Friday, April 17, 2009

Gretna Statue Honors Mel Ott

I know this report is quite late for the old blog, but that's how it goes sometimes. The following is based on my article in the April Renaissance, the newsletter of Salem Lutheran Church.

On March 7, 2009, the City of Gretna honored Mel Ott , Gretna’s most famous hometown hero, by unveiling a life-size statue at 4th Street and Huey P. Long Avenue.

Mel Ott was a member of Salem, and his 1909 baptism is recorded in our oldest book of records. He was also well-known by several current members of Salem. He went directly into the major leagues at the age of 16, playing for the New York Giants for 22 seasons until retirement in 1947. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951 having compiled a lifetime batting average of .304 and hitting 511 home runs.

In spite of his extraordinary accomplishments, he remained a “Gentle Giant” according to Dr. Alfred Martin of New Jersey, Mel Ott’s biographer, who was the main speaker at the statue unveiling. According to all who knew him, he remained a genuinely humble Christian gentleman until his untimely death in a New Orleans traffic accident in 1958.

The weather was beautiful for the unveiling ceremony that featured major league baseball luminaries and Gretna officials, a bugler, a color guard, and even a singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” amid red, white, and blue bunting. The event was attended by people from all over the United States, and many members of Salem were on hand. I was honored to give the invocation:

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Lord God, Heavenly Father, we give thanks to you for the gift of Mel Ott. For You are the Creator of all men, and You are the source of all we have and are, in body and soul and all things.

You give us the gift of athletic competition, which not only provides us with joy, but also serves to remind us to discipline ourselves bodily so that we might strive for physical health and excellence in all things. Your servant Mel was not only such an example of athletic prowess to the people of Gretna and people around the country and the world, but he also served as a model of sportsmanship, humility, and gentleness as he was called to do as a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We ask that this monument may be a blessed reminder of Mel Ott, to us and to future citizens of Gretna, who affectionately remember him as an athlete and as a gentleman. We pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom You live and reign with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The statue is the work of nationally-known sculptor William Binnings, and is right in front of the railroad car at the Gretna Visitor’s Center three blocks from Salem’s 4th Street entrance.

It is a beautiful tribute not only to a great athlete, but a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ who learned the faith from Pastor Eugene Schmid and from his brothers and sisters in Christ at Salem Lutheran Church.

For more photos, click here. For the story in the Times-Picayune, click here. For the City of Gretna's article, click here. And for some archival footage of Mel Ott, click here.

And here is the location according to Google Maps, before the statue...

View Larger Map


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ott was one of the players I enjoyed reading about most when I was a kid - hadn't realized he's Lutheran. Where's he buried at?

Father Hollywood said...

According to (a really cool website) he's buried at the famous Metairie Cemetery (Metairie is a suburb just west of New Orleans). I have never been there, but I understand it is a great tour with really interesting tombs and a ton of historical figures and celebrities.