Recorded Wednesday, July 22, 2020.
Smithsonian Insider Series | Baseball: America's Home Run
Daniel A. Piazza, Chief Curator, explores the unique connections between baseball and postal history through stamp art, game memorabilia, and other objects from the Smithsonian, the United States Postal Service, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and private collectors.
ELLIOT: Greetings everyone and welcome to the virtual National Postal Museum.
I hope everyone is adjusting, as best you can, to this new reality. With the help of science, let's hope that we can return to our offices, to your family, and to the National Postal Museum sometime very soon.
When it is safe to travel let me tell you why you will want to visit the National Postal Museum. When I talk to people about the Smithsonian National Postal Museum most say that we must be a museum that displays lots of stamps and tells the history of the United States postal service. We are and we do. Let me try to add a little bit to your perspective. When most people think about stamps, they think of something small, square, sticky, perhaps, that go on envelopes. But stamps are much more than that. They are a unique window into American history. What is the image that is on that stamp? Is it a dinosaur? Yosemite National Park? Martin Luther King? Stamps are a reflection of what our country deems important and chooses to remember. Stamps commemorate and memorialize our victories, our leaders, our national parks and so much more.
The first two stamps, no surprise, featured George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Who, by the way, Ben Franklin was the first Postmaster General. Stamps can tell just about any story in American history. With the best U.S. philatelic collection that is a very large canvas for us. But most stamps are international and not based in the United States. So our canvas just go a whole lot bigger. That means we can tell just about any story in world history.
Do you know which Smithsonian museum has the largest collection? I think I heard somebody say the Postal Museum? No, it's not the Postal Museum but I really appreciate that thought. It is the National Museum of National History. But the second largest collection really is the National Postal Museum. We have more than 6 million items in our collection. And while much of the collection is stamp-related from original stamps to stamp Art. By the way, we have more than 6,000 pieces of artwork with artists such as Norman Rockwell, but also printing presses, we have trucks, we have buses, and we have planes. Well, technically the planes are on loan to us from the National Air and Space Museum, a different story. But we also have a model T that was used to deliver mail in the snow with skis. We have letters that flew aboard the Hindenburg, still showing the burnt edges. We tell that story. A flight suit from Amelia Earhart. Did you know that she subsidized her aviation exploits by taking letters and bringing them up in her plane? We tell that story. And items from the Titanic. There were five postal clerks, three from the United States and two from Britain. At 12:30 a.m., April 15, 1912, there was a sighting of postal clerks carrying up registered mail bags in the hope of saving them. It turned out that was the last sighting of the postal clerks. All five perished aboard the Titanic. We have one of their pocket watches permanently stopped at 1:27. The Titanic sank less than one hour later. Why does the Postal Museum tell the Tianic story? Well officially as you may know, the ship was called the RMS Titanic. The RMS? Royal Mail Ship. Because the Titanic carried mail under the auspices of His Majesties' postal authorities.
Today we are living through unprecedented times and it is during these uncertain times we seek a sense of normalcy of reaching out and staying connected to friends and family. The National Postal Museum tells that story, too. As one of the Smithsonian 18 museums and National Zoo, the mission is to increase the diffusion of knowledge. We do this through our programs, through making our collection accessible online and through our exhibition experiences.
Two years ago we opened the exhibition on Alexander Hamilton to coincide with the musical opening at the Kennedy Center. An important show, not a large show but we wanted to bring Alexander Hamilton to life. We were successful in obtaining two unusual objects. The dueling pistols that Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr used in the duel on July 11, 1804 when the sitting vice president of the United States of America shot and killed the former secretary of the treasury.
Three weeks ago we were scheduled to open the exhibition on baseball entitled "Baseball: America's Home Run" it has been postponed until next year. Why would the National Postal Museum curate such an exhibition? Well, before I turn things over to the Chief Curator of the exhibition, Dan Piazza, I would like to introduce you via video to Stephen Wong. Stephen is a managing director in investment banking at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong and serves as honorary advisor and major lender to the exhibition.
STEPHEN: Hi everyone, my name is Stephen Wong. I have the unique privilege of speaking to you for a couple minutes about one of the most important projects of my entire life and I don't say that lightly. I've had the unique privilge of working with Elliot Gruber and Dan Piazza and the Smithsonian National Postal Museum staff for the past three years on "Baseball: America's Home Run," a baseball exhibition.
