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National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum June 11, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in History, Sports.
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I recently visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. This museum is dedicated to preserving the history of baseball and celebrating the achievements of the game’s best players, who are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Here are ten nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Many of baseball’s historic stadiums had (and still have, in the case of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field) their quirks. For example, whenever the Cubs win, a white flag with a blue “W” is raised to the top of the center-field scoreboard at Wrigley Field; in the event of a Cubs loss, a blue flag with a white “L” is placed in the same location. Also, Ebbets Field had an advertisement for Schaefer Beer in the outfield; if a player reached base due to a hit, the “h” in the sign would light up, while the first “e” would light up if a player reached base due to an error. In addition, the Polo Grounds was actually shaped like a bathtub, and fans could watch games from Coogan’s Bluff, which happened to overlook home plate.

2. Bill Veeck carved out a unique place in baseball history. For example, he came up with the idea of allowing ivy to grow on the walls of Wrigley Field. Also, as the owner of the Cleveland Indians, he integrated the American League by signing Larry Doby. In addition, he placed an “exploding scoreboard” at Comiskey Park that was topped off with several light bulb-festooned pinwheels; this stimulated fan interest.

3. Baseball statistics are constantly being revised, leading to new discoveries. For example, it was thought that Ty Cobb held the record for most consecutive seasons as the league batting champion – with 7. Then it was discovered that in 1910, he was incorrectly credited with two extra hits in three extra plate appearances, which artificially raised his average over that of Nap Lajoie. With this correction, the new record-holder became Rogers Hornsby – with 6. Also, it was thought that Hack Wilson had 190 RBI during his astounding 1930 season. Then it was discovered that his statistics for the second game of a doubleheader that year had been omitted; he actually had 191 RBI that year.

4. Jack Chesbro is best known for having won a record 41 games during the 1904 season with the New York Highlanders. Interestingly, in that same year the Highlanders trailed the Boston Red Sox in the AL pennant race by 1.5 games entering a season-ending doubleheader. In the 9th inning of the first game of that doubleheader, Chesbro threw a wild pitch, allowing Lou Criger to score the winning run and clinch the pennant for Boston. This critical error would stay with Chesbro for the rest of his life.

5. Arch Ward became the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune in 1930, and he devised the concept of the All-Star Game in 1933 to lift the spirits of fans during the Great Depression. The first All-Star Game was scheduled to coincide with the World’s Fair in Chicago. Comiskey Park was selected over Wrigley Field to host that inaugural contest by virtue of a coin flip.

6. As expected, the origins of the game of baseball are rather nebulous. Sporting goods magnate Albert Spalding engaged in a debate on this issue with sportswriter Henry Chadwick; Spalding asserted that baseball was an American invention, while Chadwick believed that baseball evolved from the English game of rounders. Spalding later received a letter from a Cooperstown resident, Abner Graves, stating that Abner Doubleday had 1) invented baseball and 2) organized the first baseball game at Cooperstown in 1839. To Spalding, this essentially settled the issue, especially after Graves sent him a baseball that was purportedly used by Doubleday in that 1839 contest.

7. It should not be a surprise that baseball’s rules have changed significantly since 1839. In fact, the use of arcane rules has hindered the accurate compilation of statistics from baseball’s early years. For example, one such rule allowed a runner to advance from first to third on a hit – and be credited with a stolen base. Another arcane rule allowed a fielder to snare a hit after the ball had bounced once – and the batter would be called out. Yet another arcane rule stated that more than four balls were required for a batter to be issued a walk, which caused an artificial inflation of strikeout totals at that time.

8. The popularity of baseball during its formative years led to a financial windfall for many interested parties. Multiple revenue streams cropped up, including gate receipts and product advertisements that featured notable players such as Cap Anson and Buck Ewing; the media even profited by providing extensive coverage of America’s (burgeoning) national pastime that 1) played up team/individual rivalries and 2) added an element of intrigue to upcoming games. Inevitably the players wanted in on this action, and a breakthrough was achieved in 1869 when the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional team, thoroughly demolishing their opponents that year as they won all 57 games while playing a barnstorming schedule.

9. Baseball began to flourish in Cuba after several Cuban students returned from the U.S. in the 1860s and introduced the game to the island nation. As a way of promoting inter-Caribbean commerce, Cuba then “exported” baseball to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where it also flourished; for example, the 1937 Ciudad Trujillo team in the Dominican Republic was one of the most dominant squads of all-time, featuring Negro League stars Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell. Cuba may have also “exported” baseball to Mexico, though it’s unclear if the U.S. also played a role in establishing baseball in its southern neighbor. Inter-Caribbean baseball rivalries live on today in the form of the Caribbean Series, which features the winners of the winter leagues in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

10. Baseball has always enjoyed an interesting relationship with the media. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America was actually formed after sportswriters lobbied for permanent press box seats in stadiums; previously they often found that their seats had been sold from under them by profit-seeking owners. At one point, owners feared the rising popularity of radio broadcasts of games, figuring that they would detract from their gate receipts. As time passed, owners learned to give the media more latitude, and as a result we have been able to enjoy the fruits of the labor of writers and broadcasters including Shirley Povich, Harry Caray and Vin Scully.

The museum contained a treasure trove of artifacts, including the uniform worn by Hank Aaron when he hit his 715th home run, bats that were used by Honus Wagner and spikes that were worn by Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. I enjoyed seeing all of the Hall of Fame plaques, especially those of the first five inductees. The village of Cooperstown was quite picturesque and the people who I encountered were quite friendly.

In terms of drawbacks, it would have been nice to be able to park on Main Street near the museum. In fact, parking is only available for two hours on Main Street, so I had to park at a lot and walk 15 minutes to the museum – which would have been unpleasant in the winter.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would definitely recommend it to all fans of baseball and those who are passionate about our nation’s history.