October 2006 Issue
Enjoy the Game
The season may be winding down, but Ohioans can experience the Great American Pastime year-round at baseball museums in Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Cleveland: A Proud Past
Thereâ€™s more to baseball than home runs and strikeouts. The game also is about American history. Itâ€™s about people and the impact their stories have had, not only on the game, but on society as well.
The Baseball Heritage Museum, located in downtown Clevelandâ€™s historic Colonial Marketplace, tells some of those stories â€” especially those associated with the contributions of the often-overlooked Negro Leagues, Womenâ€™s League, the Latin and Caribbean Leagues and the Industrial and Barnstorming Leagues.
â€œWe want to help people remember what happened,â€ explains the museumâ€™s executive director Vern Fuller, who was an Indians infielder in 1964 and again from 1966 through 1970.
Diversity in Cleveland baseball has a rich heritage. For instance, outfielder Larry Doby made his debut with the Indians in 1947, becoming the first black player in the American League. (The Indians signed pitcher Satchel Paige in 1948.) Additionally, Frank Robinson became the first black manager in the Major Leagues when he was hired by the Indians following the 1974 season.
â€œThatâ€™s why we think itâ€™s so appropriate to have this in Cleveland,â€ says Fuller.
The museum, which opened in May, is the brainchild of founder Bob Zimmer, who began showing Negro Leagues memorabilia in his Cleveland jewelry store when the All-Star Game was in town in 1997.
â€œIâ€™ve always had an interest in history and people,â€ Zimmer says. â€œBaseball brings those factors together.â€
Most of the artifacts in the 5,800-square-foot museum are Zimmerâ€™s; others are on loan from private collectors or belonged to players.
Former Indians great and Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller has supported the effort. The museum features several items from the 1940s-era barnstorming tour Feller organized, when Major Leaguers played exhibition games against Negro League players.
â€œThose tours showed people that black players could play as well as the Major Leaguers,â€ Fuller says. One of the stars of the Negro Leagues, Buck Oâ€™Neil, attended the grand opening of the museum in May and signed numerous baseball items to be sold at the museumâ€™s store.
The museumâ€™s artifacts celebrate key moments in the gameâ€™s past, helping new generations connect with baseballâ€™s history. For example, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron hitting his 715th career home run to break Babe Ruthâ€™s record, Louisville Slugger manufactured a commemorative bat. A total of 715 were produced, and Aaron autographed them. He donated one of the bats to the museum. Other museum focal points include an admission sign from League Park, and a photograph taken during the parade that took place in downtown Cleveland to celebrate the Indians winning the World Series in 1948: Team owner Bill Veeck and player/manager Lou Boudreau are shown riding in a car on Euclid Avenue in front of thousands of adoring fans.
â€œHopefully,â€ says museum curator Morris Eckhouse, â€œwhen people come here they can pick up on a thing or two and some will get hooked.â€
The Cincinnati Reds are all about tradition, and diehard fans across Ohio can get a good look at a collection of team memorabilia under one roof.
The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened in 2004, is located at the Great American Ball Park, the Redsâ€™ home since 2003. Covering more than 15,000 square feet of exhibit space on two floors, the museum chronicles the history of professional baseball in the city, dating back to the formation of the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869, and includes the days spent at the intimate Crosley Field, the decades at Riverfront Stadium and, of course, the dominance of the â€œBig Red Machineâ€ during the mid-1970s.
Fans of all ages can find items of interest. â€œBaseball is an important part of history in this country,â€ says Greg Rhodes, the Hall of Fameâ€™s executive director. â€œPeople have memories of the things they see here. But part of our mission is also to entertain young fans.â€
The artifacts filling the museum have come from a variety of sources. â€œThe Reds saved some things from the Crosley Field era and the Riverfront Stadium era,â€ Rhodes says. â€œWe had a nice collection of items to start with. Weâ€™ve had great cooperation from players past and present who have given us things on loan. Fans have also loaned us items from their own collections.â€
In addition to uniforms and a video chronicling Redsâ€™ â€œfirsts,â€ which include the first night game and World Series finishes, other exhibits include Opening Day memorabilia from centuries past and interactive opportunities for visitors to feel what itâ€™s like to be on the field, hitting, running, pitching and catching.
â€œWe did several fan surveys when we moved into the new ballpark on what people wanted to see,â€ Rhodes explains. â€œPeople made it clear the history of the team was very important. Cincinnati had the first professional team and itâ€™s the home of professional baseball.â€
The Reds Hall of Fame, the oldest and largest operating team hall of fame, was founded in 1958. Since then, a total of 71 players, managers and front-office executives have been inducted. From 1958 through 1988, players were selected by a fan vote, with ballots printed in area newspapers. After a nine-year hiatus, the Hall of Fame was revived in 1998 by the Cincinnati chapter of the Baseball Writersâ€™ Association of America and John Allen, the Redsâ€™ chief operating officer. The writers, whose national organization selects the players for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, elected the players to the Reds Hall of Fame from 1998 through 2004. In 2004, the Board of Directors of the new Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum decided to return the vote to the fans.
Every inductee has been honored with a bronze plaque containing a likeness of the player. Until the new Hall of Fame and Museum opened, the plaques did not have a permanent home: During the Crosley Field years, they hung on beams in the concession areas beneath the main stands. When the Reds played at Riverfront Stadium, the plaques were kept in storage and occasionally put on public display.
To qualify for enshrinement, players must have played for the Reds for a minimum of three seasons and have been retired for three seasons. The fan ballot is open to players who retired after 1985. Players who retired before 1985 will be evaluated and selected by a veterans committee.
Shortstop Barry Larkin, a longtime Reds great and Cincinnati native, will be in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility in 2007. While Reds greats such as Ernie Lombardi, Joe Nuxhall, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Eric Davis are in the Hall of Fame, one name is absent. Since Pete Rose is on baseballâ€™s ineligible list, heâ€™s not eligible for induction.
A Reds team that has been overlooked by history also is recognized in the museum. The Reds defeated the Chicago White Sox in the 1919 World Series, but those games are remembered more for the fact that eight Chicago players were paid off by gamblers to throw the Series. Those players were later banned from the game for life, and the Reds have never been given proper credit for the title.
â€œThat team might be considered tainted champions, but they werenâ€™t undeserving,â€ Rhodes says.
When You Go...
The Baseball Heritage Museum
530 Euclid Ave.,Cleveland, 216/978-5068. www.baseballheritagemuseum.org. Mon.â€“Fri 11 a.m.â€“1:30 p.m., or by appointment. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. This fall, the museum is offering one-hour classes on the origins of baseball for students in grades 3 through 12 and those belonging to youth social clubs. For more information, call the museum during normal business hours.
Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum/Great American Ball Park
100 Main St., Cincinnati, 513/765-7576. www.reds.com. Call for times and admission prices. An exhibit celebrating Latin American players, courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., will be on display in November. And in 2008, the Reds will hold a 50th-year anniversary celebration for their Hall of Fame.