Brains behind the ball

Museum hosts annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture this week

June 01, 2011
BBWAA secretary/treasurer Jack O'Connell speaks at the Cooperstown Symposium on Wednesday. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

For those interested in looking for a way to examine America's National Pastime from a number of different and varied angles this week, a visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to attend the 23rd annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture would be in order.

Co-sponsored by the State University of New York College at Oneonta and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the Symposium examines the impact of baseball on American culture from inter- and multi-disciplinary perspectives.

"We provide a unique platform for academics from around the country to come to Cooperstown and to discuss baseball and its relation to our culture and society," said Hall of Fame Librarian Jim Gates, a co-coordinator of the event. "We don't talk about baseball on the field; we talk about everything else – art, music, poetry, literature, economics, architecture, whatever."

This year's three-day edition, with more than 130 registrants from as far away as California and Hawaii on hand to take in 50 presentations being held in the Museum's Bullpen Theater and Learning Center, got off to a rousing start with a keynote address from longtime sportswriter Jack O'Connell on Wednesday afternoon in the Grandstand Theater.

While O'Connell's talk, entitled "The Future of Sports Journalism in America," might have seemed daunting, the longtime secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers' Association of America addressed it from the vantage point of a man who has covered big league baseball the past 30 years for both newspapers and internet sites.

"I can't say I have the solution any more than the publishers and editors who seek a blueprint for the survival for journalism in this age of social media," O'Connell. "What I have is optimism that print journalism will somehow navigate its way through the future. And the reason I feel that way is because it always has.

"Before moving to the internet five years ago, I was with a newspaper for 36 years and it seemed the entire length of my career was spent during a time when newspapers were dying," he added. "Even when I started back in the late 1960s I was warned by people don't write for a newspaper for a living. In that decade alone, four newspapers from my hometown, New York City, went out of business (Mirror, Herald-Tribune, Journal-American and World-Telegram). In fact, the first paper I worked for, the Suffolk Sun, went out of business after three years of publication."

O'Connell's unique perspective comes from having covered the New York Mets for nine years (1980-88) for the Bergen (N.J.) Record and New York Daily News, and the New York Yankees for 11 years (1989-99) for The Hartford Courant. After a three-year stint with MLB.com, he's been a columnist/blogger for Yankees Universe since April 2010.

"I've witnessed the change over from lead type to computer generated production shops, the virtual demise of (evening) editions, and the multimedia collaborations with television and Internet companies," O'Connell said. "It's all part of the evolution process that exists in other areas of business.

"Nevertheless, print journalism will survive in some form. The content may be on a screen more than on paper, but it is that content that ultimately sells."

Registrations will be accepted onsite during the symposium in the Library Atrium. A full schedule of symposium events and presentations is available on-line by clicking here.

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum