02/05/2003 11:30 AM ET
Cooperstown comes to Chicago
Hall of Fame to open exhibit in the Windy City
CHICAGO -- It was 15 degrees outside Wednesday, but inside the huge Field Museum you could feel the warmth of a summer day in the bleachers.
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
You could hear the crack of a bat, whether it was Babe Ruth's 35 1/2 inch, 39-ounce model or Rod Carew's slender 34-inch, 32-ounce design. You could hear the game, see it, smell it and even stand next to the Famous Chicken itself.
"Baseball is a part of our country, a part of our religion, our heritage," said Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry.
And now, a small but dazzling sampling of the game is in Chicago, part of the "Baseball As America" exhibit which officially opens Saturday at the Field Museum. Cooperstown has come to Chicago.
The exhibit, which was unveiled to the media Wednesday, features 500 artifacts from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, some of them never before displayed in public. This is a first for the Hall, and if you've never been to Cooperstown, and are anywhere near Chicago, go see it.
Consider it Spring Training for those who can't venture south. Hall of Famer Lou Brock simply enjoyed talking baseball again.
"It's nice to hear a noise level come forth again because in October, baseball had ended," Brock said. "You could no longer flip on the radio and get this level. Right now people can't wait to hear the noise level. This is preparation for that. This embodies all of that noise level that not only our generation but generations before us were searching for.
"It was America that had baseball in the background," he said. "Baseball embodies the spirit of the people. And this (exhibit) embodies everything that is the history of the game."
Walk down baseball's timeline. There are baseballs autographed by presidents from William Howard Taft to George W. Bush, the latter from the 2001 World Series. There is an Abner Doubleday baseball -- it's hard to imagine anyone able to hit that thing -- and the ball used by Don Larsen for his perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
"Baseball is a part of our country, a part of our religion, our heritage. People will get a chance to see real history -- the catching gear, the gloves, the spikes, some of the bats that were used. It's amazing. I've seen some things today that I've never seen before myself."
-- Gaylord Perry
"To bring something like this on the road will create a lot of interest," Hall of Famer George Brett said. "I think you'll see a lot of fathers and sons together and the father will say, 'Now see this, this is what happened here.' And it'll bring back the multigenerations of baseball. It's no different for me. When I was a boy, my dad pitched to me. Now I have a seven, eight and nine-year-old and I pitch to them. That's baseball. That's why it's great to come out here."
There's plenty for mothers and daughters, too. Check out the Kalamazoo, Mich., uniform from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Or Geena Davis' outfit from the 1992 movie "League of Their Own." Or try to imagine how it would feel to wear Jackie Robinson's jersey.
Chicago baseball fans will delight in the hometown treats. The bat Sammy Sosa used to hit his 66th home run in 1998 is included in a display case along with Babe Ruth's 1927 model, Roger Maris' bat which he used to hit his 61st home run in '61, and Mark McGwire's bat for No. 70 in '98.
Even one of Michael Jordan's Birmingham Barons bats is on display.
One of the first things Brett went looking for was longtime broadcaster Harry Caray's huge oversized glasses, which are on display appropriately next to a copy of the lyrics of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
"They are the most famous pair of eyeglasses in the world," Brett said.
And Brett's favorite item?
"My pine tar bat," he said, laughing.
The Hall of Fame doesn't dodge the controversial issues. There's a display on mascots and arguments over whether to use Indians as a nickname. The Negro Leagues are documented, along with Pete Rose's autographed Cincinnati Reds helmet from Sept. 11, 1985, when he passed Ty Cobb as the all-time hits leader.
There are movies ("It Happens Every Spring") and books ("The Natural") and much, much more.
"This brings back memories," Brett said. "It brings back great memories. And there are a lot of things that I wasn't around for that you try to imagine what it was like for these guys.
"To see the first catcher's mask that was ever built and I went to Carlton Fisk and I said, 'They've got the catcher's mask that you wore and the shin guards,'" Brett said, laughing. "I said, 'Carlton, those things are a little small for you, aren't they?'"
Fisk will admit to wearing wool uniforms when he first started back in the early '70s. The shin guards, by the way, date back to 1927.
"Some of the old equipment I played in, it wasn't exactly like this," Fisk said. "Seaver has been ragging me about the gloves, too, saying, 'Isn't that the first glove you used?'"
Seaver and Brett were also looking at the bats, and Brett admitted it wasn't until his seventh or eighth year in the big leagues when he learned how to hit to left center.
Talking baseball in the middle of winter. What a beautiful thing.
"I've been a fan of the history of the game to begin with," Seaver said. "I read all this stuff and I knew the history of the game. I knew who Christy Mathewson was. I knew who Walter Johnson was. I adore it. I love it. When I get to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame weekend, I go by and look at Walter Johnson's plaque, I go by and look at Christy Mathewson's plaque."
The Hall of Famers respect the game. They belong to a special group. And anyone lucky enough to view this exhibit will feel the same.
"People will get a chance to see real history -- the catching gear, the gloves, the spikes, some of the bats that were used," Perry said. "It's amazing. I've seen some things today that I've never seen before myself."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.