Aarons want authority, Atlanta Braves to make statue decision

Atlanta Braves great Hank Aaron and his wife Billye want no part in a kerfuffle over the statue of Aaron outside of Turner Field, Bob Hope, a longtime friend of the Aarons, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday evening.

Hope, who said he was asked to speak on behalf of the Aarons, said the couple want the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority and the Braves to settle the matter of where the statue will go after the Braves leave for their new Cobb County ballpark.

“It’s a decision that has to be made by the authority and the Braves,” Hope said of the Aarons’ feelings on the matter. “They don’t want it put upon them.”

The authority said Wednesday it holds documents showing “the people of Atlanta and Fulton County” own the bronze, and that a deal had been struck with the Braves to keep the statue at Turner Field.

A few hours later, the Braves released a statement that said no agreement had been reached with the authority, that the team was “surprised” by the authority’s announcement and that the statue should go wherever the hall of famer wants it.

“We are in discussions with Hank, and once he makes his intentions clear to us, we will make the appropriate arrangements,” the Braves statement said Wednesday.

The fate over one of Atlanta’s treasured sports landmarks has been in limbo since November 2013 when the Braves announced plans to move from downtown to Cobb after this year.

Hope said the Aarons asked him to speak to the media to set the record straight. The AJC has requested to interview the Aarons.

Billye Aaron has said in a past interview in a story written for Bitter Southerner that she wanted the statue to remain downtown, while Hank Aaron told the AJC last year he was conflicted on the matter.

The authority provided emails Wednesday that showed discussions between the agency, which owns Turner Field, and Braves executive Mike Plant.

It included one exchange from Feb. 3 referencing a document that asserts the authority owns statues plaques and memorials, including the Aaron statue.

“Accordingly, barring objection from the Aarons, (the authority) will retain the Hank Aaron statue and bust,” the email reads.

In a separate message, Bottoms wrote Plant on Feb. 3, “As fate would have it, I saw Mrs. (Billye) Aaron at a luncheon this afternoon and was able to speak with her about the statue. I told her that we had a very good meeting this morning, and if they are in agreement, the statue will remain. She is was very happy and said that they are in full support of that agreement.”

It is unclear if Plant replied to that message.

Two days later, Bottoms told Plant she had received an inquiry about the statue from the media and that “I will share that we have come to an agreement. I think this is an opportunity for us to highlight the spirit of cooperation we have as we navigate this transition. If you’re interested in providing a quote for a press release, let me know.”

Plant replied Feb.7: “We won’t be making any additional comments on this subject. Thanks for letting me know.”

It’s unclear from the emails whether the Braves ever accepted the statue’s ownership as actually settled, though Bottoms told the AJC early on Thursday that she made repeated efforts to contact the Braves and said she believes the team had agreed.

Late Thursday, Bottoms said in a text message she “hold(s) the Aarons in high regard, and stay(s) committed to respecting their wishes on this matter.”

“I have shared documentation with the Braves that clearly reflects the ownership of the Hank Aaron statue,” she wrote. “It is my hope that the question of its ownership can finally be put to rest, and we can all devote our energy towards the transition ahead.”

The Braves did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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