Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Highlights From Our Behind The Scenes Tour Of The National Baseball Hall Of Fame & Museum

After the frenzy of Stephen Strasburg's debut last June 8th at Nationals Park, The National Baseball Hall Of Fame & Museum asked for a few items to commemorate The Pied Piper Of Our Washington Nationals long to be remembered first Big League start. The museum was given Strasburg's game cap and the baseball lined to Washington shortstop Ian Desmond by The Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutheon for the first out of the evening.
"We got what we wanted and we are totally fine with that," stated John Odell, Curator at The National Baseball Hall Of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown, New York. "We didn’t ask for his jersey and the reason is when we (the museum) want to tell the story of Stephen Strasburg—say 20 years down the road--we are going to be looking back at his entire career—not just this one game. We also don’t know whether he will have a long successful career or a brief one. It's great to have his cap. But by the time we want to tell his story, he’s going to have done, hopefully, many other wonderful things. And then we will want to have his jersey from, say, his 2nd Perfect Game. So, in this instance, we asked for what’s appropriate at this level as Strasburg begins in career. And that’s how we do things here. We tend to pick things up in parts."
Washington fans should also know that within the Memorabilia Vault in Cooperstown, space is dedicated to Our Washington Nationals for future use as items are collected or donated about D.C. Baseball. In the photo above, The African Queen is standing in front of Washington's Dedicated Baseball Cap Storage Rack--waiting to be filled.
Sohna About To Sign Her Life Away To Enter The Vaults

As we continued our behind the scenes tour of The National Baseball Hall Of Fame & Museum, Mr. Odell touched on how important it is for the museum to be patient when asking for artifacts from players to add to their collection.

John Odell: "I was just talking to a colleague about similar circumstances last week. What are the significant milestones that batters and pitchers might reach this season (2011)? We know Derek Jeter is going to get 3000 hits. But there are other things he’s likely to accomplish too. You don’t want to go to the well too often. You want to go once for the exact thing you want. Mariano Rivera is going to get his 600th save this year for The New York Yankees, if he has a really good year. He has something like 555 saves now. Two saves after 600, he will break Trevor Hoffman’s record and become the All-Time Saves Leader. So do we go for the 600th?  No. We go for the record breaker because he is going to get that a few games later."
In 1920, Babe Ruth ordered from Hillerich & Bradsby (Louisville Slugger) the maximum regulation size baseball bat a player can use in a Major League Baseball game. This particular model weighed 50 oz--over three pounds. Years later, Hillerich & Bradsby reproduced that exact bat and The Hall Of Fame & Museum acquired it.

John Odell: "We don’t have any record of Ruth actually using the original during a game. But what I think we will find is that when someone has the chance to go through the 1920’s spring training newspapers—I am betting they are going to find that Babe Ruth used a bat like this to warmup. Instead of using three bats in the on deck circle, he was experimenting with this as his practice club. The one he swings around to get ready."
That bat so gigantic and heavy it even made me look smaller. How could anybody swing that thing and consistently make contact? Remarkable.

Did you know? New York Yankee great Elston Howard invented the doughnut weight--which became a standard for all batters getting ready to hit in the late 1950's/early 1960's? True.
During our tour, Mr. Odell happened to pass by the office of Mary Bellaw--Assistant Registrar of the Museum. The timing could not have been better as Ms. Bellaw was working on a very special project.

In 1913, the Philadelphia Game Manufacturing Company (then located at 337 North 3rd Street) produced a home baseball game for fans and kids. All 16 Major League Teams from those days were included. The early version of Strat-O-Matic not only featured a full color stadium, but scoreboard, lineup cards, wooden players--color coded to set on the field or on the bench--and even umpires. This particular game still had its patents pending. Later versions--according to Ms. Bellaw--did not include the game box graphics with professional players. Instead, the game was produced with generic baseball graphics so not to restrict the product to those players or those years. In fact, for 25 cents, new lineup cards could be purchased from the Philadelphia Game Manufacturing Company by filling out a mailer included with every game.
John Odell: "This is the early version of Strat-O-Matic where you spin the wheel. But Strat-O-Matic was unique in that it was created with a spinner unique for each player. So if someone was a home run hitter, he's more likely to hit a home run in Strat-O-Matic. But here, every player has the same chances in this game. But it's just a beautiful game."

Which brings us to the rest of the story.
Mary Bellaw: "We got an email from a Philadelphia area man. He used to play this game at his grandparents house. And he just inherited the board game but he doesn't have all the lineup cards. So he asked if we could make copies to send him so he can continue playing the game with his family. I just scanned these for him and we are going to send them along."

