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Exhibition Baseball Americana


Marjory Collins, photographer. Washington, D.C., July 1942. Reproduction. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (012.00.00)

“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It’s designed to break your heart.” —Bart Giamatti, Commissioner of Major League Baseball, 1989

Baseball Americana features items from the Library of Congress collections and those of its lending partners to consider the game then and now—as it relates to players, teams, and the communities it creates. Although baseball has stayed true to many of its customs, it has also broken with tradition through the invention, competition, and financial interests that still make it the most played sport in the country.

Baseball Then and Now
Baseball's "Magna Carta"

Baseball Then and Now

“The best teams today are better than the best teams then. But the worst teams now are worse than the worst teams then.” — Whitey Herzog, St. Louis Cardinals manager, comparing the major league baseball clubs of 1950 with those in 1990.

How do teams playing today compare with other eras? Right off the bat, Whitey Herzog has prompted a baseball conversation before you have gotten past the entrance to this exhibition. It is a conversation that might continue between you and other fans long after you have left the Library of Congress. That’s one of the great things about baseball—it brings people together to watch or play the game and then spurs discussion, analysis, and debate that can lead to agony or exaltation.

The items shown here are also part of the conversation. What if three-time American League batting champion José Altuve played a hundred years ago—hitting with a mushroom handle bat? Would New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra have donned a hockey-style mask? And what if you had to play shortstop with fingerless gloves?

Early Catcher’s Mask

Charles Arnold’s catcher’s mask, 1905. Canvas, leather, and metal. Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (082.00.00)

Baseball’s “Magna Carta”

Long stashed away and forgotten, these manuscripts are the founding documents of the national pastime. In December 1856, Daniel “Doc” Adams, a physician and president of New York’s Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, drafted a set of game rules. Club member William Grenelle prepared another document with slightly different rules that also discussed umpires and playing fields. The rules put forth by Adams, with some material from Grenelle’s document, were then compiled as the “Laws of Base Ball.” This last document was used and edited by the rules committee appointed at the first Base Ball Convention, held in New York City in 1857. Delegates representing local teams convened to establish a uniform set of rules, and by agreeing to them, the players hoped to schedule more games and promote the sport. Adams served as president of the convention, which approved essential rules still in use today.

New Fundamental Rules

William Grenelle. “Laws of Base Ball.” Manuscript, January–February 1857. Courtesy of Hayden Trubitt, a baseball fan (007.02.00)

Exhibition Items