For those of us who grew up when baseball was still king. When baseball on the radio was the soundtrack of summer. When the All Star Game and the World Series were must see TV, and day games. Before cable and 24 hour sports, and highlight reel overkill. Before expansion, wild cards, and playoffs. When going to the ballgame was the summer highlight, and spent in a grand old ballpark.
For us, this is hallowed ground. A place filled with memories and ghosts. Of stories told from generation to generation. Father to son to grandson.
Walking into the Gallery, with the plaques of the enshrined immortals, is like walking into a cathedral. Even kids quiet down, know they are someplace special. 150 years of baseball greats, now including - finally - the great African American players denied their place in the game for so many years.
This room is where the ghosts live. I grew up in Detroit; my baseball was handed down and shared with my father and grandfather. From Ty Cobb to Gehringer and Greenberg to George Kell to Al Kaline to Sparky Anderson. Living in Boston for 30 years it has been sharing baseball with my wife's family; from Joe Cronin to Ted Williams to Rice and Eckersley.
Memories. Afternoons with my father or grandfather at (why don't they still play there) Tiger Stadium. Learning how to keep score, learning how to watch the game, hoping to catch a ball, or an autograph after the game. Of the late great Ernie Harwell on the radio, and Kell on the TV once a week.
Upstairs are more memories. The stuff of baseball is here. It is the Smithsonian of baseball, going back over 150 years. The stuff of the memories. The Negro Leagues have their section, and their stuff and stars get their due finally. Women have a place. The old ball parks. Babe Ruth gets special prominence. Fenway's centennial as well.
There is a room, with a locker room theme, that shows the stuff - the memories - of every major league team.
For me the Hall is a very moving place.
But that said, I think it can be better. Its a little old school. Stuff in cases. But I don't think it effectively tells the story of baseball, or gives a real for the game as it evolved over the years.
The movie is a joke, skip it. Where's Ken Burns when we need him? The Cooperstown room pays homage to the Abner Doubleday myth and the local sponsors; better to use the space for the real history of baseball as it evolved up through the Civil War and the start of pro ball. Massachusetts rules anyone? Even if Doubleday invented baseball in 1839, it was not the game we enjoy today.
The saddest part is the almost complete lack of audio visual. Baseball has classic moments, moments that are classic because of radio or TV, or even newsreel. Baseball has had great broadcasters. Many memories are in those voices and videos. Gehrig's farewell. Bobby Thompson's home run. Willie Mays' catch. Sixth Games in '75 and (alas) '86. Hell, even Bucky F'in Dent's home run. But you would be hard pressed to find any audio or video of these, or any other, baseball moments.
My biggest WTF involves the great announcers, in particular for me the late great Ernie Harwell. Tucked around back behind the Gallery is the broadcasters space. It is pitiful. You stand there looking at a couple of microphones and a painting of Yankee Stadium while a tape plays of the great broadcasters, one after another, in short segments. Some of the moments are meaningful, some seem a bit random.
Ernie's is a joke, almost an insult. The first inning of the last game of the 1991 season, in Baltimore???? Nothing from 1968? 1984? The last game in Tiger Stadium? A nothing game played in Baltimore??? And i had to stand there for, what, 15-20 minutes to hear it?
There has to be a way to bring the audio video artifacts and memories to the public, and customizeable. Some way for people to watch and listen to their memories.
Last beef. This is about major league baseball, and mostly white major league baseball. While it has done a good job of including the Negro Leagues and women, there are some things missing. Minor league baseball. Little League, and other amateur leagues. College baseball. Softball. Baseball cards. There is a fairly empty room upstairs that has a couple of display cases on some of these, but more as an afterthought.
I realize that somewhere the Hall has a huge warehouse full of stuff, and that it cannot possibly display everything it has. But, the Hall could put things in better context, tell baseball's story better. Let me see what baseball was like in, say, 1880; the players, the rules, the stuff, the stadiums all together in one space so I can better understand what it was like. Give every team its own room; with their stuff, something of the stadiums, and those audio video moments (good and bad). Somebody call Ken Burns, or at least by his DVD from PBS.
But, these are minor quibbles in the overall experience of the Hall. The stuff is here. The memories are here. The ghosts are here. Those memories will bring a tear or two to your eyes. And that's a good thing.
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