How ironic that as we came across Ms. Bellaw and her work with this game in her office--she's working with the 1913 Washington Nationals featuring--Walter Johnson.  Totally by chance.

Inside the Memorabilia Vault, we found Museum Associate (Education Wing) Sara Degaetano returning items out for research, educational usage or photo shoots back to stock. Every single item must be accounted for at all times. And every single item must be handled while wearing white gloves to protect the integrity of the artifact.

Original Wooden Whiffle Ball Bat With Whiffle Ball In Original Packaging

Acid Free Storage Boxes With Acid Free Paper

John Odell: "For the most part, dirt stains from a uniform of Rickey Henderson sliding is integral to the story of that jersey. You want to be able to keep that. There is always a fine line of maintaing the history of the piece while also making sure the jersey will not self-destruct. But what we've found out is that if a uniform has champagne stains on it, over time, those stains will set in and change the color and material of the uniform. So in that case, we will clean that up--if the uniform is directly related to an historic moment from a game. But you want to make sure you don't wash out that moment."

"Perfect example: Before Mariano Rivera was Mariano Rivera, he was John Wetteland's setup man with The New York Yankees. If I remember rightly, John Wetteland was the first closer to save four World Series games in the same year--and we got his jersey (1996). Now it's all blotched. The champagne has set in. I don't know how long it took to get to that level of degradation, but it's a good example of the dilemma we sometimes face."

Other highlights from our tour:

John Odell: "A guy called and said he made some models of ballparks. And sometimes we don’t know what we are truly getting. He says: 'They are in my house. I live in a trailer and they are taking up too much space. Would you like these models? I used photographs to kind of recreate them.' So he sends us these photographs of these things and this is a fireman who made these in his spare time." 

"They are beautiful. So every year we rotate them in and out of public display. Ebbets Field, Wrigley, Shibe Park, Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium and Comiskey Park--with Index Cards noting history included. We hear from a lot of people who've made stuff. Baseball inspires a lot of passion. But passion and talent aren’t necessarily related to one another. This guy had both."

How to read an museum artifact's catalog number:
In the baseball photo above--a 1910 World Series Ball.
On the reverse side: "B" Baseball Museum, "429" the 429th item received in that year, "54" received in 1954.
2004 World Series Final Out caught by Doug Mankiewiez of The Boston Red Sox ending 86 years on no championships in Boston. The very same ball he originally put in a safe deposit box before handing it over to the team and eventually the museum.

The Honeyboy Evans Batting Championship Trophy given out for five years by the Broadway Singer of the same name who loved baseball in the early 1900's.  Ty Cobb received four of them. Honus Wagner the other.

Youpii!! Yes, it's Youpii The Montreal Expos famous mascot's original uniform now in the Baseball Hall Of Fame & Museum--along with The San Diego Chicken, The Philly Phanatic & The Baltimore Oriole Bird.

A Josh Thole (current Mets Player) bat probably has you wondering why it's in the museum collection? We did too. As it turns out, Rocket Bat makes a special "Ax" Handled Bat for Thole and a few other players. The belief is that the angled bat handle end allows for a better and more perfect grip on the bat. I have to say, it did feel solid--like your forearms were locked into the bat.

Rare Ball Balanced Bat From Louisville Slugger Made From 1905-1910

Sohna and I could spend time looking at the thousands of bats in the museum collection all day long--it's that impressive--which also includes baseball themed canes and walking sticks.

In the climate controlled and very chilly photo library, John pulled out a selection of archival prints which included shots of Fenway Park during the dead ball era. In this 1912 photo, there are approximately 10-12 rows of seats in front of the Green Monster. Filled with advertisements, there is no hand operated scoreboard on the left field wall during this time of the ballpark's early existence.

Joe Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee which clearly shows the segregation of whites and black at baseball games well before the color barrier was broken in the game by Jackie Robinson in 1947.
And this photo which includes Edith Houghton (wearing Number 5) playing for a women's professional barnstorming baseball team. Still alive today at 98 years young, Ms. Houghton became the first full time female scout for The Philadelphia Phillies after World War 2.

Finally, in the player file library John Odell pulled out this hand written book (of many) that lists what every single player did for every team, in every game, on the field during every single season--before computers. This was the official statistics and record book for Major League Baseball. This book, and others like it, is where all the original game stats are kept.  How painstaking that must have been. Although Mr. Odell says that, at times, they do find discrepancies (with newspaper articles) that need to be cleared up.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

DND said...

Great posts, every fan needs to go to Cooperstown for at least a couple of days. Thanks