7/12/2013 3:13 P.M. ET
Book offers look at Hall of Fame's treasures
By Paul Hagen / MLB.com
Baseball, as everybody knows, is a game defined by numbers. So here are a couple statistics to consider. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has 50,000 square feet of public space. The shrine's vast collection includes 40,000 artifacts and nearly a half million photographic images.
As a result, no more than 15 percent of the treasures can be displayed at any given time. If only there was a way for some of the most interesting objects to be available to fans all the time.
Now there is. "Inside the Baseball Hall of Fame" is a compilation of nearly 200 of the Hall of Fame's more fascinating items, all artfully photographed and reproduced. And that's impressive all by itself.
What makes the compilation even more compelling, though, are the copy blocks that accompany each picture, adding context to the visual feast, explaining the backgrounds and illuminating the back stories.
Two personal favorites:
• Shoeless Joe Jackson's shoes. Most know the outlines of the story. The talented but naive slugger finds himself drawn into the 1919 Black Sox scandal, and as a result, is banned from the game for life. "Eight Men Out" and "Shoeless Joe" (later filmed as "Field of Dreams") have dramatized the tale.
This book not only show's Jackson's footwear, but explains the legend of how he got his unforgettable nickname: from a newspaper reporter named Scoop Latimer in Greenville, S.C., after the player's feet blistered when he was breaking in a new pair of spikes. The next day, unwilling to sit out, Jackson played barefoot.
• The Franklin D. Roosevelt "Green Light" letter. Again, it's well known that in the early days of World War II, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis asked the president whether Major League Baseball should suspend play. And that Roosevelt encouraged the games to go on, reasoning that it would be good for the morale of the country.
Here's an interesting side note, though: Night games were relatively rare at the time, but Roosevelt suggested that more games should be played under the lights if possible. "Because it gives the day shift an opportunity to see a game occasionally," he wrote.
There's so much more. The "Wonderboy" bat Robert Redford used in the classic movie "The Natural." An umpire's ball-strike indicator from 1887, when it took five balls to walk and four strikes to whiff. Scouting reports on Tom Seaver and Roberto Clemente. Not just the official transfer agreement that sent Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees, but also the promissory note between Boston's Harry Frazee and New York's Col. Jacob Ruppert, including handwritten interest calculations and $5 in documentary tax stamps that were issued by the federal government to help pay for World War I.
There are, naturally, baseballs and uniforms and bats and gloves. From the Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, defunct leagues and the American Girls Professional Baseball League. From superstars to players whose presence in the Hall of Fame comes with an explanation. One of the most striking aspects of this volume is how it illustrates the evolution of equipment, and nowhere is that more evident than in the gloves.
There's a fingerless glove from the late 19th century. Catcher's mitts of that era were basically flat, with no pocket. Receivers typically wore one on each hand, cutting out holes for their fingers on their throwing hand. Who knew? The glove used by Joe DiMaggio in 1938 and '39 makes it clear why players were encouraged to use two hands to make a catch, and even the one worn by Harvey Haddix in 1959, when he pitched 12 perfect innings, only to lose in the 13th, is primitive by today's standards.
Only 11 years later, the glove used by Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson in the 1970 World Series to put on one of the best defensive displays of all time in Baltimore's win over Cincinnati shows the dramatic advances that had been made.
Robinson wrote the foreword to this vivid collection of memories and discoveries, and he summed it up well.
"There is no substitute for making the trip to Cooperstown," he wrote. "But on these pages you will find magical treasures of baseball history come to life through stunning photography and stories about some of the most compelling pieces of the Cooperstown collection.
"Enjoy this book as an introduction to the journey to Cooperstown you have yet to make or a souvenir of the pilgrimage you once experienced with someone who shared the passion for the game."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.