I was born in Montreal but raised in the San Francisco bay area. I collected baseball cards like most kids in the United States did, at least at my time. I watched the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park and baseball became a part of my life. Really the genesis of it all was when my best friend David Castellani showed me a 1959 Tops card of Roger Marist and the seas parted. Maybe an affinity towards history and objects that commemorate it but that is how it all started.
And I came into touch with Smithsonian books and my involvement with the Smithsonian organization ironically during the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong which is similar to the COVID pandemic. And that happened at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003. I had left my job as an investment banker and decided to move to the United States to pursue my lifelong passion which was to write a book about baseball history. And the Smithsonian, I was so privileged to be signed by them to write my first book which got published in 2005. I published a children's book after that. And then the latest book on the game-worn uniforms that the players wore which is a highly coveted area of collecting and that was published in 2016.
Throughout all of those three book projects, I had explained to Carolyn Gleason who was my editor as well as the project leader for all three of my books and told her that it would be my dream come true to do an exhibition of artifacts at the Smithsonian Institution. Out of the blue she gave me a call in the summer of 2017 and told me that Elliot and Dan Piazza were coming to Hong Kong and they were the directors and curators of the Postal Museum and wanted to do a landmark exhibition on baseball history.
My involvement has been a couple of things. One is to help with the exhibition narrative and key themes working with Dan Piazza, the curator. I obviously lend a number of my artifacts in my collection to the exhibition. I also helped source artifacts from other renowned private collectors or institutions. And I have also helped Anissa with the sponsorships in terms of getting certain organizations to appreciate what we are trying to do and become a sponsor of the exhibition.
Why is this exhibition so important to me and why I think it should be important to you all? I think of the quote from Jacques Barzun, a very renowned French American historian who graduated from Columbia University in 1932. "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball." Why I think that is so important is because we live in very difficult times, highly politicized times. Arguably times where we may have lost a sense of self as a country, lost a sense of who we are, and in a nutshell, I think baseball is one of those things that remind us of who we are as Americans.
And so I think it is important, it really gravitates way beyond the incredible artifacts you are going to be able to see during the exhibition, but is also a very stark reminder of who we are as a people and as a country.
So hopefully it opens sooner rather than later. When it does, when it is safe to open, I hope you all enjoy it and rest assured I, and the entire Smithsonian staff have put our heart and soul into this and we hope that you will love and cherish it as we do.
Thanks so much and have a great day.
SARAH: It is my pleasure to introduce Dan Piazza, the chief curator at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Dan?
DAN: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us. Today is the 22nd of July and the baseball season starts tomorrow. That is really pretty remarkable. The shortest baseball season in history. The current COVID pandemic has done what both World War I and World War II couldn't do, curtail the baseball season. We thought it would be a fun idea to bring this presentation to you and kind of hang out, chatting a little bit about the topic of baseball to get us all in the mood for opening day.
It was really very nice to hear those words from Stephen who has been an incredible partner in this the project since Elliot and I met him in March of 2018. He has been generous with his time and expertise and the incredible objects from his collection, some of which I will talk about in a little more detail in a few minutes. Adding these objects to the core of the collection which as Elliot mentioned is stamps and mail and postal objects. By doing these loans and bringing in items we can give more depth and richer context to the postal and philatelic items that form the core of our mission and our collection. And Stephen has been a really wonderful partner in that.
We have a number of partners in that endevor for this exhibit actually. A few major league teams including the Red Sox and Cubs have both loaned us objects for the exhibition and our colleagues around the Smithsonian Institution have been really wonderful and interested in helping to support this. We're borrowing material from other Smithsonian units as divers as the Air and Space Museum which has Sally ride's baseball bat that she used as a young girl in California and we have her stamps collection she collected at the same time when she was playing baseball. So we'll be showing those together. SI Libraries has always been a wonderful partner in National Postal Museum exhibitions. I can't think of a single exhibit that I personally have curated at the museum that didn't include some material from the Libraries. Whether it was images or objects, in this case they are lending a landmark book in the history of baseball which I'll talk about in a moment. Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. And for the first time I can remember the National Postal Museum is borrowing from the National Museum of the American Indian. We're borrowing several pre-Colombian artifacts related to the Mesoamerican ballgame. And that was really inspired I guess by my desire to want to explore the Mesoamerican roots of the history of baseball.
