Celebrate the games

Museum visitors get a taste of cricket’s relationship to baseball in Hall of Fame’s new exhibit

June 04, 2011
Three centuries of cricket bats are included in the cricket exhibit, Swinging Away. (Marylebone Cricket Club)

The chatter was like that of any group of baseball fans – exchanges focusing on batting, pitching and fielding.

But on Saturday at the Baseball Hall of Fame, many of those fans were talking about baseball's distant cousin, cricket, and the Museum's new Swinging Away exhibit that celebrates the relationship of the two sports.

Swinging Away: How Baseball and Cricket Connect opened in April at the Hall of Fame, which will display the exhibit – created by the Marylebone Cricket Club of London with assistance from the Baseball Hall of Fame – through February. Events celebrating the exhibit on Saturday in Cooperstown – and continuing on Sunday – feature round-table discussions of the history of both sports as well as demonstrations of cricket.

"It has been a great pleasure to put this exhibition together, but it would have been a one-sided endeavor without the enthusiastic support of the staff at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum," said Beth Hise, lead curator of the exhibition, based in Sydney, Australia as lead curator of the Historic Houses Trust, and author of the book by the same name, Swinging Away. "It has also been a privilege to explore cricket in America through the collection of the CC Morris Library in Haverford, which the generous support of their staff. I hope Swinging Away brings some new discoveries and interesting stories to the visitors at the Hall of Fame."

Cricket evolved as the first team sport in America, before giving way in popularity to baseball and other games. George Kirsch, a professor of history at Manhattan College and one of Saturday's roundtable panelists, estimates that as many as 10,000 Americans played cricket before the Civil War – an astounding number for a largely agrarian society.

"Cricket was America's first team sport," said Kirsch, has penned several books about the subject. "Why did baseball overtake it in popularity? One reason is that Americans would simply not accept an English game as the National Pastime."

Worldwide, however, cricket continues to prosper, and the game is generally considered the second-most popular sport on the planet, behind only soccer. Paul Hensley, president of the C.C. Morris Cricket Library at Haverford College, which has loaned several artifacts to the Swinging Away exhibit, suggests that another challenge for cricket in America was the exclusivity of the teams.

"You can look in the Swinging Away exhibit and see – from the photos of the teams more than 100 years ago – that the game was played by people of uniform ethnicity," Hensley said. "It became difficult for other people to connect to cricket."

But Lloyd Jodah, president of American College Cricket, believes the ethnicity of the game is now helping grow the sport in America.

"When immigrants came to this country 100 years ago, they wanted to be Americans," said Jodah, who moved to the United States from Guyana in 1982 and is now working to support cricket's popularity among colleges. "The best way to do that was to play the American game: Baseball.

"But now, the game of cricket is making a comeback, and it's a comeback based on ethnicity. That's a strength of the game in this day and age."

Swinging Away reveals some remarkable surprises, dispels some cherished convictions and sets out for the first time to explore these two great bat and ball sports side by side. The collection includes uniforms and equipment worn by the biggest names of each sport, including as Derek Jeter and Andrew Flintoff, Bengie Molina and Adam Gilchrist, Kumar Sangakkara, Paul Collingwood, Robin Wallace and Charlotte Edwards and Shahid Afridi.

Swinging Away is featured on the third floor of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and admission to the exhibition is included with Museum admission. For more information on Swinging Away, please click here. Swinging Away will be open through December 2011.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum