The Baseball Hall of Fame has many more items than it can actually display. So what makes the cut? And what happens to the other stuff?
By ERIC AHLQVIST/The Cooperstown Crier
There is much, much more to the Hall of Fame than bats, balls and gloves. In fact, many of the most unusual or offbeat items at the Hall often turn out to be the ones visitors to the museum are the most interested in, according to senior curator Tom Shieber.
“When you see a bat from a distance it’s just that, but if you’re touring the museum and see a bowling pin or machete, it’s much more likely to make you take notice and inspect why it’s here,’’ Shieber explained. “The unusual items that we have are here because they either fill a hole in our collection, or help us tell a story in an exhibit.’’
So, in the basement of the Hall of Fame, one could find a bowling pin presented to Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby during Hornsby Bowling Night at Crosley Field in Cincinnati on Aug. 2, 1952. And a red felt Shriner’s fez that once belonged to Ty Cobb, who was made Noble of the Moslem Temple in Detroit in 1912. Hornsby’s bowling pin was donated by a relative in 1969, and Cobb’s fez in 1983, and Shieber said the process by which items are selected for inclusion in the Hall’s collection is much more formal today.
“We have layers of research we do to authenticate every item,’’ he said.
After an item is offered to the Hall of Fame, the museum holds ascension committee meetings consisting of between 10 and 12 people. They discuss the merits of the piece, and vote on its inclusion.
“It might be something outstanding, but if we already have something similar and doesn’t add significantly to our collection, we usually don’t accept it,’’ Shieber said.
Only about 25 percent of the approximately 1,500 items the Hall considers each year is accepted by the committee.
Curator of Collections Peter Clark has worked at the Hall of Fame for 39 years, and used to give a slide show presentation on unusual artifacts at the Hall of Fame.
Clark shared stories about some of the more unusual artifacts the Hall has in its possession.
The Humorous: Clark said the Hall has a harmonica played by former New York Yankee Phil Linz on the team bus in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Linz was playing “Mary had a Little Lamb’’ when Yogi Berra yelled from the front of the bus for him to stop playing, Clark related.
“What’d he say?’’ Linz asked Mickey Mantle.
“He said play louder,’’ Mantle answered without missing a beat.
When Linz did, Berra rushed to the back of the bus and a fight broke out. Linz made out in the end, though, as the Hohner Harmonica Company heard about the fight and paid Linz $5,000 to endorse their harmonica in a commercial.
The Ironic: In 1946, Alison DeGenero, who billed himself as the “World’s Biggest Baseball Fan,’’ began selling eyeglass cleaner with the inscription “For Watching Sports’’ on it. Sadly, DeGenero later went blind but his eyeglass cleaner is in the Hall of Fame.
The Spirited: The Hall also has in its collection a metal hand with a glove on the palm made by a man who lost four fingers in a farming accident. The glove appeared in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. “It really shows how dedicated this man was to playing baseball, and how much he loved the game,’’ Clark said.
The Weird: Clark said one of the “Special Green Weenie’’ Pittsburgh Pirate fans waved to put a hex on Baltimore Orioles’ players during the 1971 World Series is in the Hall’s possession. It proved to be effective, as the Pirates won the Series in seven hard-fought games.
The Misguided: The Hall of Fame also has the inner tube from a tire which Sandy Koufax used to ice his arm down after games. Using an inner-tube never caught on, perhaps because Koufax was forced to retire early from arm troubles and arthritis, Clark pointed out.
The museum does not buy artifacts for its collection, relying solely on donations from players and fans of the game. The summer of 2007 has been an especially busy and productive one for the Hall, as many milestones have been reached in Major League baseball this season. Most notable, the Hall recently put on display helmets and other items from Barry Bonds’ historic 755th and 756th career home runs earlier this month.
Hall of Fame Librarian Jim Gates said most of the items the library accepts or looks for on its own have to do with research value.
“If it’s something that could help either our staff or our patrons with research, it’s of value to us,’’ Gates said.
That usually does not include baseball poetry, which Gates said people offer to the museum on an almost daily basis.
Said Gates: “There is a lot of bad baseball poetry out there.’’
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