Walk in Hall of Fame Footsteps Along Route 66

Route 66 is a historic byway that has been immortalized in songs and books, but the Mother Road also includes legendary sports figures who have been forever captured in bronze.

A statue of Michael Jordan soaring over an opponent is in the atrium of United Center.
Photo by Ron Clements

Hockey Hall of Famers Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull are displayed outside of Chicago’s United Center. The seven-foot bronze sculptures, unveiled in 2011, show the famed Blackhawks players in full color with red sweaters and leggings, sticks in their hands, and skating in still-motion atop five-foot black granite pedestals. Inside United Center’s atrium is a 12-foot statue of a soaring Michael Jordan. The statue atop a five-foot pedestal is called “The Spirit” and depicts the NBA legend leaping over a defender while reaching toward an unseen hoop. United Center is known as the “House that Jordan Built” thanks to the six NBA championships he led the Bulls to during the 1990s.

Two statues of baseball great Stan Musial are outside of Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Musial, inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, is considered the greatest Cardinals player ever. One Musial statue is included among a group of small bronze figures outside the team store at the corner of Clark and 8th Street. The other is a 20-foot statue outside of the Third Base Gate on 8th Street. It’s a statue that was unveiled in 1968 and greeted fans to the previous Busch Stadium. At its current location, it’s a popular meeting spot for fans and the phrase, “Meet me at Stan,” is a common expression used in St. Louis.

While Yogi Berra won ten World Series championships with the New York Yankees, he grew up in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis. A small stone statue of Berra in his catcher’s gear is outside of the family home on Elizabeth Avenue.

Other hall of famers to call St. Louis home during their youth have been baseball star James “Cool Papa” Bell, former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, tennis stars Butch Buchholz, Doris Hart, and Chuck McKinley, and golfer Judy Rankin.

The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield has a walkway lined with statues and busts of legendary players and coaches from baseball, basketball, football, and golf. One statue is of basketball hall of famer Jackie Stiles, who became a star at Missouri State University and is the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Another baseball legend is immortalized in Commerce, Oklahoma. Yankees great Mickey Mantle grew up in Commerce and his childhood home is a popular stop for Route 66 travelers. A statue of Mantle stands beyond the outfield fence at Commerce High School. The nine-foot statue, atop a five-foot pedestal, is easily accessible with its own small parking lot and a walking path to its diamond-shaped plot.

There is also a Mantle statue at Chickasaw Bricktown Park in Oklahoma City. The Mantle sculpture is one of three commemorating players who called Oklahoma home. The others honor former Braves pitcher Warren Spahn and former Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench. Each statue is in a plaza named for the former player. Connected to the stadium in left field is the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. A statue of the great Jim Thorpe stands while gripping a helmet and football outside the entrance to the museum that bears his name. Thorpe, who is perhaps the most accomplished athlete of all time, grew up along Route 66 in Stroud, Oklahoma.

The football field at Granite City is named after Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, who graduated from Granite City South in 1980.
Photo by Ron Clements

Oklahoma City also includes the National Softball Hall of Fame with notable inductees like Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza.

The Rose Bowl is the most iconic sports venue along Route 66. Statues of legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson, U.S. soccer hero Brandi Chastain, and the iconic Jackie Robinson are in front of the stadium. Robinson was a four-sport athlete – baseball, football, basketball, and track – at UCLA before his pioneering MLB career. Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 and was then a six-time All-Star over the next ten years. He was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and his number 42 was universally retired by all MLB teams in 1997.

There may not be statues, but the high school football stadiums at Granite City and Rialto’s Eisenhower High are named for Pro Football Hall of Famers Kevin Greene and Ronnie Lott, respectively. Route 66 also includes the hometowns of several hall of famers: Mac Speedie (football, Dwight, Ill.), Raphael Tracey (soccer, Gillespie, Ill.), Ray Schalk (baseball, Litchfield, Ill.), Andy Phillip (basketball Granite City), George Musso (football, Collinsville, Ill.), Kellen Winslow (football, East St. Louis), Hank Bauer (baseball, East. St. Louis), Jimmy Connors (tennis, East St. Louis), “Sunny” Jim Bottomley (baseball, Sullivan, Mo.),Tommy McDonald (football, Albuquerque), Rollie Fingers (baseball, Upland, Calif.), Rick Davis soccer, (LaVerne, Calif.), Bruce Matthews (football, Arcadia, Calif.), and Ellsworth Vines (golf, Pasadena).

Pay tribute to these “hall of famers” along your travels and know that you’re following in the footsteps of greatness.

A statue of Oklahoma native and Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench greets fans at the home plate entrance of Chickasaw Bricktown Park.
Photo by Ron Clements

Ron Clements

Ron Clements

Ron Clements is a Wisconsin native and Green Bay Packers fan who married a Chicago Bears fan from Peoria, Illinois. Despite the rivalry, Ron and Patti make it work and have been living fulltime in an RV since March 2018. They travel the country in search of new adventures and love attending baseball games and exploring national parks. They visited all 30 MLB stadiums in 2018 and have taken their RV to each of the Lower 48 states. Ron is a veteran journalist of more than two decades and a summa cum laude graduate of East Carolina University, which he attended following his service in the United States Marine Corps. Ron has written for USA Today, Sporting News, CBS Sports, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Omaha World Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Fresno Bee, the Montgomery Advertiser, and many other media outlets. The Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66 is for anyone who has ever driven past a high school, college, or professional stadium, and thought, “I wonder what it’s like to see a game there.” A Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66 will be in bookstores and online everywhere on August 3, 2021.

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