Baseball is perhaps unique among American sports anyway in that it is a sport that is intensely self-conscious of its history and has a whole body of historians and writers who research, publish, and propagate the history of the game. All of the sports have hall of fames and a handful of books written about the history, but baseball seems really uniquely to inspire this type of scholarship. And almost ununiformly when you pick up a book on the history of baseball it starts with European antecedents of the game such as cricket or rounders, various European ballgames. And it struck me in terms of the actual rules of the game and the way it is played and implements used in playing the game, that is all probably well and good. But I think there are certain aspects to the way baseball is played in the United States, anyway, that really have their origin in Mesoamerica in this hemisphere. And so, if any of you have visited Mexico and parts of South America and seen the great ceremonial ball courts that existed in Mayan and other civilizations, they had a sense of the game as a civic ritual. As public spectacle. As something that was held in purpose-built facilities or stadiums. And in the centers of great cities. They really had I think kind of that flavor of baseball that we have that I don't think you find in too many of the European antecedents that are usually pointed to by historians as being the basis of baseball. Cricket and rounders were either children's games, or they were gentleman's club games so they would be attended by members of the club and maybe their families, but they weren't great public spectacles the way baseball games are now. I think modern American baseball really owes a lot of that heritage to the Mesoamerican games.
And the reason this became a subject that I wanted to explore is that the sport of baseball, very self-consciously created for itself a creation story, a creation myth, of how the game came to be. And this was at the end of the 19th and early 20th century as America was absorbing millions of immigrants from overseas but also, America was playing a much more prominent role on the world stage following the Spanish-American war. Everywhere that the American military went, the game of baseball went with it. Everywhere diplomats in the State Department went, they were playing baseball. And similarly with business interests. The game of baseball followed American commercial and military interests around the globe in that period.
And I guess Americans were confronted with the need at that point to explain to other people where this game came from. How it came to be. And a group of executives at the top of the game including a man named Albert Goodwill Spalding who was a former baseball player himself but he founded the sporting goods empire that still bears his name, he particularly thought it was very important in spreading the game that it be the national game, that it be the American game. He thought it was very important that the roots of the game be distinctly American and centered in the United States and not due to some foreign influence or the evolution of some foreign game. So he wanted that story and empaneled a commission known as the Mills Commission to find it. This is the story I want. These are the origins of baseball I want, now go find them. And the Mills Commission was empaneled and worked for about two or three years and couldn't find the story that Spalding wanted until near the end of their work as they were just about to give up in frustration they received a letter in the mail that spun this fabulous tale from an elderly New Englander of how he remembered seeing the game of baseball being invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. And all of the kind of lineaments of the Doubleday story that most have heard at some point or another about the origins of baseball. And that was it, that fit all of the bills, checked all the boxes. Doubleday was a Civil War hero, this was a game that now had its origins in rural America, in upstate New York. It was motherhood and apple pie and this was the origin of baseball and this became codified in Spalding's book, "The American National Game" which SI Libraries is lending to us and we'll have in the exhibition. And we're showing it alongside the first U.S. baseball stamp issued in 1939, 25 or so years after the Double day myth was created. And we tell the story of how that stamp came to be.
The Postmaster General at the time, a man named James Farley, he had been FDR's campaign manager and was then appointed his Postmaster General. He was also an inveterate Yankee fan all throughout his rise in the New York state Democratic party machine in the early 20th century. He was known to conduct political and other business from his box seat at Yankee Stadium, the old Yankee Stadium. And by the way, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is actually lending us Farley's seat from Yankee Stadium. We will have the Postmaster General's seat there in the exhibition. But Farley was approached by the Baseball Hall of Fame and boosters of baseball in 1938 and 1939 when they were planning the big celebration of baseball's centennial. The mythical centennial that we now know wasn't really the centennial at all and Farley agreed to issue a postage stamp showing not necessarily Doubleday's face or Cooperstown, New York, but a boys sandlot baseball game. But the stamp does include the years 1839 to 1939, a very indirect reference to the Doubleday creation myth giving a U.S. government imprimatur to a centennial that was dubious in the origins or where it came from.
