Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Inside The Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum
The Dead of Winter, Mid-January, Snow all over the place—what a better time to visit Upper State New York. And no, The African Queen and I were not going skiing. We were heading to Cooperstown, New York to visit The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Sohna had never been there and I have not returned to Baseball’s Shrine for some time. Scheduling was tight. Honestly, since the end of the 2007 Baseball Season, we have had little free time. Overloaded, is the only way to describe our work schedules.
Then, out of nowhere—a five day window appeared. January 14th through January 18th, 2008 was in the clear. Nothing. No work, no commitments—we were not obligated to be ANYWHERE for an entire weekday. WHY NOT GO TO THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME? No one would be there. The weather is cold. Spring Training is still a good month away. I needed a baseball fix.
But, I had to ask The African Queen.
Pitching this opportunity to visit The Hall, Sohna (THANKFULLY) responded positively. After sitting in Section 320 for the past three seasons--enjoying and learning Baseball from all our many friends—The African Queen had graduated from RFK Stadium with her "B of B"--Bachelors of Baseball with Honors--this past October. Now, with New Nationals Park on the horizon—this was her BIG CHANCE to begin Post Graduate School. YES!! She was excited to go. Guys--Come On--SHE WANTED TO GO!! What's not to love about that!!
Besides, this fact made the trip even more intriguing. One of the most famous Bed & Breakfast Inns in America-The Cooper Inn--was completely wide open. The African Queen and I would not only have the largest and most elegant room--but the run of the house for our entire stay. SWEET!!
But, before we left from Alexandria, Virginia—there was one more detail to be worked out. Not only did we wish to visit The Hall of Fame, we wanted to experience it--fully. No better way then to actually do some real work while in Cooperstown—discovering The Museum’s archived History of Washington, DC Baseball—for The Nats320 Blog.
Brad Horn, The Director of Communications for The National Baseball Hall of Fame, wholeheartedly, supported the idea. Mr. Horn agreed to set up a Curator in Cooperstown to discuss The Hall, its History and Washington, DC as a baseball town. Also, we would be granted access to The A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Library for discovery purposes.
Brad Horn is a man of his word. Because, over our five days in Upper State New York, John Odell--Curator of History & Research at The Hall--willingly accepted the assignment to become our ears, our eyes, our guide, and by the end of this fabulous week--new found friend. John Odell went out of his way for us—as did many others we ran across in The Hall and Cooperstown, New York--just a few short weeks ago. Not knowing what to expect heading out--Sohna and I eventually returned home--fulfilled, satisfied and down right overjoyed at the many experiences shared.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum--treated us with style and grace. We observed, listened and studied everything which came our way. An adventure transpired--nothing short of magnificent. So impressed with the response, the very least we could do was thank everyone by joining The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum--as Members--Sustaining Members--not just for the introductory fees. A thank you we vow to maintain forever.
On Tuesday, January 15th—Sohna and I first met with John Odell at 9:15AM among The Hall of Fame Plaques for introductions. Then, we were left on our own to discover the many displays on the three museum floors--to get a feel of the place. At 11:15AM, we regrouped at the Giamatti Library to begin our inside look. John produced lists of Washington DC Baseball Artifacts that are in The Hall’s Collection. Many of which appeared at The Smithsonian Natural History Museum in 2004, during the museum's "Baseball As America" Tour. An event that I recall viewing fondly one afternoon in September, 2004, just one month before Our Washington Nationals were officially announced as moving to The Nation's Capital. Ideas were shared--thoughts passed--on what exactly Sohna and I hoped to accomplish during our week in Cooperstown.
Then, The Adventure in Learning began. All three of us headed upstairs to the clip files. Saved records and newspaper articles of EVERY SINGLE PLAYER that has ever played Major League Game. "If that person played in just ONE Major League Game--we have a file on him," said John Odell. Of course--knowing Frank Howard is MY FAVORITE PLAYER OF ALL TIME!!--John pulled out "Hondo's" file for review. It was large--but "The Capital Punisher" was no measure for Walter Johnson. Washington's ALL TIME GREATEST PLAYER, and Original Hall of Famer had not only files--but Four Bins worth--recycle size bins. File after File, all in alphabetical order of Major League Baseball's entire player compliment.
None more so--than when I mentioned to John that my cousin played Major League Baseball for a few seasons in the early 1950's and later became a Pacific Coast League Manager. Without hesitation: "Let's go find his file!!"--Mr. Odell found and copied my relatives ENTIRE FILE as a keepsake. As large as it was--which wasn't much--five copied pages covered the gamut. You see, my cousin had his cup of coffee in the majors--then just a little bit more.
