Hall of Fame Tells Story of America’s Journey Through Lens of Baseball

November 27, 2012

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum stands as a monument to our National Pastime, with iconic bronze plaques on oak walls mesmerizing hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. 

Many may believe the Museum in Cooperstown is nothing more than a gallery of plaques.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

In reality, it is a social institution where baseball is used as a lens to teach American history.  As we have grown up as a country, baseball has been there at virtually every step, reflecting and often shaping American culture and values.  

To share that story, three distinct components – a museum and library; an education hub; and a Hall of Fame – live under the umbrella called Cooperstown. 

The museum and library’s vast collections and compelling exhibits serve to preserve the game’s treasures and impartially present our National Pastime’s history. Our award-winning classroom education programs are how students of all ages learn about the important role baseball has played in helping to define our country’s history, delivered both on-site and virtually. The Hall of Fame, meanwhile, stands to credit those who achieve baseball’s highest honor. 

Over the last 140 years, the Game has deftly overcome its share of growing pains. Three noteworthy blemishes on baseball’s long resume are directly related to society and culture: Gambling, segregation and, most recently, performance-enhancing substances. All are social issues that inched their way into baseball; they were not created by the game. 

But despite these challenges, baseball today remains healthy and vibrant. One of the dynamic reasons the game thrives is because the sport has not buried its head in the sand at times of crisis, but instead taken a position of leadership. Each time adversity has arisen, baseball as a sport has met the occasion head-on. 

Thirty-four days after the eighth and final game of the infamous 1919 World Series, Baseball hired a commissioner to rid the game of gambling. Seven years before the Supreme Court ruled schools could no longer be segregated, and 15 years before Dr. Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby integrated our game, perhaps the single-most important action in sports history. 

Most recently, baseball players and management alike have stepped to the plate, not tolerating illegal performance-enhancing substances which cause health problems and create an uneven playing field. 

In Cooperstown, our job is to empower you to learn about social issues that impact baseball, by presenting facts in the Museum for visitors, and in the classroom, for tomorrow’s leaders. In doing so, we allow our constituents to shape their own values and opinions about polarizing topics. 

In the Museum, you’ll find artifacts from players who tested positive for performance-enhancing substances or played under that cloud of suspicion. It’s up to you to decide how you feel about those players and their feats. 

In the classroom, we recently introduced BASE, which stands for “Be A Superior Example.” The social and health-based program has been embraced, plain and simple, because it is needed.

Teaching children the values of touching all four bases – fitness, nutrition, character and fair play, basic and essential values to lead a meaningful life – has been both literally and figuratively, a home run. With their pledge to live a healthy lifestyle (and parental permission), the names of those children will live on in the same museum as the 297 legends of baseball who are inducted in the Hall of Fame.  Those who participate will ultimately decide if they want to comply in society, going forward.  It will be their choice. 

And for the foreseeable future, Hall of Fame ballots will contain the names of players who raise an eyebrow, alongside those who don’t. The members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who have earned the right to vote will determine who will have a plaque. 

Three entities under one roof. One education-based mission. 

This is the essence of Cooperstown. 

Jeff Idelson is the President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum