The following article is excerpted from the upcoming Fall issue of Baseball History and Art magazine, published by Helmar. Mike Shannon conducted the interview with Anne Jewell, executive director of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.
Born in South Bend, Indiana, to a newspaper reporter (father) and a homemaker (mother), Anne Therese Jewell entered this life as the lone sister to three brothers. She grew up in Toledo, Ohio, a tomboy who relished playing many of the main American sports (especially baseball and softball), as well as watching her brothers play them. She graduated summa cum laude from Denison University (Granville, Ohio), where she majored in psychology, minored in sports communications, and captained the women’s varsity volleyball team.
After earning a Master’s degree in psychology from Wake Forest University in 1989, she interned as an on-air reporter for radio station WTQR in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Jewell interrupted her journalism career for a nine-month stint in Ireland, where she traveled broadly and worked as a “Kelly Girl” in a variety of professional office settings (she also moonlighted by delivering “Kiss-O-Grams” in a much more innocent time than the present day).
Back in America, she took up where she left off, working as a radio/TV reporter for WNDU in South Bend and later for WHAS-TV in Louisville, where she won an Emmy Award for a series of reports on the historic Palace Theatre in downtown Louisville. In 1997 she became the Marketing and Public Relations Director for the Belle of Louisville steamboat, and in 2000 she was hired by Louisville Slugger Museum. Three short years later she was named to her current position.
Under Jewell’s leadership, the Museum has added temporary special exhibits and a traveling museum, while also enjoying expanded hours, increased attendance, and a major building renovation. A life-long fan of the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs (she has both ends of the baseball spectrum covered), she received the Pee Wee Reese SABR chapter’s Home Plate Award in 2013.
Helmar Magazine: “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” seems like a good place to start. Even with your athletic upbringing in Toledo, did you ever dream of working for a company in the sports industry with such a macho image?
Anne Jewell: Ha! Would you believe I’ve given presentations with that very title? Except I left out the word “nice.” Did I ever dream of working in the sports industry? I could show you a paper I wrote for careers class my sophomore year in high school. I wanted to be a television sports reporter. Back then, women covering sports was rare. During my television reporting career, I jumped at any chance to do sports. We’ve come a long way in that regard, but there’s still a long way to go.
The world of sports has always been a comfortable spot for me. Growing up with three brothers I always had to play to make the sides even, no matter what the sport or made-up game. So the “macho” thing was never a factor for me. You’re talking to a chick who had her own stage name for tag team wrestling matches with her brothers. I was “The Blue Gypsy,” and we would throw down on that beanbag chair in the living room. I was raised in a family where it never occurred to me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do anything that boys could do. My dad did draw the line when I expressed an interest in playing organized football, but to his credit he did it in a low-key, loving way. He didn’t laugh or roll his eyes at me. I’m thankful that I was raised with the opportunity to understand and enjoy sports, because sporting events are such a huge part of our culture–I can’t imagine missing out on that experience. I believe my participation in and passion for sports has helped build my character and my career.
I’m a feminist and have never shied away from that term. Unfortunately, a lot of women do. I wish more women were in leadership roles in society in general, from the Catholic Church to the boardroom to Capitol Hill. I’m happy to say that, in general, it seems fewer people are surprised or skeptical when they learn I’m a VP and the Executive Director of Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. Earlier in my career I would run into those reactions more often.
I remember an encounter with a guy who was a special guest of our golf division. I was giving him a VIP tour. He looked at one of our bats on display and said it must have been used as a fungo bat. Well, it was a bottle bat, a potato masher. One of those bats with the huge barrel, it would never work as a fungo and looked nothing like one. He said, “That looks like a fungo bat to me.” I thought to myself, “How do I respond without embarrassing him?” And in that short moment where I weighed my answer out of concern for his feelings and ego, he gave me a mean smile and said, “You don’t even know what a fungo bat is, do you?” I don’t recall exactly how I responded, I know I tried to keep it light and professional, but I was angry. It makes for a good story now, and I sometimes wonder if this know-it-all-golfer is out there somewhere, trying to putt with a driver.
Helmar: Please explain exactly how you first got hired by Louisville Slugger. Were you recruited or did you just submit an application, hoping for an interview?
Anne Jewell: Louisville Slugger Museum’s first Executive Director, Bill Williams, asked if I’d be interested in applying and encouraged me to do so. He was a longtime executive with the company. In his role with the museum we worked together on some tourism-focused committees, and he liked some of the ideas I brought to the table. At the time I was working for the historic steamboat in town, the Belle of Louisville, and wasn’t necessarily looking to leave there. But this was Louisville Slugger, and I felt I needed to at least check it out. I’m glad I did; it’s been a good fit for me and for the company.
Helmar: Even though a book could be written on the subject (and you have written one), could you talk a bit about the Louisville Slugger brand … explaining its status, power, recognizability factor?
Anne Jewell: The Louisville Slugger brand is so strong that the general public tends to think that whenever they see a pro ballplayer with a bat, it’s a Louisville Slugger. Marketing research shows the Louisville Slugger consistently blows away the competition in recognition. When your brand makes it into pop culture references with songs, movies, and television, it’s a testament to its power. After more than 130 years of making baseball bats, Louisville Slugger is deeply associated with baseball, and baseball is deeply ingrained in American history and culture, which means the Louisville Slugger brand is, too. We see it every day in our museum. Generations connect over the Louisville Slugger brand.
Helmar: Obviously, the Louisville Slugger factory makes baseball bats, the core of the company’s business. What exactly is the purpose/function of the Louisville Slugger Museum?
Anne Jewell: We sum it up with our LSMF Mission Statement: “To celebrate and communicate the extraordinary role of Louisville Slugger in baseball’s past, present, and future.” We see the museum team as brand ambassadors and want our guests to experience a genuine connection with Louisville Slugger in a fun, memorable way. Ultimately, we hope that connection nurtures a lasting loyalty to the Louisville Slugger brand.
Helmar: From past exhibits it seems as if the LSFM is a storehouse of significant baseball memorabilia. True? What are some of the treasures there that impress or surprise you?
Anne Jewell: Yes, I agree that LSMF houses significant baseball memorabilia. We try to bring that memorabilia to life with great storytelling and interactive opportunities for our guests. We were the first baseball attraction to allow guests to hold game-used bats, precious one-of-a-kind artifacts from baseball superstars and heroes. A healthy debate preceded that decision, and it has turned out to be one of the best things that we’ve ever done. The experience delights our guests. We are working to build our collection for the future so that all generations will find something to connect with when they visit us.
Our treasures that most impress me in terms of bats are the Babe Ruth Notched Bat (he carved a notch in it for every home run he hit with it during his record-setting year in 1927), the Joe DiMaggio Streak Bat (the third and final bat he used during his 56-game hitting streak), and the Hank Aaron 700th Home Run Bat (when he held it several years ago he said it felt like it still had a few home runs in it). Beyond bats, our collection of player contracts always gives me a little thrill when I get to share it with others. They are so informative, entertaining, and historically significant. Many of them have handwritten notes and contain fascinating tidbits. Did you know we signed Joe DiMaggio for $1? And we signed Jackie Robinson before he officially broke the color barrier. I never get tired of studying those vintage contracts.
As for biggest surprises, when one of the bats in our collection was authenticated as a bat used by Pete Browning–that was a breathtaking surprise. We believe our first pro player bats were made for Browning (who was nicknamed “The Louisville Slugger”) back in 1884, so he’s a very important part of our company’s history. Another fun surprise is a bat used by Mike Schmidt. He was under contract to a different bat company, and he “disguised” his Louisville Slugger bat to make it look like it was made by the other company in case they were watching.
Helmar: Can you talk a little about Louisville Slugger’s Living Legend Award and also tell us which has been your favorite of the LL ceremonies?