But no that was not all--this journey was just beginning--on to another level and the bookshelves. "No--we don't have every single book ever published about baseball," stated John. "Hundreds of new titles are made each year--we would never have enough space, if we did. We pick those that are important to the game and our cause (here at The Hall) to document its history." The book collection is so large, John explained that many others are stored off site--in a separate facility. Among these Book Stacks, Sohna and I first noticed The Halls handling of storage. Rotating Racks that move via rails and wheels. A simple rotation of a wheel in front of each stack--allowed for easy movement and access. Each book given its very own reference number for quick retrieval by staff. Remember, The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is not The Library of Congress, or The Smithsonian Museums with their plethora of buildings and storage space.
While John Odell played the terrific host, Sohna and I savored the knowledge being consumed. He answered our many questions and loved the back and forth conversation occurring. The African Queen, who really had little understanding of Baseball's Rich History as America's Game, was immersing herself in all her newly gained knowledge. She was having a wonderful time, asking questions--soaking it all in. Of course, as always, we took pictures at each stop.
Next up on the excursion came the climate controlled rooms. Photos--Thousands of Images. Humidity, Temperature, Lighting--all controlled to preserve baseball's pictorial history. This area is artificially cold --but warm in nature--as in each and every file the intimacy and joy of "THE GREAT GAME" comes to life. Whether its "Hondo" swinging his bat, Walter Johnson winding up to throw his heater; Or, long time Washington Senators Owner Clark Griffith sitting at his desk at Griffith Stadium in NE Washington--The Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum's Photo Files has to be unmatched. Where else could you possibly witness the Entire History of America's Greatest Game--in one facility. From some of the very first moments of baseball's beginnings--to this very day--Baseball's Yesterdays and Todays--Live in Photo Prints/Glass Negatives/Celluloid's at The Hall. The museum may not have everything--but if you couldn't figure out the popularity of the game in pictures here--you are lost.
As nice as that moment was it could not parallel the thrill of what followed. If "Saving Your Best For Last" is true, then John Odell smashed a game winning Grand Slam when he escorted Sohna and I down to the lower levels of The Museum--well behind the scenes--to The Artifact Storage Room. This Treasure Trove of Baseball Memorabilia was right before our very eyes. As a student of the game and its history--this moment was one to cherish--for years to come. But, before we could even enter--we had to sign in. Getting into this room may well be more difficult than retrieving gold bullion at Fort Knox. And, Mr. Odell needed to sign for a special pass key. No, the public is not normally invited here. This Climate Controlled Room was loaded with vestiges of Baseball's Finest Moments, Great Players, Uniforms and Equipment. Right away, John needed to put on white gloves. "The handling of these items is very delicate," exclaimed John. "Just touching can ruin a jersey over time. The oils and dirt of the skin can penetrate and harm. The White Gloves allow for handling-- ever so delicately."
This massive room was filled with even larger Storage Stacks on rails and wheels. In plain view were a series of items that had just been returned on carts from display or photo opportunities at The Hall. Included was a Connie Mack Desk Set from The Philadelphia A's. A Series of Bats--including Del Unser from The Washington Senators (all of us attempting to guess the significance of some--like Rennie Stennett's bat?). Various Baseball Caps, Ichiro and Cal Ripken Jerseys.
But, what stood out CLEARLY was one particular cart. On top sat a vintage New York Yankees classic Pinstripe Jersey with interlocking NY. A Babe Ruth Jersey. Old Number 3--which John carefully showed us. Also, The Babe's personal bat--with engraved signature. Just to the right of Ruth's Items, were Lou Gehrig's Baseball Cleats and a very old, almost laughable first baseman's glove. But, this glove was no joke. This lefthanded mitt was Lou Gehrig's Columbia University Glove.
Even Sohna understood the importance of what we were viewing.
Before we arrived in Artifact Storage, John Odell was decent enough to ask the artifact folks to put on display some vintage gloves. Check out some of these pictures. Each categorized and numbered. This particular catcher's mitt shows why so many that played behind the plate broke their fingers. As John explained: "You had to use two hands--the baseball could only stop in one spot--the catcher had to trap it." The gloves really took Sohna by surprise. She has only seen the modern gloves. To view relics from years past with no padding--was fascinating--for not only her--but me as well. (SBF then asking John)" So, why do you have a Sadaharu Oh Glove from his record setting Home Run Game? Why not a bat or jersey?" John responded: "Well, that's a question you have to shake your head about." We all laughed.
