New Jackie Robinson statue is almost finished after thieves in Kansas cut original bronze figure down and burned it

A statue of Jackie Robinson that was cut at the ankles from a park in Wichita, Kansas, is almost finished.

In January, thieves stole the original statue and burned it. Firefighters discovered the burned remains in a trash can in another park.

But Alex Haines, a Colorado metalsmith who built the original statue, says the replacement is almost complete.

“A lot of sculptures are coming here,” Haines said at the Art Castings studio in Loveland, Colorado, where the original statue was cast.

‘Some are a little more important than others. And this is certainly one of them.’

All that remained of the old statue were Robinson’s cleats, which stood outside McAdams Park in Wichita. About 600 children play there in a youth baseball league called League 42.

The remaining ankles of a statue of Jackie Robinson outside a park in Wichita, Kansas in January

The replacement for that statue is almost ready and will take the same shape as the original

The replacement for that statue is almost ready and will take the same shape as the original

It is named after Robinson’s jersey number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the Major League color barrier in 1947.

The news spread widely and a national outpouring of donations followed, allowing Wichita to quickly order a replacement.

“There has been a lot of serendipity when it comes to League 42 throughout our existence,” said Bob Lutz, executive director of the nonprofit Little League that commissioned the statue.

‘It’s almost like someone is watching us. And in this regard, we certainly feel that… there was a guardian angel who allowed us to recreate this statue.”

As news of the theft spread, the nonprofit was flooded with an estimated $450,000 to $500,000 in donations.

That includes a $100,000 gift from Major League Baseball, which will cover the statue’s $45,000 replacement cost and other improvements, including landscaping and adding decorative bollards that will keep people from driving too close to the statue.

The remainder of the money raised will go toward improving some of the nonprofit’s programming and facilities. Last year, the group opened the Leslie Rudd Learning Center, which includes an indoor baseball facility and a learning lab. There might even be enough money to install artificial turf and more lighting, Lutz said.

Another boon for Lutz is that the replacement will look exactly like the original, which his friend, the artist John Parsons, created before his death in 2022 at the age of 67. That’s possible because the original mold was still viable.

Thieves stole the original Robinson figure in January and burned it in a garbage can

Thieves stole the original Robinson figure in January and burned it in a garbage can

Robinson was the man who broke baseball's color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947

Robinson was the man who broke baseball’s color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947

“If that wasn’t the case, I don’t know if I would feel as good about this as I do now,” Lutz said.

One man has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the theft, and the investigation continues into a crime that police say was motivated not by racial animosity, but by plans to sell the bronze for scrap metal.

It was a stupid plan, said Tony Workman, owner of Art Castings of Colorado. The city where the company is located, about 50 miles north of Denver, is known for its abundance of sculptors and artists.

“The problem is you can’t get a fire in a dumpster that’s hot enough to melt metal,” Workman said. “All you’re going to do is burn the statue. So you can still tell what it was.’

In addition to the statue’s rebuilding, the severed bronze cleats from the original statue found a new home last month at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

It is a suitable location. Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of black American ballplayers. He is considered not only a sports legend, but also a civil rights icon. Robinson died in 1972.

“The outpouring of support people have received from this is a reminder that light does indeed come from the darkness,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

At the museum, the cleats are part of an exhibit that also includes a gunfire-riddled plaque that was erected outside Robinson’s birthplace, near Cairo, Georgia.

The statue's remaining feet are now on display at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

The statue’s remaining feet are now on display at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

“It renews our spirit and our faith in people, because sometimes people do despicable things, and it makes you want to give up on people,” Kendrick said. “But you know you can’t give up on people, even though sometimes you want to.”

On a recent morning, Emilio Estevez, a financial services worker from Miami, stopped to look at the cleats. He described Robinson as an inspiration — both for his athleticism and his ability to endure cheers while integrating the sport.

“We can all learn from that,” he said.

And the thieves couldn’t take that away, Estevez said.

‘He is still in our thoughts. It is still very present, just like here in the museum, very present,” he said.