Peculiar Pittsburgh

Yes, Phil Coyne could theoretically be added to the Legends of Pittsburgh baseball mural, stakeholders say

If Cooperstown is honoring him, will Pittsburgh follow suit?

A closeup of the "Legends of Pittsburgh" mural by artist Michael Malle.

A closeup of the "Legends of Pittsburgh" mural by artist Michael Malle.

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It’s nearly June, and the Pirates are hovering just above .500. So there’s that.

It’s rained every day since Easter, so things are normal in that respect, too.

And Pittsburgh’s road system is currently a Kubrickian maze of construction-related road closures, as you would expect.

But there’s one piece missing. Actually, two.

Beneath the Boulevard of the Allies at Ross Street — visible to people driving into town on Second Avenue — the Legends of Pittsburgh baseball mural has been MIA for more than a year. (Where have you gone, Honus Wagner? A city turns its lonely eyes to you.)

The mural depicting 14 baseball notables selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates and painted by Art Institute of Pittsburgh faculty member Michael Malle was first unveiled in 2000, prior to the opening of PNC Park. It was removed for safekeeping and touch ups last year while PennDOT worked on the surrounding roadway.

A closeup of the "Legends of Pittsburgh" mural by artist Michael Malle.

A closeup of the "Legends of Pittsburgh" mural by artist Michael Malle.

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Also missing is Phil Coyne, the legendary Pirates usher who at 99-years-old announced his retirement this season after more than eight decades with the team. Coyne is not in the stands this year for the first time since the Great Depression and since taking a hiatus to fight in World War II.

So naturally we wondered if these two worlds could be merged and if Coyne could be added to the Legends of Pittsburgh mural at some point. So we started asking around.

First the artist, Michael Malle: “As far as the possibility of doing it, I have the original artwork, so I guess he could be added to the painting. They’d have to create the print…” (The version of the mural on display Downtown is a vinyl reproduction of the original.)

Jim Vlasach with Lamar Advertising, the group in possession of the display copy that’s been in storage since PennDOT began work at the site, added, “We’re Pirates fans No. 1, and if that’s what was deemed to be changed on it, we wouldn’t have a problem.”

But there’s one catch. Actually, two.

Vlasach said the decision would have to come from the team and Malle. And while Malle was unopposed to the idea in a phone conversation with The Incline, it’s unclear where the Pirates stand. Emails seeking comment from the team’s front office were not returned.

Another possible wrench in the cogs was highlighted by Romel Nicholas, an attorney who works Downtown and who came up with the idea for the mural as a Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership board member.

“The way it was set up, it was supposed to be all Pirates Hall of Famers with the only exception being Josh Gibson from the negro league,” Nicholas said by phone. (Gibson played for the Homestead Grays.)

For what it’s worth, Coyne’s uniform and ID card have already been shipped to Cooperstown where they’ll remain on permanent display in the Baseball Hall of Fame, MLB.com reports. A proclamation was issued by the Hall to Coyne in April.

Also, Danny Murtaugh, former Pirates manager and one of the legends depicted in Malle’s mural, isn’t technically a Hall of Famer — although that’s a separate debate.

“I am proud, no doubt,” Coyne told The Incline on Tuesday of his memorabilia being taken in by the Hall of Fame. “I’m surprised, but I’m proud.”

Asked what he’s been up to since retiring, Coyne said he’s been puttering around his home, gardening and doing a little mailbox painting. He’s also been listening to Pirates games on the radio and plans to attend a game “once the weather breaks.”

Coyne was last at PNC Park for a game on his birthday in April, at which point he was celebrated by the team and national media. He was also honored with a plaque in his old section of the park.

In the meantime, he still attends once-weekly rehab sessions that began following a fall in December, an incident that cemented his retirement plans.

We also asked Coyne if he’d be opposed to being included in the Legends of Pittsburgh mural, to which he replied, “I’m up for anything. At 100 years old I won’t have to put up with it for too long anyway.”

“But they ain’t gonna go that far,” he added. And he may be right.

In its current form, the mural could be returned to public display later this year — a possible August landing date continues to be discussed among those involved. PennDOT’s roadwork in the vicinity is done with the exception of painting that could wrap up by June or July, bridge engineer Jim Ruzzi explained.

Vlasach with Lamar Advertising added, “Once they tell me we’re good to go, it will be weeks unless we find out the mural needs to be reprinted, and even with that I couldn’t imagine it taking more than a month or so.”

And after it’s back, maybe, just maybe, they’ll find room for one more legend on the wall someday.

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