History Day in Cooperstown

Francis_90By Bill Francis

History comes alive every day at the Baseball Hall of Fame – and not just baseball history.

Nearly 600 middle and high school students from throughout the Empire State converged in Cooperstown on Monday to compete in the annual New York History Day contest.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Bullpen Theater, Learning Center, and Library Conference Room were some of the village locations that saw students present their papers, documentaries, exhibits, websites and performances. The Fenimore Art Museum, the Farmers’ Museum and the Otesaga Hotel also played host to the day’s events, which concluded with an awards ceremony at the Cooperstown Middle/High School.

National History Day LogoAs one of the judges for Senior (grades 9-12) Group Documentary, I was privileged to see the extraordinary work produced by a number of highly motivated and eager students. The final result, documentaries of no more than 10 minutes, involved a wide variety of topics such as Apollo 11, Henry Ford’s assembly line, New York City’s subway system, the smallpox vaccine, and Sputnik.

New York State History Day, an educational outreach program of the New York State Historical Association, is a year-long history education program that challenges students in sixth through 12th grade to produce “exceptional scholarship” on topics related to an annual theme. This year’s theme was “Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events.” Students presented their projects to a panel of judges in a series of competitions starting at the local level. by a number of highly motivated and eager students. The final result, documentaries of no more than 10 minutes, involved a wide variety of topics such as Apollo 11, Henry Ford’s assembly line, New York City’s subway system, the smallpox vaccine, and Sputnik.

Not only did the young scholars have to research their topics, but in the case of the documentary option I witnessed, had to produce an engaging and informative film. Using photos, videos or interviews they conducted, one could tell by viewing the final product that each of the participants spent countless hours for a well-received final result.

Students who placed first and second in their categories in Cooperstown are eligible to compete at National History Day in College Park, Md., in June.

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Sharp as a SABR

Francis_90By Bill Francis

The Society for American Baseball Research’s Nineteenth Century Committee held its fifth annual Frederick Ivor-Campbell Base Ball Conference at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Bullpen Theater over two days last week, beginning Friday afternoon and continuing all day Saturday. For the registered attendees from across the country, it was an opportunity to engage with others who share the same unique passion.

“It gives me a chance to hang out with people who care about what I care about, which is the old-time game,” said John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian as well as a moderator during Saturday morning’s panel discussion entitled The Evolution of the Pitching/Catching Battery. “And it’s very convivial and it’s one of my favorite weekends of the year.”

Hall of Fame Senior Curator Tom Shieber delivers the keynote address during SABR's 19th century committee gathering in Cooperstown last weekend. (Jim Gates/National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Hall of Fame Senior Curator Tom Shieber delivers the keynote address during SABR’s 19th century committee gathering in Cooperstown last weekend. (Jim Gates/NBHOF Library)

Other programs held during the two days included The Two Faces of Baseball’s Creation Myth, Jimmy Fogarty and the Players Brotherhood, and Beer Tanks & Barbed Wire: Bill Barnie and the Baltimore Orioles of the AA (1883-1891).

“It’s a great opportunity to meet other people who have the same fascination as I do,” said acclaimed baseball historian and author Peter Morris. “We share ideas, hear a lot of new ideas, and hear what people are working on.”

Morris was a member of the Pre-Integration Era Committee that elected umpire Hank O’Day, New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and 19th century player Deacon White to the Hall of Fame in December at MLB’s Winter Meetings. The Pre-Integration Era covered candidates whose most significant career impact was realized from baseball’s origins through 1946.

The Hall of Fame hosted SABR's Frederick Ivor-Campbell Base Ball Conference last weekend. From left, Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz, Hall of Fame Senior Curator Tom Shieber, MLB Historian John Thorn, SABR Executive Director Marc Appleman and SABR 19th Century Committee chairman Peter Mancuso share a moment at the Conference. (Jim Gates/National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

The Hall of Fame hosted SABR’s Frederick Ivor-Campbell Base Ball Conference last weekend. From left, Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz, Hall of Fame Senior Curator Tom Shieber, MLB Historian John Thorn, SABR Executive Director Marc Appleman and SABR 19th Century Committee chairman Peter Mancuso share a moment at the Conference. (Jim Gates/NBHOF Library)

“It was exciting to have recognition go to players who I think have deserved it for a long time,” Morris said. “Just because the Hall of Fame didn’t start until the 1930s there was a whole generation who never get evaluated by their peers, and there’s no way to get around that, but I think at least now we’ve had a group of historians who’ve looked at them and really given them a fair chance.

“Personally, being part of the Committee was just so rewarding. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. In preparing for it weeks and months beforehand, and then when it came, it was even more exciting and better than I ever dreamed it would be.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum  

Papal Ball

By Tim WilesWiles_90

If you are reading this, chances are you believe in “The Church of Baseball. “ So did Sparky Anderson.

