Magazine article USA TODAY

Baseball as America

Magazine article USA TODAY

Baseball as America

Article excerpt

The traveling exhibition "Baseball as America" showcases a whopping 500 treasures from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y., dating from the game's early roots in the 19th century to the present day. It offers a fascinating look at American culture and the country's devotion to the sport.

"Baseball and America have grown up together. In fact, the game is such an integral part of our culture that we often take for granted its deep day-to-day significance in our lives," notes Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the board of the Hall of Fame. "In bringing this exhibition to people across the country, it is our hope that we can learn more about ourselves as a people who possess a shared set of values, as reflected through our national game."

"Baseball is the great sport and the great pastime of America" adds Peter C. Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "It's a reflection of our culture--men, women, children, minorities--and has been a part of our history stretching back to the early 1800s, and possibly further. 'Baseball As America' reveals the many aspects of our country's history that are entwined with baseball."

Visitors to the exhibition will see the curious (an orange baseball designed for better visibility and the San Diego Chicken costume), the cherished (the 1908 handwritten manuscript of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and the mitt used by New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra in the perfect game pitched by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series), and the heartbreaking (a letter from Babe Ruth to polio patient Freddie Clark and a ticket to Lou Gehrig Day and the trophy presented to the fatally ill first baseman by his teammates).

Baseballs, bats, baseball cards, caps, cartoons, gloves and mitts, jerseys and uniforms, programs and scorecards, tickets and season passes, and trophies and awards are among the numerous other items in the exhibition, in addition to works of art and clips from films. Specific items include baseball's most sacred relic, the Abner Doubleday ball from the mythic first game in 1839; a 1924 program for the first World's Colored Championship; a 1940s pennant from the New York Black Yankees; a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card; caps worn by Hall-of-Famers Satchel Paige (1952) and Roberto Clemente (c. 1972); the ball used by Roger Clemens vs. Seattle in 1986 when "The Rocket" set the record for the most strikeouts (20) in a nine-inning game; and the 1990 Texas Rangers jersey worn by Nolan Ryan when he pitched his sixth career no-hitter.

The exhibition is presented in seven sections: "Our National Spirit" explores baseball as the national pastime and its connection to patriotism and the presidency. "Ideals and Injustices" deals with issues of discrimination in the game. "Rooting for the Team" illustrates fan involvement. "Enterprise and Opportunity" examines the business of baseball. "Sharing a Common Culture" identifies the game's influence on our culture. "Invention and Ingenuity" traces innovative elements of the sport, while "Weaving Myths" looks at the myths surrounding the game's superstars.

Our National Spirit. Baseball is so closely identified with American ideals and identity that it often has served as an expression of patriotism. In times of prosperity and challenge, the game has rallied the nation. This section looks at the tradition of the president throwing out the "first pitch" on Opening Day. Several balls used in this special ceremony--including one signed by Pres. William H. Taft (who began the time-honored practice in 1910) and another thrown by Pres. George W. Bush at Yankee Stadium before Game 1 of the 2001 World Series (in honor of the victims and heroes of 9/ll)--are displayed, as is a ball signed by 10 presidents, including John F. Kennedy. There also is the "Green Light Letter," written by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, encouraging professional baseball to continue through World War II in order to boost the country's morale. …

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