Party On

One day after Museum’s 75th birthday, fans treated to Hall of Famer stories and new ways to explore collections

June 13, 2014
Former big league pitcher Jeff Austin demos Google Cultural Institute. (Milo Stewart, Jr/NBHOF Library)

A day after the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum celebrated its 75th birthday, the Cooperstown institution reached into the game’s past for a new exhibit of one of the game’s all-time greats while embracing new technology in order to share the history of the sport with the world.

In an event held in the Museum on Friday morning, it was announced that the Hall of Fame has connected with the Google Cultural Institute to make highlighted exhibits and an interior interactive view of the Museum accessible to baseball lovers worldwide. The Hall of Fame's Cultural Institute presence consists of two digital exhibits and indoor Street View imagery.

“Today, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is proud to join more than 400 worldwide Google Cultural Institute partners, including more than a dozen across the state,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. “With this relationship, we will now be able to provide a global audience with a very compelling indoor Street View feature as well as a look inside two of our most popular exhibits: Picturing America’s Pastime and Osvaldo Salas’ American Baseball Photographs.

“With Google’s Cultural Institute as a partner, the richness of these two compelling photography exhibitions will dazzle and delight online audiences,” Idelson said. “Building interest in the Baseball Hall of Fame globally will also generate tourism to Cooperstown, Central New York, and all of New York State. Combined with Google’s indoor Street View, which provides a virtual walk through our Museum, it’s really easy to see the allure that Google’s Cultural Institute provides worldwide audiences, many of whom will be learning of the Hall of Fame for the very first time.”

A specially designed Street View ‘trolley’ visited the Hall of Fame to capture 360 degree images of the interior of selected galleries to display on Google Maps. The imagery is stitched together allowing visitors to virtually walk the halls and galleries to view the content just as it is displayed within the Hall of Fame.

“We hope that visitors to Google’s Cultural Institute will enjoy the indoor Street View as a preview of the actual experience that awaits,” Idelson said. “By reaching beyond our walls through Google’s Cultural Institute, the Hall of Fame today delivers its first pitch in our efforts to digitize and make accessible our exhibitions and collections for a worldwide audience.”

Jeff Austin, Strategic Partner Development Manager for Google, was a former big league pitcher, playing for the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds between 2001 and 2003.

“This is in line with Google’s greater mission to make the world’s information more accessible online,” said Austin at Friday’s event. “And the Cultural Institute preserves and protects and promotes culture worldwide through images.”

Austin, the fourth overall pick by the Royals in the 1998 amateur draft, once thought he might be visiting Cooperstown as a Hall of Famer.

“It makes it extra special for me to be here in a different context that I always thought I would be here – but really special for me to represent Google,” Austin said. “I don’t know if you can see it, but if I can get my sleeve rolled up enough I have goose bumps just thinking about it. You grow up watching players and you identify with them almost, in my opinion, as family members. And for me to have played baseball and to see these images and to be here is really special.

Austin’s final big league game, pitching for the Reds against the Braves on May 28, 2003, saw him give up homers to the first three batters he faced to start the game.

“But thank goodness I wasn’t the first guy to do it. I was the second,” Austin said with a smile. “Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa and Gary Sheffield all took me deep. And then I got both Chipper and Andruw Jones out, walked Robert Fick, but then Javy Lopez hit a ball out off me. And that was the last pitch I ever threw in the big leagues. And that’s ultimately what ended my career, so here I am.”

The day began with a mid-morning debut of a new exhibit, Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend, in the 100th anniversary season of his big league debut. Ruth – a member of the inaugural Class of 1936 at the Hall of Fame – has had an exhibit at the Museum for decades, but the new presentation will give fresh look at a player who is still recognized as one of the national pastime’s all-time greats.

“We are so excited about this exhibit, which is unique in its presentation matching just how unique Babe Ruth was,” said Idelson as the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “He was a legend in his own time, which is very, very rare. And even today, 100 years after his major league debut as a barrel-chested left-handed pitcher, he remains larger than life. And as you stroll through this exhibit, you’ll find great content presented in a unique manner. The design is such that you feel as if you’re actually walking through a scrapbook. It allows our visitors to experience his impact on the American public in the words of those who witnessed his legendary exploits as they happened.”

Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, who attended the opening, certainly has an affinity for Ruth, as the Babe was born in Baltimore – the city Ripken played in for 21 seasons.

“I’m just enamored by the bowling ball right here in the exhibit. I want to have the ability to put my fingers in and see how my hand compares to his hand size,” said Ripken, pointing to an exhibit case. “It’s a fantastic exhibit, and it kind of takes you back to a different time in baseball.

 “To me, when I come in here, I don’t come in here as a Hall of Fame baseball player – I’m a fan of the game – and you get caught up in the history of the game just like anybody else.”

Representing the Babe Ruth family at the exhibit’s opening was Amanda Stevens, the great granddaughter of Babe Ruth.

“I think it’s absolutely fabulous,” Stevens said. “We can’t thank the staff and the people involved in this enough for making such a beautiful exhibit and just giving people further opportunity to get know Babe on such a personal level. That’s why these things are so important – because he can’t speak for himself anymore. That’s why we appreciate these things so much because it really does keep him alive.”

Friday afternoon featured two public programs in the Bullpen Theater in conjunction with the Ruth exhibit opening. A roundtable discussion focused on Ruth and his impact on the game featuring Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum; author Jane Leavy; and John Thorn, official MLB Historian; and an Authors Series event featured Yankees historian Marty Appel, who discussed his book “Pinstripe Empire” and how Ruth set the standard for Yankees teams to follow.

Also on Friday afternoon, Hall of Famers Ripken and Niekro discussed their careers and their commitment to healthy living and the Museum’s “Be A Superior Example” program with more than 500 area students from 10 different school districts at Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School, located about 45 minutes from Cooperstown. The Museum’s BASE program promotes the benefits of four foundations – fitness, nutrition, character and fair play – to represent each of the four bases on the diamond.

“The most important thing about taking it to the next level is that you can’t do it by yourself,” said Ripken from the stage before a packed house inside the Cobleskill-Richmondville Theatre. “The support network that you have behind you enables you to do that. I think it’s really important, the support of family and friends.”

Fellow Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, the longtime knuckleball pitcher, shared with the students the importance of succeeding in academics.

“The one thing I regret that I did not do in school was to learn more than I could have,” Niekro said. “I was very fortunate and lucky to sign my name to a minor league contract. If I did not do that, and I wasn’t blessed and fortunate to play the game as long as I did, I guarantee I’d be back in Ohio working in the coal mines or emptying garbage cans. I was lucky to get the chance to play baseball but a lot of people don’t get that chance. So food for thought while you’re in school, your number one priority should be your grades.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum