Baseball in the Vanilla Sky
by Ken Arneson
2006-01-19 10:43

You ever have one of those weeks where there are just too many coincidences for comfort? The very evening I found my kids discussing macaroni and cheese rain, and I wrote about it, my sister-in-law turned the TV to the Food Network to watch Unwrapped. And what were they covering that evening? A man who collects macaroni and cheese boxes, of course.

* * *

I went to the Baseball As America exhibit at the Oakland Museum yesterday, and I left somewhat disappointed and bewildered.

It wasn’t that they didn’t have an impressive list of memorabilia: Babe Ruth’s bat, Shoeless Joe’s shoes, Jackie Robinson’s uniform, Honus Wagner’s baseball card…but somehow it just didn’t make quite the emotional impact I expected.

Perhaps it was the way everything was displayed. Nearly everything was behind glass, each item crammed into a three-foot-wide display case with about 30 other items. It’s hard to contemplate one thing, when there were about thirty other things to contemplate right beside it. Your eyes bounce around from item to item, and you can’t pull it all into your mind.

In the rare cases where a small set of items were displayed by themselves, there was a greater emotional effect. The Honus Wagner card was in a case all by its lonesome, and it did make an impact. I was struck by how small it was, but even more struck by the color. I had seen pictures of it in books and online…but in person the colors were far more vivid than I had imagined.

Jackie Robinson’s uniform was off by itself, too. The thing that grabbed me about that was not the history behind the man who wore the uniform, but the low-tech nature of the “Dodgers” script on the uniform. It looked like scissor-cut felt that had been hand-sewn on by Grandma. The result was an emotional effect quite the opposite of what you’d expect and want: instead of being pulled in and empathizing with Robinson’s plight, I was struck with a distance…those events suddenly seemed so far away from our globalized, mechanized, high-tech age. It was a different era.

I was grateful to see some of the A’s memorabilia on display: Rickey Henderson’s 938th stolen base (with white shoes), Catfish Hunter’s perfect game cap, the 1989 World Series trophy. Good times, but all too brief. We need an Oakland A’s historical museum–as long as it’s not filled with the kitchen sink. Sometimes, less is more.

Which I suppose why, overall, the show left me numb. Some choices were strange: Curt Flood’s letter to Bowie Kuhn, Shoeless Joe’s shoes, Bobby Thomson’s bat…they all get crammed in with a bunch of other stuff, while the San Diego Chicken costume gets its own display case. Huh?

* * *

Oddly, the biggest emotional event of the day, for me, involved football. Yesterday morning, for some reason, Jason Kottke put up a link to a three-year-old article about The Play. A good article bringing back some happy memories. “The Bears…have won!”

One thing I learned from the article that I did not know: White Sox GM Kenny Williams was on that Stanford football team. So that afternoon, when I came across Freddie Garcia’s cap from the 2005 World Series at the museum exhibit, I naturally started thinking about well Williams’ trade for Garcia turned out, which led me back to thinking about The Play.

Now here’s the weird part: moments later, I found myself at the museum standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Joe “Oh, the band is out on the field!” Starkey himself, staring at a display of baseballs autographed by U.S. Presidents. One minute I’m staring at an LP record of the most famous call in baseball history (“The Giants Win the Pennant”), locked behind a pane of glass. The next minute, I’m standing next to the man who made the most famous call in college football history, a call I was thinking about just a few minutes before.

The irony was palpable. Here was history contemplating history. Here was history that I was contemplating suddenly showing up in the flesh to contemplate history that I was contemplating.

A little while later, my two daughters were each seated at these touch-screen computers with stories about Hall-of-Fame members. My youngest daughter got up from her seat to go annoy her older sister at the other seat. As she got up, Starkey stepped in to take her place. He immediately started browsing through a list of White Sox Hall of Famers…the very team that I was contemplating that made me contemplate Starkey’s call in the first place.

At that point, I think if Starkey had suddenly pulled out a bowl of macaroni and cheese and started eating it as he sat in front of that computer, I would have instantly run out into the courtyard of the Oakland Museum and shouted “Tech Support! Tech Support!” at the top of my lungs.

Comments: 3
1.   Bob Timmermann
2006-01-19 11:15

1.  That exhibit has certainly taken a circuitous route. It was in Los Angeles 2-3 years ago.

2.   Derek Smart
2006-01-19 12:51

2.  Yeah, it was in Chicago in 2003. It was my wife's Valentine's Day present to me, and we went on the 15th. It was fun, but I shared Ken's sense of being underwhelmed.

For an insight into my psyche (which I'll let others expound upon on their own), the thing I enjoyed most was seeing Eddie Gaedel's jersey.

3.   Kenny
2006-01-19 22:21

3.  My favorite is the Vida Blue on the mound when you enter the exibit.

It's good exhbit, they have alot of local stuff there.

I need to make the trip to Cooperstown some day.

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