And the irony of this story really is that if the boosters of baseball wanted an American story and origin myth for baseball centered in the hemisphere all had to do was look at the Mesoamerican game, which they really didn't. And so showing this material from the American Indian museum, alongside postage stamps from Mexico and other South American countries that do very clearly assert this line of continuity between the Mesoamerican game and the modern baseball game I thought was an important story to explore, a way that we can add depth and richness to the interpretation of a postage stamp drawing not just on outside collections but on collections of the other Smithsonian museums which is uniquly poised to make all of these interesting comparisons and juxtapositions by placing these objects from other Smithsonian museums and other collections in close proximity to our own stamps and our own collection material.
We also, in our upstairs galleries, are planning to tell the story of Negro Leagues baseball, particularly in the early 20th century. One of the intersections with our own interests, our own discipline here is that baseball players until the end of the reserve clause system and the introduction of free agency in the 1970's, most baseball players really didn't make very much money. Only a handful of stars made quite a lot of money. But most players actually had regular jobs, real jobs that they went to in the offseason. That was especially true in the Negro Leagues where players did not make anywhere near as much money as they did in the white major leagues. And because of the economy at the time and the nature of employment, one of the places that many African American ball players in the early 20th century found employment was in the post office. The United States Post Office Department at the time was one of the earliest and largest civilian employers of African Americans in the United States. And we look at this through the story of a man named Ed Bolden who was an exutive in the Negro Leagues in the Phildelphia area. He managed, even had ownership interest, in a couple of Negro League teams in the Phildelphia area and was instrumental, he and Rube Foster in 1924, in pulling together the first ever Negro League World Series games. And he was a carrier, or clerk rather, in the Philadelphia post office at the time. We were able to place the Negro Leagues postage stamp material and Ed Bolden's baseball memorabilia alongside some of the documents that show his postal career in the Philadelphia area post office.
One of the other stories we are able to tell through the material that National Baseball Hall of Fame is lending us is around some of the early attempts to integrate major league baseball before Jackie Robinson in 1947. This has come back in the news a bit lately with the story of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner of baseball at the time, pre, and during, the second world war. And in 1943, some Black sports writers got together and convinced Kenesaw Mountain Landis who was the commissioner of major league baseball to allow them to address the owners of major league baseball at their meeting. I think it was being held in New York at the time, this was November or December of 1943, and put before them the case to integrate major league baseball. And when this became known that this meeting was taking place, there were literally hundreds and thousands of letters and post cards and telegrams at the time that poured in to Kenesaw Mountain Landis who was staying at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York and encouraging him to consider integrating Major League Baseball. Much of the history that's been written since that time has cast Landis as the great foe or great opponent of integrating Major League Baseball. His position was a little different. Landis' argument was that Major League Baseball itself was not segregated that in fact this was the decision taken by individual team owners and then the team owners themselves by kind of agreement among themselves not to hire African American players but that the major leagues had never banned African American players and did not ban African American players. So this was a very kind of contentious meeting in New York in November or December of 1943. It ended up not producing the desired result, but one of the things we are able to show to the public possibly for the first time, I don't think these have been exhibited before, are a number of the postal cards and letters and a telegram including a telegram from employees of the College Station, Texas Post Office all of which flooded in to Kenesaw Mountain Landis encouraging him to give up major league baseball's stance on segregation.
And the reason this has come up in the news again lately, and this is something I learned as a result of this news coverage, even with all of the years of research I have done for the exhibit, I didn't realize that the major league baseball's MVP award, is actually its full name is the Kenesaw Mountain Landis M.V.P. award. And a number of African American players who received the award over the years feel that his name really shouldn't be on the award and that's a story that surfaced in the last couple of weeks. One of the things that I'm kind of using this delay that has been forced on us by the pandemic to do, is kind of revisit and look at the Kenesaw Mountain Landis material in the exhibit and see if we want to strengthen some of that interpretation maybe with an additional artifact or two or maybe some label text. This was kind of a sidebar story in the original version of the script but in the current environment, I think maybe it is — this is something we want to elevate to a large part of the story. So we are always reevaluating and tweaking the interpretation of objects. It's part of the process. It's an iterative process of putting these exhibits on view.