One of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s most unique artifacts is a baseball signed by Pope John Paul II to Sparky. The story behind the ball is told in Dan Ewald’s wonderful 2012 book “Sparky and Me: My Friendship With Sparky Anderson and the Lessons He Shared About Baseball and Life.”

The baseball that the Pope signed and presented to Sparky Anderson. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

The baseball that Pope John Paul II signed and presented to Sparky Anderson. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

Sparky was a devoted follower of Catholicism who attended Mass whenever his baseball schedule permitted. He was also friends with Detroit Archbishop Edmund Szoka, a big Tigers fan. In 1987, Archbishop Szoka helped arrange a papal visit by John Paul II to the heavily Polish community of Hamtramck, near Detroit.

The massive crowd exploded with cheers, Ewald says, when Sparky was brought on stage to meet the Pope. Szoka explained to the Pope that Sparky managed the local baseball team, and “was a beloved figure in the community.”  The Pope later presented Sparky with a baseball, which Ewald notes is “probably the first baseball ever signed by a Pope.”

The inscription reads “To Sparky, #11, cum benedictione, Joanes Paules II,” along with the date on which it was signed in 1993.  (The Tigers lost to the Red Sox that day, 13-4 at Fenway Park.)  The Latin inscription translates as “with benediction.”

Sparky Anderson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, and gave the Museum this ball shortly thereafter.

Anderson was humbled by meeting the Pope, and later told his good friend Ewald “This sounds crazy, but I never saw nothin’ in my life like the look in the Pope’s eyes. I can’t explain it, but his eyes really did twinkle.  It was the most peaceful look I ever saw in my life.”

Tim Wiles is the director of research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

A Repeat of History

Muder_90By Craig Muder

In a game that has known more than 140 professional seasons, there’s not much new under the sun.

Take the latest issue involving player safety in baseball: The suggestion that pitchers be mandated to wear padded caps on the mound to avoid injuries like the A’s Brandon McCarthy suffered last September when he was struck in the head by a line drive.

MLB said Friday that no such cap would be approved by Opening Day, though testing on many prototypes continues.

Meanwhile, McCarthy – who bounced back following emergency brain surgery to sign a two-year deal with the Diamondbacks this offseason – says the safety caps available now are not workable.

MLB first mandated the use of protective helmets in the late 1950's. Here is a helmet worn by Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.

MLB first mandated the use of protective helmets in the late 1950′s. Here is a helmet worn by Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.

Sounds a lot like the controversy that swirled around baseball in 1940, when the debate over batting helmets came to a boil. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library contains a file on that topic, with letters to and from American League President and future Hall of Famer Will Harridge on the subject. Harridge communicated with journalists and sporting goods manufacturers about the controversy, which began to rise when Philadelphia A’s shortstop Skeeter Newsome was beaned during an in-season exhibition game in 1937.

Newsome wore a cap with reinforced padding upon his return, and Harridge supported the idea of having “each club or the players to determine their own course.” But National League President Ford Frick came out that summer in favor of mandatory helmet wear.

Most players and managers, however, did not support the idea.

“(The helmets) might be all right if they get a good one,” said Cardinals outfielder Terry Moore at that summer’s All-Star Game in St. Louis. Moore was reportedly the only National League All-Star who was even willing to try on a helmet prototype for photo purposes.

The idea, however, caught on – with teams adopting helmets voluntarily throughout the 1940s and 1950s until both leagues adopted mandatory use in the late 1950s.

What will become of the padded-cap-for-pitchers idea? Time will tell… and when it does, that history will be recorded in Cooperstown.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

An Extra-Special Night to Remember

Spotlight on baseball: Hall of Fame gears up for 4th Annual Baseball Film FestivalBy Steve Light

Many people can say they’ve visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but how many can boast to having camped there?

On Saturday evening, the National Baseball Hall of Fame stayed open a little bit late for a group of young baseball players from Ossining, N.Y., and a Cub Scout Pack from Garden City, N.Y. In fact, the Museum never closed. These young baseball enthusiasts and their parents and coaches had a night to remember as they took part in the Hall’s Extra Innings Overnight program.

(Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

(Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

Arriving after the Museum had closed to the general public, our overnight guests dropped their gear in alcoves of the Hall of Fame Gallery. Difficult choices abounded: Sleep underneath the first five or seek out the most recent inductees, Barry Larkin and Ron Santo? Perhaps they could find a comfortable spot underneath Jackie Robinson’s plaque, which shares an alcove with legendary flame thrower Bob Feller.

With the sleeping arrangements made, the group made their way upstairs to get their visit started with a special showing of The Baseball Experience in the Grandstand Theater. They then had the whole Museum to themselves for the next two hours. It was difficult to tell who was more excited, the kids (many of whom had never been to the Hall of Fame) or the parents (whose last visit to Cooperstown came when they were just kids).

