Brooklyn police are investigating an incident involving the iconic statue of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese outside the Brooklyn Cyclones' MCU Park after the monument was vandalized with swastikas and racial and anti-Semitic slurs sometime early Wednesday morning.
Derogatory graffiti was found by team employees on the statue, popular among fans who visit the Cyclones' ballpark in Coney Island, before Wednesday's game. The team called the New York City Police Department's 60th precinct and was able to remove some of the marks before Brooklyn's 11 a.m. game against Connecticut.
"This is being treated as a bias crime," detective John Nevandro of the 60th precinct said in a statement, according to ESPN.com. "Hate Crimes will investigate the incident."
The statue depicts Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson -- baseball's first black player -- being embraced by teammate Pee Wee Reese at Cincinnati's Crosley Field, an image that Cyclones media relations director Billy Harner called "a milestone moment in sports history."
"Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese embody the humanity and inclusiveness that make our borough, city and country great," the Cyclones said in a statement. "It is both heartbreaking and deeply disturbing that this statue, which is a symbol of equality and tolerance, has been defaced in such an offensive and hateful way."
Harner said the statue, located at the ballpark's main entrance, is made of metal and stone. The metal part of the monument was cleaned by the team before thousands of children arrived at the ballpark for a camp day promotion, but the stone base needed to be power washed by a city cleaning crew. The Cyclones were forced to cover up portions of the base so fans would not be able to see the epithets.
"Sometime around 6:30-7 a.m., it was discovered by our ballpark operations staff, who go around the stadium, clean and sweep up. Once they discovered it, they alerted our GM, Steve Cohen, who called the 60th precinct immediately. At that point, we started to clean it," Harner said.
The statue is maintained by New York City's Parks Department, which arrived later on Wednesday with a power washer and a sand blaster to remove the remaining graffiti. Harner said about 90 percent of the marks had been removed by Wednesday evening when the ballpark closed.
The statue has gained popularity with fans in the wake of the film 42, which tells the inspiring story of Robinson's challenges in integrating Major League Baseball with Brooklyn.
"We covered it prior to the game so the buses of kids there wouldn't notice anything out of the ordinary, and we got to the point where fans were actually taking photos with the statue without noticing anything," Harner said. "Once the game started, the police arrived to start their investigation."
Harner said the Cyclones have never had a problem in the past with vandalism at the ballpark, which is located alongside the boardwalk and amusement parks in the iconic Coney Island area of Brooklyn, a seaside region of New York that has been undergoing redevelopment iniatives in recent years. The city aims to bring new housing, retail, services, amenities and jobs to Coney Island, an area that was for many years a popular beach and entertainment destination for New Yorkers. The Cyclones began play in Coney Island in 2001 and recently overcame a number of obstacles from Hurricane Sandy.
"For myself, for our GM, it was upsetting," Harner said. "The statue is kind of a snapshot in time and it shows a symbol of racial tolerance and a milestone moment in sports history with Jackie and Pee Wee and how people say things changed for them. For something like that, that stood for something so good, to be defaced in such a terrible and horrible way was upsetting."
The Cyclones provided ballpark surveillance video to NYPD's Hate Crimes unit. Harner said he was aware of some recent vandalism at churches and synagogues in nearby Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, but was surprised to see the words and symbols show up at MCU.
"When you're coming to the ballpark, it smacks you in the face, it's right in front of the main entrance. Especially with 42 coming out, it's gotten a lot of people reinvigorated with Jackie Robinson," Harner said. "It's definitely a spot where, every day before and after the game, kids and families go and visit. It's terrible something like this would happen."
Danny Wild is an editor for MiLB.com.