If you ever wish to go to Cooperstown, New York and visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame – and wish to have the museum largely to yourself – I suggest a visit in early January, particularly during a brutal run of sub-zero temperatures. There were days that the only people in the hall of fame were myself, my frequent research partner Sean Gammon, and the museum staff. Hand on heart, we essentially had a multiday private viewing of one of the most famous sports museums in the world.
While Sean and I are hard at work on a couple of manuscripts based off of our time in Cooperstown, I thought I’d share a few stray observations about the National Baseball Hall of Fame:
– I was impressed at how the museum handled some of the more contentious debates in baseball, in particular PEDs, labour disputes, and Pete Rose. They provided space for visitors to express their views, and allowed museum guides to express their own opinions. There’s even signage early on in the exhibits that positions the museums approach to, in particular, PEDs.
– Visiting the museum, ironically, made me interested in learning more about Negro Leagues baseball. That said, the section on African-Americans in baseball was a bit sparse, and seemed to suggest that racism in baseball ended in 1953.
– Some of the more surprising artefacts I noticed in the collection included items from Marvin Miller and Curt Flood, buttons made by fans protesting labour disruptions, a copy of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, a copy of the Mitchell Report, and a Detroit Tigers pride cap.
– Guides told us that Ichrio often visits the museum and is one of its most generous patrons.
– There are very few mentions of death in the museum. Only the exhibits about stadiums, interestingly enough, had dates of “death”.
– The hall of fame section is like a mosoleum. People speak in hushed tones. It is also warmer than any other section of the museum.
– I found it interesting that the only two players who had individual exhibits were Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. I was expecting one for Jackie Robinson.
– I think my favourite part of the museum was the exhibit about stadiums (“Sacred Ground”). The interpretive panels were very well written (with some remarkable observations about nostalgia and topophilia), and was the one section of the museum that really addressed the traditions and rituals of baseball spectating.
– My favourite artefact was the Barry Bonds “asterisk” home run record ball.
– It is well worth a visit, though I think my experience was unique given the time of year. The place must feel claustrophobic in the middle of summer.