On the atrium level of the museum, I think we're going to do some really fun things for the first time. This is where much of the Stephen Wong collection comes in and some of the loans from the major league baseball teams really come into play. Downstairs what I'm proposing to do for the first time ever really is show archival material from the creation of several stamp series issued by the United States all around the turn of the 21st century. These are all stamp series issued in the period roughly 1998 to 2001 and 2002. A series called Celebrate the Century which presented sheets of stamps commemorating the major events in each decade of the 20th century, and something like 15 in the 150 stamps were baseball themed stamps. There was another series of stamps at the time called Legends of Baseball which presented 20 legendary baseball players in postage stamp sized representations or almost like reproductions of baseball cards printed as postage stamps. And there was another series called the Legendary Playing Fields which commemorated eleven great ballfields of the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. For the first time we are showing all of the archival material, the original artwork, production proofs, the press sheets, everything from the print shop floor related to these issues. But presenting it alongside artifacts from each of the eleven stadiums pictured in the sheet of stamps to give a sense of the scale and why these particular — why these eleven ballfields were so very important to be included in the sheet of stamps. And in terms of the Legendary Ballplayers series, what we are able to do is show the original artwork for the stamps, very detailed artwork showing all of the players and their original period uniforms and pair that with the actual uniform in every case, uniforms on loan from Stephen Wong, so viewers can see the level of detail and intricacy of the stamp design right nest to the actual uniform, in some cases the actual uniform that's pictured on the stamp or that was being worn in the actual photograph from which the stamp was designed.
And this gets at another theme that I'm going to explore in this exhibit which is the field of collecting, both in the field of stamps and in the field of baseball, how both collecting fields and disciplines, if you will, have over the years integrated with each other, cross-marketed to each other and shared audiences. So you've got baseball card publishers in the early 20th century issuing baseball cards, for example, in the form of postcards that were meant to be sent through the mail. And we'll have some of those in the exhibition. These are collected both by postcard collectors and by baseball card collectors, recognized as legitimate post cards and also as legitmate baseball cards. Although interestingly, the two groups of collectors usually have different criteria in mind when they're collecting. The postcard collectors want them pristine and beautifully mint and the baseball card collectors want them the same way but the stamp collectors generally prize them postally used with the right postage and right markings showing that the baseball card actually went through the mail. And a lot of the USPS products at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century were self-consciously designed to mimic the look of bubble gum and cigarette trading cards from the first half of the 21st century. So that Legends of Baseball series all in the pastel colors and the sort of muted look of like the gaudy gum cards of the 1930's and some of the famous series of baseball cards that were, that are from the heyday, the early days of baseball card collecting. So these two pastimes of stamp collecting and baseball card collecting have overlapped and intersected with each other for well over a century and we will explore the story. Collectibles issued in the form of baseball postage stamps by companies like Tops and Fleer, complete with little albums all meant to be collected and saved in the same way that stamp collectors were collecting and saving stamps at the time. These are just some of the highlights and themes we are exploring through this exhibit.
One of the great things for me personally and professionally, about curating exhibits at the National Postal Museum is that, as Elliot mentioned earlier on, we can tell almost any story and we can even tell stories like the story of baseball which has been told many times before in countless exhibitions not even just around the country but even told at the Smithsonian institution before. But because we have the grounding and discipline in the field of stamps and mail we always come at the subjects from an unusual angle and make unusual connections and juxtapositions between different fields and types of objects that it is really rewarding to be able to uncover these connections and small stories that are generally overlooked by some of the larger exhibits because they don't perhaps approach it from this perspective or at this granular of a level. Everything about collecting stamps and mail and exhibiting them to the public is about being really granular. It is an exercise in close looking, if you will, and encouraging visitors to really see very large stories in the very small postage stamps and envelopes that have gone through the mail.
So that is just a little preview orsome thoughts about where the exhibit is at the moment and the types of material that I have included in it and why. I think we have a little bit of time maybe for questions and answers or just to continue the conversation. But I'm really pleased that you were all able to come and spend time and learn a little about baseball at the National Postal Museum.
