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By John Odell
Billy Crystal has spent a lifetime – professionally and personally – in love with baseball.
On Friday, he got the guided tour of a lifetime at the Hall of Fame.
Crystal, in Cooperstown for Friday’s Hall of Fame tribute to the HBO film 61*, visited the Hall of Fame archive for the first time. The award-winning actor, who brought 61* to life in 2001 as the film’s director and co-executive producer, donated several artifacts from 61* to the Hall of Fame, including a bound shooting script.
Later, Crystal got to see Hall of Fame treasures like the bat Roger Maris used to hit home run No. 61 on Oct. 1, 1961 and a bat Mickey Mantle used during his 1956 Triple Crown season. Both players have a special meaning for Crystal, whose meticulous adaptation of their story resulted in a timeless cinematic production.
Crystal also got a tour of the Museum’s National Baseball Library, where he examined day-by-day records of the 1961 season – charting Mantle and Maris’ pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record – and a Library file on his own career, documenting his 2008 Spring Training at-bat with the Yankees as well as his work on 61*.
As he began his tour, a Hall of Fame staffer said to Crystal: “Have a great day!”
Crystal – sounding just like his baseball-fan character Mitch Robbins in the movie City Slickers - replied: “I already am!”
John Odell is the curator of history and research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.