countless other questions about what has happened to the statue since August 20, 1966, the date the statue was installed in place at the Astrodome.

Dickie Kerr was a 5’7″, 155 lb. left handed throwing and batting MLB pitcher (1919-21, 1925) for the Chicago White Sox. Born In St. Louis on July 3, 1893, he compiled a career big league record of 53 wins, 34 losses, and an E.R.A. OF 3.84.  Dickie Kerr died on May 4, 1963 in Houston, Texas – just two months shy of his 70th birthday. He is buried in Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery in Houston.

Kerr was 13-7 with a 2.88 E.R.A. during his 1919 rookie season. He also went out to the mound and registered two complete game victories over the Reds in the 1919 World Series, but the White Sox lost the best of nine game series, 5 games to 3, and it was later determined that eight of Kerr’s teammates were suspected of throwing the games that Chicago lost. They were found innocent in a court of law, but their tainted reputations, and the widely held suspicion that they “got off” due to the mysterious disappearance of critical evidence led Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to ban them from organized baseball for life after the 1920 season.

Kerr became the “good guy” in the midst of all the “bad guys”. He also won 20 games in 1920 and another 19 in 1921. Then he made the mistake in the deep days of the old reserve clause by holding out for more money than the penurious White Sox club owner Charles Comiskey wanted to pay him in 1922. Comiskey wanted Kerr to take a $500 pay cut for 1922.

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Amended, Post-Original Publication: Dickie decided to sit out the 1922 season. During that year, he decided to spend some of the time playing “semi-pro” or, as Baseball Commissioner Landis called – ‘outlaw ball’ – because it was the type of ball that was not answerable to his authority, even accepting the banned eight “Black Sox” as players. And Kerr apparently came into competitive contact with the “eight men out” in the games he played. As a result, Commissioner temporarily banned Kerr from returning to the White Sox in 1923-24 for “associating with known gamblers”, but his punishment was lifted in time for his return to the White Sox in 1925. We are sure the information is out there, but we simply do not have the name of the Texas  semi-pro team that Kerr supposedly played for in 1922 – an action that dunked him in hot water with Commissioner Landis.. – Our apologies for the original misstatement that Kerr was banned for 1922. He simply stayed out in preference to accepting Comiskey’s pay cut. It was playing in the competitive company of the permanently banned “Black Sox” that gave Landis a basis for keeping Kerr out of the big leagues until 1925.

– The Pecan Park Eagle Press

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Kerr finally tried a comeback with the White Sox in 1925 after serving a three-year ban from play, but he had lost his stuff. After 12 games and 36.2 innings pitched and an 0-1 record, Kerr was finished as a big league pitcher. He hung around the minors for a couple of years – and even pitched a handful of minor league junk innings as a manager in 1937, but he was done as a player.

As the baseball coach for Rice Institute (University) in 1927, Kerr began to put down roots in Houston. He took up residence here with his wife in later years and was an active member of the baseball community on several fronts as he also continued in professional baseball as a manager and coach in the St. Louis Cardinal system.  As the manager for Stan Musial at Daytona Beach in 1940, Kerr and his wife, who still lived in that Florida community at that time, took Musial and his family under their own roof as family.

August 20, 1966. Stan “The Man” Musial, who also bought a house in Houston for Mr. and Mrs. Dickie Kerr in 1958, was on hand for the dedication of a statue in Kerr’s honor at the Astrodome for a much more personal reason. Kerr was the minor league manager who took a young Musial under his wing, like a son, and converted him from sore arm pitcher to future Hall of Fame hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals as an outfielder/first baseman.

According to a UPI report (Cedar Rapids Gazette, 8/22/66. Page 44), 45,000 fans were on hand that 8/20/66 day to sing Auld Lang Syne in Kerr’s honor – and also to hear Musial describe Kerr as the man who meant the most to his life and career. The same report also notes that the bronze, life-size, full-bodied sculpture of Dickie Kerr was paid for with donations raised by fans. There seems to be little question that the statue dedication not only highlighted the power of their relationship and the generosity of Musial, but also the charitable contributions of Dickie Kerr to his adopted home town of Houston.

The statue came to be, but, like so many contributions of this type, the euphoria of an action that is intended to be forever is more circumscribed with the cachet of a freshly plucked and presented red rose. There apparently was no written plan for the statue’s management over time. And life being what it is, things change. And the bloom and aroma of a beautiful rose will fade within a couple of literal or figurative dawns.

The Kerr Statue has remained in the hands of good baseball people over the years and, if it were not for Rodney Finger, the Finger Family, and curator Tom Kennedy, the Dickie Kerr statue might have been melted down for other uses by now.

After remaining on display for several years at the Astrodome, the Kerr statue moved to the former Houston Sports Museum operated by Finger Furniture at their now closed store on the site of the former ballpark once known as Buffalo/Busch Stadium. The circumstances and timing of that move of the statue from the Astrodome to the Finger Furniture’s Houston Sports Museum are now lost to any easily discoverable written records or the memories of anyone we know. All we reasonably know is that the moving of the statue from its original site to the Houston Sports Museum happened quite a bit sooner than the Astros’ move downtown.

With the closing of the museum, the Finger family governing interests, working with their long-time curator, Tom Kennedy, arranged with the Sugar Land Skeeters for the statue to be on display at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, where it remained in public view during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

A plan for the future disposition and display of the Kerr statue should be forthcoming soon. That’s all we know for now. What we hope comes out with the new plan is some kind of written statement too that clarifies the statue’s legal ownership and the plan for conservatorship that will protect – forever – the public honor to Dickie Kerr that this statue was intended to convey long beyond the time that any of us now here are still around to remember who he was – and let it also be a statement intended for the protection of those citizens of Houston who decided back in 1966 to memorialize his life in this manner by picking up the tab for its creation – because they thought from the start that they were supporting an honor for Dickie Kerr that would be protected for the education of the generations to come.

 

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3 Responses to “Update on the Dickie Kerr Statue”

  1. Mark W. Says:

    Thanks for an excellent column, Bill.

  2. Ira Liebman Says:

    What team was this?
    Kerr signed to play for a semi-pro team in Texas instead of playing for the White Sox in 1922

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Ira – I wasn’t able to find out, finding only general references like “outlaw league” ball and “semi-pro team in Texas” along the way. Your question, however, did serve a useful end. I picked up on an error I made in my original presentation of the sequence that transpired before Kerr was “banned” and have now rewritten that section as a declared amendment to the original column. Thank you for showing up in time to help me save the article from distraction away from its purpose – examining the history and future of the Dickie Kerr statue. Regards, Bill.

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