SARAH: Thank you so much, Dan. We did have one comment while you were talking about the integration of baseball that I want to share from Marguerite who is a Chicago regional council member and said, my grandfather played for one of the teams on the Negro League. He and my grandmother fled the atrocities of the South in Georgia during the Great Migration and landed in Chicago. He became a sanitation worker and she a domestic, a few of the limited opportunities available to Blacks in the city. I thought that was great to hear.
DAN: And it is — it is kind of a double-edged sword in some ways. The integration of major league baseball while it is justly and rightly celebrated as a major landmark in American history, what it also meant unfortunately was the demise of the Negro Leagues, very quickly, because suddenly major league baseball started scouting and poaching all of the best talent from the Negro Leagues into the major leagues. But for the period that it operated, Negro League baseball really represented an opportunity for Black players to play for Black owned teams and for Black team executives really to have an opportunity to build that business. And in some markets, and in some cases, and Washington, D.C. is the classic example of this, the Negro League teams were better staffed and much more successful than the major league teams, drew larger crowds and these were in a very real sense Black-owned businesses in the first half of the 20th century and the integration of Major League Baseball, unfortunately the double edged sword of that, was the very quick collapse of the Negro Leagues. There's a lot of history there.
SARAH: We have a lot of questions that just streamed in. First, what is the length and approximate time period that the exhibit covers?
DAN: Well, it starts with the Mayans. [laughter] It starts with the Mayans and it goes through mid 1970s. One of the, in some sense, one of the limitations of our subject when you are dealing with stamps particularly the United States stamps is, in order to be featured on a stamp you have to be dead in the United States. That is the rule. You have to be dead I think it is five years now. Used to be 10 and now it is only five in order to be pictured on the United States postage stamp. So there aren't any living players on stamps. I would say the content is very strong from the Mayan period through the 1950s. A smattering of content from the 1960s and 1970s and probably not as strong on the recent game which wasn't really our intent. There have been lots of exhibits about the modern game.
SARAH: And follow-up to two of the points you just made. One, is the exhibition presented in a chronological manner or by theme? And how do you approach this concept? A secondary question, you mentioned American baseball stamps, are there any international baseball stamps in the exhibition?
DAN: Good questions. Is it chronological or thematic and the answer is, yes. There are two major sections of the exhibit. One will be on the street level of the museum and the other section of the exhibit will be on the atrium level, which is the downstairs of the museum, the original part of the museum that opened in 1993. And so the galleries upstairs on the lobby level of the museum will be more or less chronological. So that's where the Mayan artifacts are through the creation of baseball in the late 19th century and the creation myths and up through the Negro Leagues in the 1940s and '50s. That's where that section of the exhibit is. And downstairs on the atrium level of the museum is where we're showing the uniforms and artifacts from the ballfields and that sort of material, that tends to be much more of a thematic show. The ballfields, the players, and another section called Magic Moments where we look at three landmark events from that century of — from the Celebrate the Century series and look at them in depth. I wrote the script a long time ago so sometimes I have to think about it for a minute. We are doing the shot heard round the world, Bobby Thompson's home run in 1951. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961, both of them going for the '61 home run record. And the subway series of the 1950's are the three sort of events we are doing there. So that is a much more thematic sort of approach downstairs and more chronological one to the history of the game upstairs.
In terms of international stamps, there are definitely international baseball stamps. In fact, the earliest baseball stamps issued were not by the United States. There are at least four or five countries that issued baseball-themed postage stamps before the United States. The Philippines, Nicaragua, Colombia, all places where the game had been spread by U.S. involvement in the aftermath of the Spanish-American war in 1898. So we're showing stamps from those places and Mexico as well. There have been literally thousands of baseball-themed baseball stamps issued by countries all over the world. The U.S. total I think is about 80 different face-different postage stamps commemorating baseball but there are hundreds and even thousands issued by other countries.
SARAH: Great. What are some of the jerseys that will be on display both player and year?