Racks and Racks of Uniforms, Caps, Gloves, some Artwork, were in specially made archival gray acid free boxes wrapped with protective acid free paper inside, away from light. And then, in the far back of this storage area, came the baseball bats. John opened up a rather large cabinet. Included inside were rows, upon rows of famous baseball bats. Some pulled out for viewing included a Fred Lynn Model, Vintage Nap Lajoie Thick Handle Bat and a Special Ralph Kiner Silver Model.
I don't know about the old days, but why do so many bats break so easily now? asked Sohna. "Let me show you the balance of it all," replied John. Mr. Odell went on to explain how modern day bats have a thinner handle to increase bat speed through the strike zone--giving a batter power. And how in yesteryears--strength and power came from physical makeup and skill--not necessarily technology. Sohna nodded her head--in understanding.
Remember--everything that The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has in its collections--is donated. The Hall never purchases artifacts. Yet, every single person that has given an item to Cooperstown--has the rights to come see that item, or items--at most any time (except maybe on Hall Of Fame Weekend and other special occasions), along with his or her family members. This Artifact Room was a special treat. A highlight like no other.
For nearly three hours, John Odell graciously gave us his time, escorting Sohna and I around The Baseball Hall of Fame. From the Present Day Displays for 2007's Inductees--Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn, to the three floors of public displays; until we finally ended this wonderful odyssey looking over the plaques of Baseball's Greatest. What first started out as an outing to just visit The Hall Of Fame had turned into a pilgrimage discovering and learning more about, not only the great history, but the ambiance of the game. A rare opportunity had arisen--The African Queen and I were HONORED to be recipients of the knowledge.
A Baseball Fans Dream.
And, that was just the first of four full days in Cooperstown.
On the following Wednesday and Thursday--Sohna and I researched Washington Baseball History at The Bart Giamatti Research Library for some stories to be posted at a later date. The African Queen studied, viewed and read each and every display in the museum--when I was occupied in the library. If more than 30 people visited The Hall on any given day that week--we would be surprised. At times--we had ENTIRE FLOORS to ourselves.
Sohna swears when she was looking at some Negro League displays--she saw a reflection of someone walking behind her in the glass-- turned around and saw no one. Then, it happened once again--same spot. Only to turn around and see no one--once again. Calling out my name and getting no response--she got spooked--and moved to another floor of the museum.
Later, Howie--who works the Main Entrance to The Hall joked to us when I mentioned how we have the entire Hall to ourselves: "Now, Now--we must share. There are two other folks here--someplace." We all laughed.
A light turnout in attendance gave Sohna and I the special opportunity to take our time--view each and every display--read the details--ENJOY THE MOMENTS--TOGETHER. The Staff of The Baseball Hall of Fame got so use to us--we must have felt like family to them. They were FANTASTIC. Because from 9AM-5PM for three straight days and another 5 hours on Friday the 18th, we absorbed all The Hall had to offer.
Of course nothing would be right, until we conducted the Official Nats320 Interview. On Thursday of our great week, The African Queen and I sat down with John Odell for a formal interview--discussing everything about The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. How it operates, what are their goals--where is it going from here. Quite in depth--John spelled out the mission of The Hall.
So, over the next few days--A lengthy Interview with John Odell--Curator of Research & History at The Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum. Then, while on site--Sohna and I snapped over 1000 photos, mostly covering the public displays. Floor by Floor--The Nats320 blog will attempt to recapture what we witnessed upon visiting Cooperstown on our special baseball history tour. No, this photo layout will not be complete--but it will be interesting. The Uniforms and Artifacts are TERRIFIC!!
Finally--at a later date--but before the beginning of the 2008 Regular Season--The History of Baseball in Washington, DC--as found at The Baseball Hall of Fame, along with a picture segment on DC's Historical Ballparks. Its going to be fun. Work which could not have been accomplished without John's great assistance, along with Tim Wiles (Director of Research) and Freddy Berowski at The Giamatti Library. Saying all three of these fine gentlemen were Helpful--is an understatement--Honestly.
Our Adventure In Learning is just being. Much, Much, More to come on this: Baseball Hall of Fame Week on The Nats320 blog.
PS--Sohna left Cooperstown with her Graduate Degree. What more can I possibly say.
PSS--Oh yeah--did you know that "The Chief" is in The Baseball Hall of Fame? Yes, "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" has his Picture and Montreal Expos Cap on display in a special Washington Nationals Locker at The Hall. More on that in a later post. You can bet--The African Queen and I made a bee line to that exhibit to see Chad Cordero's artifacts.
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