Bananas for Cooperstown: Museum celebrates opening of new Savannah Bananas exhibit

Written by: Bill Francis

The Savannah Bananas, the famous barnstorming baseball team – think Harlem Globetrotters on a diamond – made their first public appearance in Cooperstown on Friday, Sept. 15, with a special ribbon cutting for a new exhibit display based on their recent exploits and phenomenal popularity.

One day before the Bananas face their longtime rivals, the Party Animals, in a 1 p.m. game at historic Doubleday Field, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum hosted Banana Ball at the Hall. Afterward, both teams, decked out in their yellow and pink uniforms, could be found throughout the Museum interacting with their legion of fans, whether that was signing autographs or taking a photo.

Hall of Fame Membership

There is no simpler, and more essential, way to demonstrate your support than to sign on as a Museum Member.

Be A Part of Something Greater

There are a few ways our supporters stay involved, from membership and mission support to golf and donor experiences. The greatest moments in baseball history can’t be preserved without your help. Join us today.

Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark began the event in front of the new exhibit – Going Bananas, located in the Library wing near the Baseball at the Movies exhibit – with a few words before introducing Bananas owner Jesse Cole. Also attending were Hall of Famers Ted Simmons and Lee Smith.

“We are so excited to welcome the Savannah Bananas here to Cooperstown, New York, the last stop on their nationwide tour,” Clark said. “And we feel there’s no better place to be than right here at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, to be able to be at the opening of this great exhibit, which really celebrates the phenomenon – the fabulous phenomenon – that has been created by Jesse Cole and his team.”

An excited and emotional Cole, dressed in his familiar yellow tuxedo, removed the microphone, took a few steps away from the podium, and yelled: “This is way too quiet for me! Let’s get a little louder! I need it like a game right now!”

The fans in attendance responded as he requested.

“This is quite the honor,” Cole said. “And I’ll never forget getting the phone call from the Hall back during the summer. And they said they wanted to put us in the Hall of Fame. And I sat there and I was like: ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ This is absolutely unbelievable. We were just a small town team with a big dream. And to think that we’re here in this Hall of Fame is truly special.

“And for the Hall giving us a chance for what we’re doing – let’s give them a round of applause for giving us a chance. We all have one big goal and that is to grow the game of baseball, grow the game of Banana Ball, for future generations of fans and players… And I look at all these players and staff and everyone here and they’re the ones that deserve the credit because of putting fans first is the reason why we are here today.”

Among the artifacts in the new exhibit are one of Cole’s yellow top hats, a kilt once used as part of a uniform, a Bananas jersey signed by fans, Bananas and Party Animals caps, a signature yellow baseball, championship rings from a prior incarnation of the team in the Coastal Plain League, notebooks with ideas, Banana Ball rules and a scorecard.

“We’re inventing a sport based on the beautiful and amazing game of baseball to create Banana Ball and create more fans,” Cole said. “And to think that we’ve gone from just selling a handful of tickets to now a waitlist over a million fans and see every game sold out. And now here at the Hall. Guys, the Savannah Bananas are in the Hall of Fame.”

Saturday’s game, which is sold out, will be the final contest of the Bananas’ 2023 World Tour.

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum