COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — From late-1800s fingerless gloves and Babe Ruth’s plaque to exhibits containing facts about everyone’s favorite teams and ballparks, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum offers fans of America’s pastime a trip down memory lane — and in many instances to a time well before their own.
The Hall, which can take several hours for people to make way through, provides information about the evolution of the game through equipment displays, and descriptive histories of teams and leagues. The museum’s collections contain more than 40,000 three-dimensional artifacts representing the game.
Fans wearing shirts and caps supporting the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, or whichever team they root for, come together — throwing their rivalries out the window — to see how the Hall honors all-time greats and tells the history of baseball. The Hall was dedicated in 1939. A photo inside the brick building shows fans flooding the street in front of the original venue, which has since been expanded upon to house a growing collection of unique and valuable memorabilia. Major League Baseball shut down for two days so players and MLB officials could travel to the village of Cooperstown for the celebration.
The exhibit “Talkin’ Baseball” provides information such as the fact that by the late 1850s the position called “short” or “short field” became known as shortstop.
Starting in the 1860s, newspaper writers received their information from faraway games by Morse code. This writer can’t imagine trying to recap a game in that way!
In the 1800s, fingerless gloves were used by fielders, sometimes on both hands, to allow for accurate throws. Some fielders today probably couldn’t fathom trying to glove a ball that way, or in baseball’s earlier days of gloveless play, back when an out was recorded when a ball was caught on a hop. Early bats were often homemade from wagon tongues, axe handles, and tree limbs. By the 1870s companies manufactured bats of various lengths and weights. Rules of bat dimensions have remained consistent since 1895.
A short country road drive from the Hall — through scenic farmland — takes visitors to the Cooperstown Bat Company. A small operation, the Bat Company churns out some 36,000 bats a year, about two-thirds of which go to the many souvenir shops in Cooperstown. You can watch the billet or round (think large dowel) quickly cut into a bat.
Baseball, more than a century ago, wasn’t such a money-driven business as it is today, but it has been a high-paying business for a long time. The 1869 Red Stockings were the first openly all-professional team. Individual salaries ranged from $600 to $1,400, which may be peanuts compared to today’s exorbitant earnings, but was two to four times the average worker’s wages. The Red Stockings 1869 were a powerhouse team that went unbeaten, inspiring other victory-hungry clubs to pay players. The Red Stockings folded and moved to Boston the next year. The Red Stockings did not evolve into the Red Sox; check out the Hall to find out more about the history of these teams.
Today’s sports fans can turn on the television to watch the games of balls and strikes, but it certainly wasn’t always that way. Ebbets Field, home to the Brooklyn Dodgers, was the site of the first televised big league baseball game, on August 26, 1939. The Dodgers, by the way, originated as the Trolley Dodgers.
Yankee Stadium was the first ballpark to use “stadium” in its name. Details on the original Yankee Stadium, Polo Grounds, and other parks of the past are included at the Hall. A ticket booth from the old Yankee Stadium, turnstile form the Polo Grounds, and cornerstone from Ebbets Field are all on display. The Astrodome, former home of the Houston Astros, originally had natural grass. Skylights were painted to diminish glare, but the lack of sunlight killed the grass, prompting the development of Astroturf in 1966.
Pete Rose may be banned from baseball and not permitted to be up for Hall of Fame induction, but he’s in the Hall. There is an exhibit on the former fiery player, along with sections for many of the game’s past standouts.
The Hall also features baseball cards from throughout the decades, uniforms that have come and gone, and details on record-setting performances, the longest games played, and so much more. There is an exhibit called “Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball.” Pictures of mascots and tickets are on display. Among the more unusual props is a 1970 Bat Rule, a bat-shaped slide rule specially designed for computing batting averages at the ball park.
A visit to the Hall, no doubt, will reveal plenty more interesting and informative tidbits about America’s pastime. Annual attendance averages 350,000, but with numerous exhibits to peruse, there is plenty of opportunity — and space — to stop for a photo along the way.