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Baseball Americana

Ernie Banks is one of the most beloved figures in baseball history. From his start in the Negro Leagues, he worked his way up to the Major Leagues and the Hall of Fame. With 512 career home runs and a gold glove, the two-time National League MVP and 11-time all-star was respected at the plate as well as on the field. The first black player on the Chicago Cubs, he was also the first Cub to have his number retired. His catchphrase was "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame . . . Let's play two!"

Cover of new Library publication, 'Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress.' 2009. Library of Congress and Smithsonian Books/Harper. Reproduction Information: Not available for reproduction.Mamie 'Peanut' Johnson when she was pitching for the Indianapolis Clowns, ca. 1953-55. Reproduction Information: Not available for reproduction.

In 1953, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was practicing baseball on a field in Washington, D.C. Bish Tyson, a former player with the Negro Leagues, was overwhelmed by her athletic abilities. He introduced her to Bunny Downs, manager of the Indianapolis Clowns. At the time, the Clowns were the only team in the league to feature women as players, so Johnson played against all-male teams. While she was pitching her first game with the Clowns, Hank Baylis, a batter on the opposing team, yelled to her, "What makes you think you can strike a batter out? Why, you aren't any larger than a peanut!" Mamie struck him out, and from that day was known as "Peanut."

Peanut Johnson played professional baseball for three seasons, from 1953 to 1955. During her tenure, she won 33 games and lost eight. "Just to know that you were among some of the best male ball players that ever picked up the bat made all of my baseball moments great moments,” she later said.

Drafted by the Houston Colt .45s in 1964, Larry Dierker made his major-league pitching debut on his 18th birthday, striking out Willie Mays in his first inning. The Colts were renamed the Astros the following year, and Dierker remained with the team. In 1969, he became the Astros' first 20-game winner, while compiling an impressive 2.33 earned run average, 20 complete games and 232 strikeouts over 305 innings. He was elected to the National League All-Star team in 1969 and 1971. On July 9, 1976, Dierker pitched a no-hitter against the Montreal Expos. He retired from pitching in 1977.

From 1979 to 1996, Dierker served as a color commentator on the Astros' radio and television broadcasts. In 1997, he began a five-year run as manager of the Astros. Houston finished in first place in four of the five years Dierker managed the team, and Dierker was elected National League Manager of the Year in 1998.

These are but a few of the speakers featured in the Library’s October symposium on “America’s pastime.” The symposium also celebrates the publication of the new book "Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress.” A lavishly illustrated history of the national pastime, the book draws upon images from these collections of prints and photographs, films, magazines, music, maps, rare books and manuscripts. Also included are items from the Veterans History Project collection, housed in the American Folklife Center. Through photographs, personal accounts, official games guides, newspaper accounts, films and memorabilia—including baseball cards—the book offer a first-hand look at the development of baseball from the late 18th century through the 20th century.

The Library is home to the world’s largest baseball collection, which includes rare and historically significant baseball cards, photographs and sheet music. Added to that is a recently acquired collection from the Library's American Folklife Center of one-of-a-kind oral history interviews with former professional players and managers, organized and conducted by a former commissioner of Major League Baseball, Fay Vincent.

In a salute to America’s pastime, the Library has pulled together a variety of its treasures into a web portal on historic baseball resources. The rich and unique holdings of the Library of Congress include many items that document the history of baseball and Americans' fascination with the game. You can also find many historic baseball-related photographs in the Library’s Flickr photostream.