Cincinnati Reds Unveil Sliding Pete Rose Statue

Jun 19, 2017

Pete Rose is a complex man. Cast in bronze in his trademark headfirst slide, Rose is equally complex, as statues go.

The statue, unveiled at a ceremony Saturday, is a creative and engineering feat that brought together well-known sculptor Tom Tsuchiya, a 44-year-old Cincinnati native, and General Electric Aviation engineers Tom Wallace and Brent Tholke.

"We're taking Tom's great vision and turning it into a reality that's gonna last lifetimes," explains Wallace, chief consulting engineer for commercial engine systems at GE Aviation in Evendale.

Tsuchiya, who created the bronze statues of other Reds legends at Great American Ball Park, always knew the Rose statue would be sliding headfirst.

He studied thousands of photographs and hours of video to help him create the trademark slide. His conversations with Rose offered insights into his personality and character.

But an off-the-cuff question about why Rose slid headfirst surprised the sculptor. Rose explained that he slid headfirst into a base, "Because that (photograph) always gets me in the papers."

That iconic headfirst slide statue was the topic of a chance meeting of Tsuchiya and Brent Tholke, a materials engineer at GE Aviation, at Fanfest prior to the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.

Using a clay model, Tom Wallace, left, and Tom Tsuchiya discuss the positioning of the steel support structure inside the statue.
Credit Michael E. Keating

"I'm a Western Hills grad like Pete. I graduated the year the Big Red Machine was at its peak," says Tholke, a self-confessed Reds fanatic. "It's an opportunity that was meant to be."

Tsuchiya told Tholke his idea of Pete Rose sliding headfirst, but he "didn't know how to do it." An engineering partnership was born and work started in earnest in 2015 with Tsuchiya modeling a prototype.

In June of 2016, Tholke got a little face-to-face time with his idol.

The head for the statue is positioned on a workbench and ready for welding to the body.
Credit Michael E. Keating

"We spent about 45 minutes taking measurement of the space of his eyes and length of his nose. We had him put his arm up outstretched and his proportionality. That translated into the paper drawings," Tholke says.

"When you see the head of Pete, that's all Tom Tsuchiya's vision,” Tholke explains. “The hair, captured from photographs of the time and the flowing action of his body. The whole statue captures the motion and hustle of Pete. The intensity, the drive!"

Sculptor Tom Tsuchiya works on the putty-covered foam model in his Essex Place studio.
Credit Michael E. Keating

Tsuchiya's interviews with Rose gave him insight into Rose's thinking.

"He cared about the fans,” Tsuchiya says. “He wanted to make sure they got their money's worth. He went out there to put on an awesome show."

The idea of a sliding Pete Rose was conceived by Tsuchiya years ago and he often approached John Allen, appointed by Major League Baseball to steer the Reds in 1996 after Marge Schott was forced out, about a Reds statue. However, a Rose statue was never considered appropriate nor allowable because he was banned for life from baseball in 1989.

Tom Tsuchiya positions a template with the ROSE and 14 on the back of a wax mold.
Credit Michael E. Keating

Times change and attitudes softened allowing the Castellini ownership group to slowly begin including Rose in Reds' activities and promotions. Tsuchiya was finally green-lighted to begin work on what he calls "the ultimate" statue with Pete Rose flying through the air.

The engineering problems presented by a cantilevered sculpture of Pete Rose intrigued Tholke. As a practical matter the statue had to handle the weight of those who might like to climb on Rose’s back for amusement and keepsake photographs. Tom Wallace worked the complex mathematical computations to assure the statue would handle the stress, displacement and thermal loads.

The process of producing the statue began with a clay model that Exact Metrology in Blue Ash laser-scanned to create a computer model that was the guide for creation of a Styrofoam "life sized" model.

Kids from Boys Hope Girls Hope in Cincinnati applied a yellow glue mixture that served as a sealer for the foam sculpture.  A group from the Rosie Reds, a Cincinnati Reds "women only" fan club created in 1964, helped apply a thin coat of brown putty to allow for details like logos, the ROSE on the back of the statue and the number 14.

Longtime Tsuchiya assistant Ray Miller added details like the cleats and laces (an upsized version Johnny Bench's cleats), and cross-hatching on the stirrup stockings along with other fine detail work.

Artisans pour 2100-degree molten bronze into forms at the Sincerus Bronze Art facility in Indianapolis.
Credit Michael E. Keating

Assembly of the steel skeleton with a base support system was completed in Franklin, OH and delivered to Sincerus Bronze Art Center, a foundry in Indianapolis.

The putty-covered foam statue was cut into 10 pieces and wax molds were made at the foundry. The wax molds were then finished and wrapped in casting material ready for the pour.

Molten bronze heated to 2100 degrees was poured into the wrapped molds in a "lost wax process" that melts the molds leaving finished bronze pieces.

Those pieces, resembling puzzle pieces on the foundry floor, were welded into place around the stainless steel support structure in rough fashion, except for the head.

That headless structure was shipped to Fopat LLC in Miamisburg, OH and filled with high-density closed-cell foam to add structural support and reduce interaction of the steel structure with the bronze shell. The foam tolerates high heat and extreme cold necessary for the outdoor installation.

Returning to the Indianapolis foundry, the fine details of the statue were completed and the head was welded into place.

Sean Neal, chief artisan, grinds the statue during the finishing process before welding the head into place.
Credit Michael E. Keating

The statue was given finishing touches and prepared for the patina process. The statue is heated with propane torches, brushed and sprayed with chemicals to induce a chemical reaction resulting in a pleasing and predictable coloration to match the existing statues at Great American Ball Park.

Brent Tholke takes away the satisfaction of knowing his contribution will forge a link between his lifelong love for the Pete Rose and his engineering skills.

Tom Tsuchiya, who has carved his way into the hearts of Reds' fans over the years, said, "the combining of new technologies (made possible by the GE collaboration) into the process allows me to realize new expressions in art. That's exciting!"