Anne Jewell: Oh, c’mon! That’s like asking a mom to pick her favorite child! I will answer this in a couple of ways. From the viewpoint of our guests, Johnny Bench and Ozzie Smith were standouts because they were so open and approachable. Johnny was walking around our museum store earlier in the day, surprising guests with his presence. That was a lot of fun, and he really put folks at ease the entire evening. Ozzie was the first Living Legend to take questions from the audience during the ceremony. That took a lot of guts and poise, but he was so honest and entertaining. The Q&A lasted quite a while, to the point where I asked his rep if I needed to cut it off for him so it wouldn’t look like he was ending it, but she said not to worry, he’d handle it. The guests loved it. Those two set a very high standard in terms of interacting with fans in attendance.
Ozzie Smith at L.Slugger Museum preview party. #Louisvillesluggermuseum#huntauctions pic.twitter.com/tEnZP8hn8z
— Hunt Auctions (@HuntAuctions) November 15, 2014
From my own personal viewpoint, some of my other favorite moments include Ken Griffey Sr. presenting our inaugural award to Junior. The affection and humor between the two of them was really sweet and continued to play out during the press conference. I loved it when Hank Aaron said one of our factory craftsmen, Danny Luckett, should’ve been inducted into the Hall of Fame with him. It meant a lot to us for a hitter like Aaron to give so much credit to his bat maker. And memories of Ernie Banks requesting that we track down a large bottle of his favorite bourbon to take back with him still makes our museum team smile.
I can’t classify this next Living Legend experience as a “favorite” with the others, but it’s one that had a lasting impact on me. I will never, ever forget it. And I have a special place in my heart for Frank Robinson because of it.
He was our 2008 Living Legend, and the day of the ceremony I received a horrible phone message from a racist coward. The hateful rant was directed towards me and our selection of Robinson as our Legend. As a result, an hour before we open the doors, I’m in our counsel’s office with our lawyer and security chief, very upset and crying. Really, I was shaken to the core by the hatred spewed from this guy. What hit me so deeply was the fact that this was just one call, and I thought about how these African-American baseball trailblazers had experienced this nightmarish, very real, and deep racism all the time and persevered through it. How did they do it? I thought of their wives and children and was so moved by their strength and bravery. I was kind of embarrassed that one call could upset me so, when these guys and their families had endured so much of it.
We alerted Robinson and gave him the option of not appearing. The response came back that he was sorry to hear I had experienced that and it certainly wasn’t going to stop him from attending. I was deeply touched by his expression of concern for me. We brought in some extra security and had a wonderful night.
We started the Living Legend Award for a couple of different reasons. Over the years, our guests have consistently told us how much they wanted more player appearances, and we also wanted to create a special event to spice-up the preview party of our annual auction with Hunt Auctions. Each Living Legend year is a little different, with a different vibe for the various players. One consistent fact is how terrific the players have been.
Some players might have had reputations for being “difficult” over the course of their careers, but we’ve just never encountered that when they’ve been here. We try very hard to make it a special experience for them, knowing that they attend so many ceremonies. We keep it fairly casual and festive, and we always try to find someone special to them to present the award, so it means more to them. We also make it a relatively short ceremony and try to keep it moving at a lively pace.
One thing I’ve noticed during the pre-ceremony press conference is how all of our Living Legends become so much more relaxed and comfortable when we place a bat in their hands. We typically pull one of their bats from our collection and hand it to them during the press conference. With some of them you can actually see a transformation in their posture, voice, and facial expression. I love that our bats can elicit that kind of reaction. We also pull their Louisville Slugger contract and show it to them, which always inspires some fun responses.
Helmar: Other than the Living Legend Award Ceremonies, what has been the most successful, best-attended show at the Louisville Slugger Museum?
Anne Jewell: We had a magical night with Stan Musial a number of years before we started the Living Legend Award. Looking back on it now I’dsay it was a prototype for the Living Legend event. We had a full house. We showed photos from our archives and used them to walk through his career. We’ve also had great success with some book signings and readings. Claudia Williams joined us last year for a very memorable program and book signing related to the book she wrote about her father. She was such a powerful and delightful guest that we asked her back again this year. And Frank Messina, “The Mets Poet,” is a favorite. He has entertained our guests with poetry readings. We’re always on the lookout for different ways to interpret the sport with our visitors. Another success was a Latin-themed event tied to our Roberto Clemente exhibition with the Smithsonian. We had a terrific turn-out, and the activities were culturally relevant and lots of fun.
