By the numbers
By Erik Strohl
The Hall of Fame curatorial/exhibits team has been working on our new permanent exhibit, One for the Books, for more than a year now. Scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend 2011, it will take an in-depth look at baseball records and the stories behind them.
Baseball records reflect the pinnacles of achievement in the game and allow us to note the best players throughout time, whether it is in single seasons or over whole careers. But they also tell us much more about the game itself and how it is viewed by American culture.
Some baseball records have attained an almost sacred status. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs in 1927, when he outhomered every other team in the American League. Ted Williams’ .406 batting average in 1941.
Records seem to resonate with baseball fans more than with fans of other sports, and I think this is likely because of baseball’s long history and because the compilation of statistics (and hence records) has had a prominent place in the history of the game. These magic numbers have been memorized and recited by legions of fans for generations, and I know this will continue.
Baseball is ripe with amazing feats, milestones, and records. Some of my personal favorites include:
- Cy Young’s career record 749 complete games (yes, folks, complete games)
- Stan Musial’s 3,630 career hits (good for fourth on the all-time hits list) can be split equally into 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 hits on the road
- If you took away all of Hank Aaron’s 755 career home runs (the longstanding record from 1974 until 2007), he would still have over 3,000 hits (3,016 to be exact)
- Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn’s 59 pitching victories (the single-season record) in 1884 (he also had 73 complete games!!)
Baseball records also provide for endless debate, and encourage us to compare the achievements of players from different eras. I think what you will find, however, is that statistics from different eras only offer an illusion of comparison. What the study of numbers and records will illustrate is the differences in the game over time and that there are countless variables throughout the history of the sport that help determine the parameters of statistics and records, from ballpark dimensions to playing rules to changes in technology.
We are very excited about the potential for this brand new exhibit and look forward to sharing it with the public. Featuring about 200 artifacts related to batting, pitching, fielding, base running, and team records, the exhibit will also utilize many new technological and interactive elements. I am positive there will be something of interest to all baseball fans, whether you want to learn about perfect games, team-winning streaks, or the home run champion before Babe Ruth.
Please plan to come to Cooperstown to see artifacts for your favorite records and record-holders and to explore this exciting topic in depth. To find out how you can support One for the Books, click here.
Erik Strohl is the senior director of exhibitions and collections for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.