- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

MARCUS HOOK, Pa.

Hurricane Mickey blew through town over the weekend, bringing only joy and satisfaction to one of baseball’s best first basemen ever and his legion of friends.

His name is Mickey Vernon, and he should have had his mug in Cooperstown a long time ago. But even that honor might not top the homage paid him by his hometown of Marcus Hook, a largely industrialized borough of 2,300 souls near Chester in Eastern Pennsylvania.

In the little town park Saturday afternoon, they unveiled a gorgeous, life-sized statue of a man who played in the major leagues from 1939 to 1960, mostly with the original Washington Senators, hit .286 lifetime and won American League batting championships in 1946 (.353) and 1953 (.337). In addition, Vernon was the classiest fielding first baseman of his era and remains one of the globe’s nicest and most modest guys.



The statue, done in bronze by artist/sculptor Ray Daub, shows Vernon finishing one of the level left-handed swings that produced 2,495 hits in the big leagues. As Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas noted during the ceremonies, “Ten of the 18 first basemen in the Hall of Fame don’t have as many hits as Mickey. Without question, he belongs.”

An interested onlooker was Pete Dandolos, a University of Delaware junior who was Daub’s live model (along with pictures of Vernon) after the artist advertised for people willing to pose for assorted projects.

“When I went to see Mr. Daub, he said I was just the right size for a baseball statue he was going to do,” Dandolos said. “I made 10 visits to his studio of about three hours each. It was hard posing — I had to learn great patience — but the finished project more than makes up for any discomfort.”

Just in case the statue, numerous governmental citations and the love of his neighbors weren’t enough, Marcus Hook also renamed the ballfield next door Mickey Vernon Park. The scene at the park was pure small-town Americana: red, white and blue bunting and flags flapping everywhere, a Dixieland combo blaring old tunes, Kalas leading the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and the spectators scarfing free hot dogs and Cokes. Norman Rockwell would have loved it.

Fittingly, Vernon was being honored a block from the house where he grew up and a few yards from the field where he played with Marcus Hook’s American Legion team in the early 1930s. Mayor George McClure described Vernon as “a loyal Hooker,” though Mickey has lived in nearby Wallingford for nearly a half-century. That’s what folks from Marcus Hook are called, and no snide remarks, please.

Wallingford got in on the party a couple of hours earlier with a luncheon at the Spring Haven Club before a capacity audience of 230. Ex-pitcher Sid Hudson, Vernon’s longtime Senators teammate and his pitching coach when Mickey managed the expansion Washington club, came all the way from Waco, Texas, along with wife Marion. Also present and accounted for were relatives of George Case, Danny Murtaugh and Larry Doby — deceased Vernon teammates and friends.

U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, himself “a loyal Hooker,” did a splendid job of explaining what Vernon stands for — and why the big hometown fuss 43 years after Mickey played his last game.

“Mickey proves you can be anything you want to be,” the congressman said. “He represents not just the best in Marcus Hook but the best in America. He has fulfilled the American dream of doing your job well with dignity and pride.”

Then Weldon offered a personal tribute from the first citizen of Washington and the nation: “President Bush said his dad was a first baseman, too [at Yale], and liked to think he was as good as Mickey Vernon, but he realized there was no way.”

Finally, after all the compliments and gifts, they unveiled the statue and let Vernon say a few words from the heart. He is 85 now and surprisingly spry despite a few recent health issues. But none of us is going to be around forever, and what more could anyone desire than to know he will be remembered and loved by those closest to him?

“I’m so grateful … deeply moved … overwhelmed,” Mickey said. “The people in Marcus Hook kept this a secret for a long time, and when they told me, they wouldn’t let me talk them out of it. Baseball has given me so much. It has allowed me to see the country, experience new things and, best of all, make so many wonderful friends.”

A short time later, as Vernon, his wife, Lib, and their family accepted congratulations and posed for pictures in front of the statue, a man asked if he was glad his fellow Hookers hadn’t let him talk them out of it.

“I am now,” Mickey said. “I never thought it would be anything like this. You know, when I played in Washington, all the statues around town showed men on horseback …”

Now that Vernon has been properly hailed in his hometown, Cooperstown should take the hint. Never mind letting in Pete Rose — it’s time, way past time, to open the doors for a wonderful ballplayer and man who probably never bet on a sports event in his life. Note to members of the Hall of Fame’s expanded Veterans Committee: wake up, rise off your rumps and do your duty on behalf of Mickey Vernon and the game itself.

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