When a Miami Marlins player hits a home run at Marlins Park, a towering, colorful sculpture just beyond the center field fence comes to life, shooting gallons of water into the air and sending mechanical marlins, seagulls and flamingos dancing over the arches of the artwork. But ever since the sculpture, titled Homer, was first commissioned in 2012, it has proved divisive among Marlins fans. Some think Homer is “unique and playful,” an embrace of the kitschy fun of retro Florida. Others feel differently— one Miami New Times reporter called it a “seven-story monstrosity [that] makes a complete mockery of Miami's actually cool status as a tropical paradise.”
The naysayers have gotten their way. As Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald reports, a Miami-Dade county board has approved the relocation of the statue to an area outside the stadium. Derek Jeter, the former Yankees star who is now the Marlins’ owner and CEO, was one of the main entities behind the push for Homer’s relocation. Red Grooms, the 81-year-old artist behind the sculpture, opposes the move.
Jeter and his partners bought the team last year from Jeffrey Loria, an art dealer who collects Grooms’ work and recruited him to craft the statue for $2.5 million. When he acquired the team, Jeter and his supporters proposed getting rid of the statue to make way for a multi-level standing-room area where fans can watch the games for just $10, according to Sarah Cascone of artnet News. The space, they hoped, would bolster the Marlins’ sagging attendance rates. In 2018, according to Cascone, the team brought in only 811,104 fans, the lowest attendance rates in baseball since 2004, when the now-defunct Expos were preparing to leave Montreal.
When asked if he liked the sculpture, Jeter has sidestepped the question. “It’s big,” he told reporters. “I mean, it’s unique. It’s a unique sculpture.”
The proposed plan involved relocating Homer to a new art boardwalk outside the stadium. The sculpture would be activated every day at 3:05 PM—a nod to Miami’s 305 area code—and continue to do its thing every time a Marlins player hits a home run. But Grooms did not want his sculpture to be moved. He said Homer was meant to be displayed in the indoor stadium, and would be damaged by the elements if it was relocated outside.
Jeter made a personal visit to Grooms at his gallery show in New York to try and sway him over to the proposal. Grooms, however, was unmoved.
“Moving Homer anywhere else is destroying it,” he and his wife, Lysiane Grooms, wrote in an email to the county’s Art in Public Places board, according to Hanks. “Please keep Homer doing its job and let him be part of the celebration of the Marlins right where he belongs.”
Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to approve the Marlins’ relocation plan, reports Steven Wine of the Associated Press. Should Grooms decide to disavow the artwork—thereby rendering it “close to worthless on the art market,” according to Hanks of the Miami Herald—the Marlins will have to pay Miami-Dade $2.5 million, according to the deal approved by the board. Marlins executives were also prompted get Homer reinstalled by January 1, 2020; if they don’t, they will be required to pay up to $2,000 for each day that the statue is not erected in its new location.
In spite of his best efforts to keep Homer inside Marlins Park, Grooms may not be entirely surprised by the outcome of attempt to go to bat with Jeter over the sculpture.
“[Homer] was designed to celebrate home runs, and just have some fun,” the artist told Hanks back in February. “But I have to be realistic. There are some powerful forces at work here.”