If you haven’t been the Minnesota History Center to see the “Baseball as America” exhibit, you’d better get there now and make it snappy. The exhibit will be at the Minnesota History Center, located on Kellogg Boulevard equidistant from the State Capitol and the Cathedral, until March 4. If you care at all about baseball, you should see this. If you are interested at all about the intersection between baseball and the broader culture, you definitely want to see this exhibit as well.
It’s not just the incredible collection of historical items and memorabilia that are there, including historic bats of Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, and modern stars such as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. It’s not just the chance to see the famous T-206 Honus Wagner card, the Holy Grail of baseball card collectors. It’s not just the chance to see the oversize box seat of William Howard Taft, the rotund president who invented the seventh inning stretch. It’s not just a chance to see Harry Caray’s giant Coke-bottle spectacles. All that stuff is cool, but what is really cool is the context. Baseball as America places the events on the diamond in the context of the world in which we lived. Thus, we not only see a wide range of memorabilia from the great Roberto Clemente, but we also are reminded that this proud man, for much of his career, was known to fans as “Bob” or “Bobby” Clemente, his name and heritage Anglicized for reasons that seem unfathomable today. We see quilts and hand-made items that fans gave to players as tokens of their esteem. We see printed scorecards from a 1960 game at Yankee Stadium, with a reminder to vote a straight Democratic ticket. We see a racist letter sent to Henry Aaron as he challenged the Babe, along with a heartfelt, pleading missive from then Senator John Kennedy to Jackie Robinson, promising Robinson that he did indeed care about civil rights. We see the letter Curt Flood wrote upon his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, his personal Emancipation Proclamation that in effect ended his career in baseball. What you get is context.
Most of the materials on display are housed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Cooperstown is a wonderful place to visit, but you have to make an effort to get there and most fans don’t have an opportunity to do so. It’s all here now, in Minnesota. But not for very much longer – don’t blow it.