Over the history of the game, ballplayers have gotten bigger and stronger, the equipment used for protection has improved and the skills that are considered important have changed.
Today, greater emphasis is put on players getting on base and driving in runs rather than walking or stealing bases like a hundred years ago. But Hall of Famer Joe Morgan doesn’t think these differences matter too much when it comes to the level of play in the major leagues.
Morgan visited Cooperstown Saturday along with fellow Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Phil Niekro to celebrate the opening of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s brand new exhibit One for the Books: Baseball Records and the Stories Behind Them.
“Numbers give us something to compare players of different eras – something for players to chase,” said Morgan. “They serve as a measuring stick, but they don’t tell the whole story.”
That is true for Phil Niekro.
Niekro earned his 3,000th strikeout while with the New York Yankees on July 4, 1984. His strike-three knuckleball flew by a swinging Rangers hitter, Larry Parrish, and also by his catcher Butch Wynegar. Parrish reached base safely on a drop-third strike, but the K still counted. The cap Niekro was wearing is on display in One for the Books.
Stories like these are told in the third-floor exhibit that features more than 200 artifacts representing records in batting, home runs, pitching, base running, fielding, team records and a seventh category that includes tallest, oldest, most seasons played and records held by umpires.
“It’s all here,” said Niekro. “It blows my mind to see what the exhibit really is. To know that these guys actually did this and set these records. I don’t know if guys try to break records until they get real close to it and say: ‘Gee, I’ve really got a chance to break this.’”
The exhibit is the most technologically advanced in the Museum’s history and is the first to be funded by a wide-spread capital campaign. The majority of records that are represented are from the Major Leagues, but also celebrated are records from the minor leagues, Negro leagues, All American Girls Professional Baseball League, Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan and even Little League Baseball.
“I’m not a big record guy,” Niekro said. “But when you come and see them all like this, you really see what these guys accomplished.”
Samantha Carr is the manager of web and digital media for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.