May 3, 2018 (REVISED June 25, 2018) Baseball's 'Magna Carta' to be Displayed in Major Exhibition on the Game

Handwritten ‘Laws of Base Ball’ from 1857 to be Centerpiece of ‘Baseball Americana;’ Babe Ruth’s Shoes, Rockford Peaches Uniform and Jackie Robinson’s Letters to be Displayed

Press Contact: Brett Zongker (202) 707-1639
Website: Baseball Americana Exhibition Information

Featured items in the new exhibition "Baseball Americana" will include the handwritten "Laws of Base Ball" set in 1857 and items from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, including (top to bottom) Dottie Key's uniform from the Rockford Peaches, an early catcher's mask from 1905, and Babe Ruth's shoes.

The handwritten “Laws of Base Ball,” which historians have called the “Magna Carta” of the game after they were decided at a convention in 1857, will be among the artifacts featured in the new exhibition “Baseball Americana” opening June 29 at the Library of Congress. The exhibition will explore baseball’s past and present and how the game has forged a sense of community for players and fans across the country.

The founding documents of baseball that would shape the modern game as our national pastime were ironed out in January and February 1857 at a convention called by the Knickerbockers Base Ball Club in New York City. Corrections were made by hand as the details were negotiated by New York-area ballclubs, including whether to play seven, nine or 12 innings to a game. The convention established a uniform set of rules, many of which are still in use today, including nine players on a side, nine innings to a game and 90 feet between bases.

Long thought to be lost, the original “Laws of Base Ball” manuscripts were saved by an heir of a Knickerbocker delegate to the convention. They resurfaced in 1999 and sold at auction, but their significance was not understood. They were sold again in 2016, and the buyer is lending the documents for their first major exhibition.

In addition to the extensive baseball holdings of the Library of Congress, “Baseball Americana” also will feature items from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, including Babe Ruth’s shoes and his 1921 agreement with the New York Yankees, Dottie Key’s uniform from the Rockford Peaches and Ty Cobb’s 1908 contract with the Detroit Tigers. A selection of baseball gloves, bats, balls, shoes and catchers’ masks from past and current professional players will show how the game has evolved over the centuries.

Featured artifacts from the Library will include Jackie Robinson’s letter expressing his thanks and appreciation to baseball executive Branch Rickey after Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, the first handwritten and printed references to “baseball” in America from the 1780s, historical images, early baseball cards, film footage from the 1890s to the present, broadcasts of iconic baseball moments and rare clips of Hall of Fame players.

ESPN’s Statistics and Information Group collaborated with the Library to develop original content in the form of statistics, trivia questions and historical comparisons to offer new insights into America’s game for everyone, from rookies to the most die-hard baseball fans. These items are designed to give a unique spin on the Library’s collection, spark conversation and compare baseball present with baseball past.

Major League Baseball is contributing video footage from its massive and incomparable archive for the exhibition to help create an immersive experience for visitors.

“Baseball Americana” will open June 29, just before Washington’s Nationals Park hosts Major League Baseball’s 89th All-Star Game on July 17. An All-Star Family Day program is planned for Saturday, July 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a variety of activities for all ages.

The yearlong exhibition will be on view in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The exhibition will be free and open to the public Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

To coincide with the exhibition, Harper Perennial will release an updated edition of “Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress” in May. This illustrated history of baseball includes more than 350 images and numerous milestones of the game.

The exhibition is made possible by the Library of Congress Third Century Fund, the James Madison Council and Democracy Fund.

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PR 18-060
ISSN 0731-3527