Helmar: Ted Williams is famous for having been very picky. Do any players still visit the factory to choose the wood and inspect the whole bat-making process as Ted used to?
Anne Jewell: There’s never been anyone like Ted. I’m not aware of any other players who were so deeply involved in the making of their bats on a regular basis, but we do still get players coming through to see the bat-making process. They all leave with a new appreciation for what goes into the crafting of their sticks and the deep heritage of the Louisville Slugger brand. Active players who have visited during my 15 years here include Derek Jeter, Craig Biggio, Todd Helton, Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher, David Wright, Tino Martinez, Christian Yelich, and Hanley Ramirez.
Helmar: Hillerich & Bradsby Co.’s decision in 2015 to sell the Louisville Slugger brand to Wilson came as a shocker to many people. Can you explain the thinking behind the move, how it impacts LS and your vision for the future of LSMF?
Anne Jewell: From condolences to congratulations, friends and colleagues of mine have expressed a range of emotions since H&B announced its decision to sell the Louisville Slugger brand to Wilson. Whether their reactions were positive or negative, the feelings have all been rooted in a love and respect for Louisville Slugger.
For many months leading up to the decision, extensive research and debate took place. Ultimately, given the challenges of the current marketplace, all involved felt a change in the business model was necessary for the Louisville Slugger brand to continue to carry on and thrive, and Wilson was chosen as the best partner.
Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is not part of the acquisition by Wilson. As a family-run business, H&B will continue to own and operate the museum, and H&B will become Wilson’s exclusive manufacturing partner for wood bats. That means our factory will continue to produce Louisville Slugger branded bats in Louisville, as the family-owned business has done since their first bat for Pete Browning in 1884.
With this carefully thought-out deal, H&B and the brand are now poised to grow, but in different ways. Under the stewardship of a much larger company like Wilson, the Louisville Slugger brand will have resources that were not available to it as a part of H&B – resources that are critical for success in today’s high-performance sports equipment industry. At the same time, H&B as a smaller company is returning to its roots by focusing primarily on the wood bat business – this time with a tourist attraction as part of the mix.
Last year, Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory conducted about 12,000 factory tours for almost 300,000 guests. One of the facts we share on the tour is how critical it is to place the Louisville Slugger brand in the proper location on the bat, and the importance of holding the bat in the correct position. These things ensure the best chances for a solid hit, and help lower the possibility of a broken bat. In a similar way, the agreement putting Louisville Slugger in the hands of Wilson places this beloved brand in the best position for future success.
I’m enthusiastic about the museum’s outlook and our continuing role as an ambassador for the powerful and treasured Louisville Slugger name. We welcomed our 4-millionth guest in 2014, and LSMF celebrates our 20th Anniversary next year. We just opened one of our most spectacular and entertaining exhibitions to date: Topps Pop Culture: Home Runs to Hollywood. In 2016 we’ll unveil an original and tremendous baseball-themed exhibition with worldwide icon Ripley’s Believe It or Not! And, in 2017 our immensely popular exhibition Big Leagues, Little Bricks returns with original baseball-centric artwork made entirely from LEGO bricks.
We’ve also expanded our Mobile Museum appearances to include St. Louis and Indianapolis this summer, along with treks to Milwaukee, Chicago, and Cincinnati. Our Museum Store is setting sales records, and we have begun strategic planning for updates to the museum to make sure we stay at the top of our game. There’s a lot to look forward to in the months and years ahead for Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.
Helmar: Thanks for your time, Anne, and for sharing so much about your interesting life and your great job. What is the best way for baseball fans to keep up with everything that you will have in store for them in the future?
Anne Jewell: We love to communicate with baseball fans, and we have lots to share. Our website www.sluggermuseum.com has an active “What’s Happening” section with the latest news. Our Facebook page stays current with upcoming events and special offers. We send a newsletter to folks on our email list, which your readers can join by signing up at our website. We also have exciting new plans for a blog and e-calendar. We’re doing more than ever in terms of events, programs, and exhibits, so it’s a terrific time to connect with us.
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