Smithsonian Baseball – Review

Stephen Wong. Smithsonian Baseball. New York: Harper, 2005. Print.

Smithsonian Baseball‘s title misleads a little. It is not about baseball related items in the Smithsonian Institution, America’s national museum. As the subtitle tells us, it is a look Inside the World’s Finest Private Collections. The author himself is a collector of baseball memorabilia, and each of the 21 chapters features a different baseball related collection with plenty of great photographs. Indeed, the layout and photography by Susan Einstein makes the presentation exceptional.

There are three chapters devoted to collectors of nineteenth and/or early twentieth century memorabilia and equipment. Here we see evidence for some of the actual history of the game, for example, a printed rule book from the 1850s which has rules for both the Massachusetts and New York games. One collection specializes in World Series scorecards and programs from 1903 to the present. There are collections of baseball cards (the famous Honus Wagner tobacco card gets some attention) and advertising ephemera.

We learn about early photographers who specialized in sports, along with collections of pins, folk art, trophies from baseball. One collector specializes in trophies and championship rings. Another focuses on material from overseas tours, which American players took periodically between 1874 and 1934.

There are, of course, interesting autographs and game-used gloves, bats, and uniforms. We get discussions of provenance. How can we prove that an old bat was actually used by, say, Home Run Baker in games? What advice does the author have for collectors of today?

Some collectors are quite specialized. Dan Knoll collects material connected with the 1969 Chicago Cubs. Among other things we learn about the goat jinx. Actress and director Penny Marshall specializes in older baseball folk art. That she is a baseball collector should come as no surprise; after all, she directed A League of Their Own, about a women’s professional baseball league.

The author specializes in what he calls “immortal brethren,” memorabilia from players who are linked together in some way. He has material from Tinker, Evans, and Chance, even some uniforms; the 1951-55 Brooklyn Dodger Boys of Summer (Snider, Hodges, Robinson, Reese, and Campanella); the Dean brothers; the 1946 Red Sox “Team Mates” who remained lifelong friends (Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Pesky, and Williams); and the Joe DiMaggio-Ted Williams “rivalry.” This is probably the best written chapter because we see the author’s heart behind it and get more in touch with the humanity of professional athletes.

There are many fascinating pictures and great collections. My own memorabilia? Just a few things that somehow survived my childhood. But maybe if I ever did want to sell, I might have an idea about who to contact.

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