Monday, August 23, 2004
J. is an old friend and we had always joked about saving the Baseball Hall of Fame for "some day" when we had exhausted every other possibility of amusing ourselves on Saturday morning waiting for the matinee opera to begin. Imagine my surprise when on the way out he announced that THIS was the year, and that I could accompany him or not, but he was visiting the Hall of Fame. I said of course I would go--I am not a big fan but I know a thing or three about baseball and anyway, how bad could it be?
Well, it was very good as a matter of fact and there was one huge high point. There is the museum, and there is the Great Hall where bronze plaques memorializing each inductee hang in honor. We saved that for last and hit the exhibits that were informative and, aside from some questionable lighting that caused too much reflection off the glass coverings of the cases, very well designed. First of all, the real story isn't always in those cases but sometimes in front of them. Fathers--kneeling on one knee with a six or eight year old standing clutching the other, explaining to their fascinated sons just who Ted Williams was or what the fielder's choice is--were acting out the mythic American ritual of passing baseball from one generation to the next. This is an area, I fear, where I failed my father who certainly tried to give it his best shot. It was a poignant moment to see the awe and interest these sturdy little boys gave back to their fathers in an initiation into the rites of manhood I was never able to share with mine.
The quality of writing on the history of the sport and the lives of its players is highly accomplished. Most featured players share a big floor to ceiling, eight foot wide case with two or three others but Babe Ruth, THE Babe, gets a whole room of his own. Ruth's career was huge but when decline set in, it progressed quickly. Despite a smattering of good or even brilliant games late in his career, the last years were sad ones. The bio of his second wife Claire is highly laudatory and contains one wonderful phrase stating that she "was able to control most of his non-professional activities." It seems so simple a statement, but it's so generous to the man and elegant in its tribute to the woman, suggesting in the use of the word "control" controlled substances without ever directly mentioning the painful realities.
Leaving the Ruth Room, I walked into another section and found myself standing directly in front of a case labeled in big letters, "Fred Merkle's Boner." Say what?! I quickly read the first line of the text: "Fred Merkle's boner occured in a season that featured a three-way . . . " I was stunned. I quickly peered into the case to make sure the long cylincrical object really was Merkle's bat and not a cast of, well, that boner. I was in a family institution--was that little boy standing proud by his father's knee in for an initiation into manhood beyond his wildest dreams?
J. and I had a good laugh. Of course, "boner" was used in the alternate meaning of an error or stupid mistake, and the text continued with, "three-way rivalry among (names of three ball teams), etc. But I mentioned to J. that the Baseball Hall of Fame is an institution founded BY men, ABOUT men, FOR men and that somebody had to have been aware of just what they were setting up when writing as they had.
The climax was a visit to the Hall of Honor. It's a tall, blond wood-lined room, unmistakably shaped like a chapel, with bays off right and left and an apse at the head of the central nave. In the center of the apse are the plaques for the first year of induction, 1936, flanked by the honorees of the past four years. Plaques from all the other years from 1937 to 1999 are contained in the bays off the nave.
The number of honorees for the last five or so years includes an an increasing number of men who played in the Negro League back in the old days of legalized racial discrimination in this country. I hope many were still alive when the sport they had played so well embraced their accomplishements at last.