The group made their way through the Museum, completing their Discovery Tour Scavenger Hunts. On the second floor, Museum Teacher Frank Capozza engaged the kids with baseball equipment from the Hall of Fame’s education collection, explaining how new technologies have changed the game through the years. Meanwhile, in the Hall of Fame’s Learning Center the overnighters learned how they put their knowledge of science to use each time they step to the plate, and in the Bullpen Theater kids and adults helped our Education staff recreate the dramatic radio call of Henry Aaron’s 715th Home Run.

After exploring the Museum and taking part in these special programs, everyone met up in the Grandstand Theater to complete their night with a baseball movie and snacks.  By 11:30, we had tired our guests out and it was time to sleep amidst the plaques and artifacts of baseball’s immortals.

A light breakfast and one last look around the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery and our visitors were on their way before the Museum opened on Saturday morning, but they didn’t stray too far. Many planned to take advantage of their free admission on Sunday to visit the Museum Store and find out what the Hall looks like under the light of day.

The Hall offers its Extra Innings Overnight program several times a year. Visit http://baseballhall.org/plan-your-visit/special-experiences/extra-innings to find our upcoming dates, or call (607) 547-0347 for more information.

Steve Light is the manager of museum programming at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

See You Soon, Mo

Muder_90By Craig Muder

This year’s Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame election reminded us that the only guarantee with the voting results is that there are no guarantees.

But when Mariano Rivera officially announced today that 2013 will be his last season, it started the countdown to what should be a spectacular celebration in the summer of 2019.

Mariano Rivera will retire as the all-time leader in saves with 608 and counting. (Brad Mangin/NBHOF Library)

Mariano Rivera will retire as the all-time leader in saves with 608 and counting. (Brad Mangin/NBHOF Library)

By any measure, Rivera is the game’s greatest closer. He will retire as the all-time leader in saves with 608 and counting – a mark he will almost undoubtedly hold for the rest of the decade as only one active pitcher, Jason Isringhausen, has even 300 saves. But it’s his dominance en route to those saves that is truly mind-boggling.

Rivera’s career earned-run average of 2.21 is the best of any pitcher who started his career in the live ball era (post 1919) and is the 13th best of all-time, regardless of era. He is one of only three pitchers with a WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) under 1.00 (0.998) – the other two being dead-ball era standouts (and Hall of Famers) Addie Joss and Ed Walsh. And his career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.04 trails only Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez among modern pitchers.

And then there’s the postseason. In 96 career games, Rivera is 8-1 with 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA. In 96 appearances, he’s been scored on 11 times – surrendering more than one earned run only once. He was arguably the main reason the Yankees won five World Series titles from 1996-2009.

If Rivera retires after this season, he’ll be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2019. He joins an incredible impending lineup of Hall of Fame eligibles over the next few years, including: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas in 2014; Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz in 2015; Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman in 2016, Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez in 2017; and Chipper Jones and Omar Vizquel (and maybe Jim Thome, if he does not play this year) in 2018.

Guarantees? Save that for banks and used car dealers. But this is for certain: We shall never see Rivera’s like again on the mound.

Cooperstown will soon come calling for Mo.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Why Waite? Experience History Today in Cooperstown

Muder_90By Craig Muder

The letter on White House stationery is hand-addressed and carries a first-class, eight-cent stamp.

The addressee is Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt. And the author is Richard Nixon.

Cartoon featuring pitcher Waite C. Hoyt at the Polo Grounds. Published in The New York World, Magazine and Story Section on May 28th, 1916. (NBHOF Library)

Cartoon featuring pitcher Waite C. Hoyt at the Polo Grounds. Published in The New York World, Magazine and Story Section on May 28th, 1916. (NBHOF Library)

The archives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum are regarded as the home of the most impressive baseball library in the world. But much of that baseball history overlaps with our nation’s history – and it is all preserved in Cooperstown.

Hoyt was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969 after winning 237 games over 21 big league seasons. When he retired, Hoyt became a broadcaster and spent 24 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds before retiring in 1965.

Upon his Hall of Fame election and throughout his later years, Hoyt donated hundreds of documents to the Hall of Fame Library. This recently re-organized collection features telegrams of congratulations following his 3,000th broadcast in 1959, Hall of Fame Induction Weekend programs and several postal exchanges between Hoyt and various politicians, including the 37th President of the United States.

“You look down at those letters and realize: “Richard Nixon signed this,’” said Claudette Scrafford, the manuscript archivist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Hoyt’s papers – and thousands of others like them – are available to researchers at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. And though Hoyt passed away in 1984, his diligent record-keeping – and generous donations – have preserved the history he made and experienced for generations to come.

To learn more about researching at the Hall of Fame, please send an email to research@baseballhall.org.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 60 other followers