So now that all the travelogue stuff is outta the way and you’ve figured I’m no Rick Steves (or Arthur Frommer for you older types), it’s time to get to the part of the trip that truly interests you, the Hall of Fame itself.
The Hall of Fame is both wonderful and vaguely disappointing at the same time. First, the disappointments. It’s smaller than I thought. I guess I figured that if you had that much stuff on display, the place had to be huge. It’s surprisingly small. That leads to the other problem. The place is cluttered. There are a lot of display cases filled with items. In fact most of them have too many items. It’s difficult to quite grasp everything you’re seeing in a single case. Having said that, I’d rather it be cluttered than empty. There’s just a ton of stuff available for view (and I understand that even more stuff is stored because they don’t have room to display it).
The tour starts on the second floor with a chronological look at the game. There’s a room about Cooperstown and the Doubleday Myth, but the good stuff starts in the next room with the earliest professionals and continues into the 21st Century. There are bats, shoes, balls, shoes, gloves, shoes, uniforms, shoes, scorecards, shoes (more shoes than even Imelda Marcos), and everything short of the underwear of players (maybe that’s part of what’s not on display). As you look at the stuff in a case, you’ll find short bios of the Hall of Famers whose equipment or memorabilia is shown in the case. I think that’s one of the better parts of the display. It does remind you exactly who these people are and why they are important to the sport. There’s an entire room on Babe Ruth (and another on Henry Aaron on the third floor), a long display of women in baseball, primarily centering on the women’s league of the 1940s and early 1950s. There’s a wonderful exhibit on Latin ball players showing the depth of competition in the Caribbean and in Latin America. There, the commentary is in both Spanish and English (the rest of the Hall does English only). The display on black baseball is a little disappointing. What they have is good, but it’s awfully small in comparison to the role the Negro Leagues played in black society.
As you get closer to the modern era, you find such things as Joe DiMaggio’s locker, a display case showing both Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson’s uniform in the same case, George Brett’s “pinetar” bat, and all sorts of things. It is, frankly, almost overwhelming.
The third floor covers special exhibits, the postseason, the previously mentioned Henry Aaron display, a wonderful look at old ballparks, and a video version of the Abbot and Costello comic routine “Who’s on First”. If you go, take a minute and just sit and enjoy the absolute brilliance and, at the same time, utter silliness of the routine. I’d forgotten how funny it actual was when you hear it.
On the first floor are exhibits detailing the careers of the newest inductees (and that may change after the latest installation) and, of course, the plaques of the inductees. I didn’t realize they were quite so small. Somehow I thought they were larger. It’s interesting to read them. You see a lot of difference in emphasis as you go through them in the order they were inducted (which is how they are displayed, except for the initial five who are in the center). It reminds you how much the game has changed. The first five (Ruth, Cobb, W. Johnson, Wagner, Mathewson) are placed directly in the center of the gallery with Cobb in the center and the others flanking him two on either side.
Beyond the gallery is a hall that takes you to a kids area, the research library, a bookstore, and exhibits on the writers and broadcasters elected to the yearly awards. It’s kind of nice to see the bookstore pulled away from the other part of the store and placed beside the library. There’s also an exhibit on baseball at the movies that shows clips from various movies (the oldest we saw was “Alibi Ike”) and playbills from the theaters.
Of course you end at the gift shop which has everything (except books, obviously) for a souvenir. There are t-shirts, postcards with pictures of the player plaques (a bought a few of those), key chains, ball cards, you name it. They aren’t cheap but how often do you get to buy something at the Hall of Fame?
Outside there is a sculpture garden (something I didn’t know). There’s a statue of a female player, of Satchel Paige, and then a wonderful tableau showing a pitcher throwing a ball and 90 feet away a catcher preparing to receive it. Looks like this.
Both are well done. The inscription tells you the pitcher is Johnny Podres and the catcher Roy Campanella. It appears that it is a tribute to the 1955 World Series (although the two men were a battery for several years).
So go. It’s really worth the time. We spent a couple of hours then took a lunch break (got hot dogs–what else?) then went back for another couple of hours. They stamp your hand so you don’t have to pay twice. You could spend more time or less depending on what you want to see. Picture taking is acceptable (my son took a picture of me beside the Koufax plaque which managed to shatter neither his camera nor the plaque), and talking is almost encouraged. There are senior rates and kids rates if you’re my age or have children. It’s out-of-the-way and I usually find that most out-of-the-way sites aren’t worth seeing. This one is (again all pictures taken by my wife).