HOF's 'Whole New Ballgame' shows evolving history
New exhibit uses technology to display baseball's path, interaction with culture
The living, breathing story of baseball keeps changing with the times, and the sport's grandest shrine keeps growing with it.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's newest exhibit, "Whole New Ballgame," was unveiled Saturday in Cooperstown, N.Y., and it honors the ever-evolving history of the national pastime in innovative ways befitting of the times we live in today.
Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk was on hand for the ribbon-cutting and inaugural tour of the exhibit, which immerses the visitor and fan in the game's past 45 years. Beginning with 1970, the exploits on the field and dynamic personalities in uniform are covered, as always, but there also is a strong emphasis on how baseball has been a bellwether for the cultural scene in an increasingly technology-based world and how the game, which is a social institution, has mirrored the times in which we currently live.
"What we tried to do is keep the sense of the game on the field, signature moments and artifacts, but also to transport people back in time to the experiences they had," said Erik Strohl, the Hall's vice president of exhibitions and collections. "Since 1970, baseball has seen a lot of change in the sport, and Major League Baseball has changed drastically. Most of our visitors have been alive to see these changes, and this is really the first time we have had the opportunity to explore the part of baseball history that most people lived through."
That means "Whole New Ballgame" includes the appropriate colors and fonts from the different eras that are represented, and the proliferation of baseball pop culture, in books, movies, artwork, toys and souvenirs, is seen all over the packed display cases.
"You'll always see Babe Ruth and Derek Jeter and Mike Trout," Strohl said. "But baseball is a lot more than that. Baseball and American culture are really tied together. You can use one to inform the other."
To that end, no stone from the past 45 years of baseball is unturned in "Whole New Ballgame."
Media walls hold giant screens that show highlights from the different eras, including famous moments on the field such as Nolan Ryan no-hitters, the George Brett pine tar incident and former President George W. Bush's first pitch at Yankee Stadium following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Controversy is not ignored, either. The museum part of the Hall of Fame acknowledges the issues of labor discontent and performance-enhancing drugs that have emerged during the past 45 years and the solutions that have come about to deal with them.
"Things aren't always easy," Strohl said. "But it's history."
The inclusion of Fisk in the weekend's celebration gave the moment more history, too. Fisk, whose Game 6 home run in the 1975 World Series gave fans and historians unforgettable drama, helped cut the ribbon with Hall of Fame chairman of the board Jane Forbes Clark, museum president Jeff Idelson, and donor Bill Janetschek Jr., whose gift came in honor of his late father, Red Sox fan Bill Janetschek Sr.
"This exhibit is just over the top," Fisk said. "And the technology involved with it is going to be state-of-the-art. You're able to push a button and see things you haven't thought about for a long time. I'm discovering things I never knew about while I was playing in this era."
Back then, Fisk certainly didn't know about WAR (Wins Above Replacement), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) and the many other acronyms for new-age statistics that have become all the rage for various front offices and media members in the past 20 years, not to mention social media and how it has impacted the relationship between players and fans.
Those developments, along with history that documents game-altering rules changes and stadium enhancements, plus the explosion of commerce and the ingenuity and lasting impact of sports medicine and the surgeries that helped save the careers of some of baseball's greatest players, are also covered in "Whole New Ballgame." More than 300 artifacts and library items tell the amazing story.
"Over the last 20 years, we've been slowly changing the timeline," Strohl said. "It's time to bring a fresher and newer look to the museum, but to interpret the material to our audience. Baseball is more than what happened on the field.
"We're excited to combine the old and the new in something really special."