DAN: Yeah, I might not off the top of my head remember the exact year that all of the jerseys are from. But I will certainly remember which players. This has been an interesting challange too because showing textiles in a museum exhibit for a long period of time is problematic. The fibers can be weakened by display and age, exposer to light, humidity, and so fourth. We are accomplishing this by doing rotations within the exhibition. Within the "Baseball: America's Home Run" exhibition there will be three mini exhibits or three iterations. So depending on when you come to see the exhibit you might see different uniforms and different artifacts as we rotate them through to minimize the effects of exposure to light and humidity.
And Elliot mentioned early on Jackie Robinson's road jersey from the 1948 season. His second season. The 1947 is the famous season, his rookie season where he broke the major league color barrier after the previous year having broken the minor league color barrier. And the 1948 season is in some ways more interesting and more important than the '48 season because in '47 Robinson faced a lot of cat calling and unpleasantness on the road and at home, too, sometimes, in his early season. But he had a great year in 1947. And as the statistics racked up and as he had — was great racking up great R.B.I.'s and home run numbers that quieted and dampened down a lot of the criticism of him. But he starts the '48 season in a real slump and has a real rough start to the 1948 season and all of that hostility and unpleasantness just comes roaring back in the early '48 season. So although a lot of tellings of the story focus on '47, in some ways the nadir of that experience was in the '48 season which is when we have his road jersey.
I know we have Ted Williams, who is an interesting case, too. His mother was Mexican, his father was American. So he was the first Mexican-American major league baseball player at least openly Mexican major league baseball player. He never quite advertised his Mexican heritage, but he never denied it either. And so we tell some of that story.
I know that we also have Joe DiMaggio in that section, of course, an Italian American immigrant who when he is having one of his greatest seasons is also his parents are interned as enemy aliens in California during the second world war. By rotating these uniforms through, we are able to tell a whole number of different stories in the space of the exhibition.
SARAH: Fascinating. Thank you. Two more questions related to this specific content of the exhibition. One, Scott asks is there any all-star game memorabilia in the exhibition and Barbara asks the all-important question how will our World Series champion Nationals be featured?
DAN: [laughter] All-star game memorabilia. As I say I selected the objects and wrote the script a while ago. There is nothing I remember off the top of my head in the exhibit being specifically, nothing I remember being specifically related to the all-star games. I think we traced some of, and Stephen has traced, some of the game-worn uniforms on display as being worn during different all-star games. But nothing as such.
The Nationals are an interesting case. From the modern Nationals there are some photographs. There's a photograph of the current National's stadium and some historic photographs from the early days of the stadiums. There were several earlier Washington, D.C. teams known as the Nationals and the Senators, even the Statesmen. And one of those early Nationals teams, this was team Washington Nationals that existed from 1886 to 1889. So they had no connection to the modern Nationals except that they used the same name. Their ballfield and where they played their games is on the site of the National Postal Museum. The National Postal Museum was built on top of what were known as the Swamp Poodle Grounds where the very first team called the Washington Nationals in 1886 played four seasons on that particular spot. So our own building even has a tie to the history of baseball in the Washington, D.C. area. There are literally only three or four extant photographs of that ballfield and we show at least one of them in the exhibition and help orient visitors as to where our museum was located in the ballfield. Both Union Station and our museum are built on the site of the old ballfield.
SARAH: We had a question about that, and I learned something new. I did not know that so thanks for sharing. We have a question about, can you speak to the history of the government postcard that were once sent to players to sign and return to the original sender. There are a number of these in existence and have been signed by the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and highly collected.
DAN: Yeah, these are prepaid government postal cards. And these were generally created by autograph collectors writing to their favorite players and asking for their autograph. It was a common practice to incluse one of the one cent or two cent government post cards with the postage pre-paid in the hope that, by making it really easy, the player would just sign it and put it back in the mail and it would increase their chances of getting autographs. You do actually frequently find baseball autographs on the back of what stamp collectors call postal stationary or government postal cards. So that is pretty common. In terms of authenticating the signatures, there are services and experts who are sort of able to do that. Much in the same way that stamp collectors turn to expertising services. There are companies that do this for those for the autographs including autographs on postal cards. We have some those in our collection that were seized by the mail stream from the postal inspection service at various points because they were fraudulent. There are forged autographs on the government postal cards. The theory is that one of the reasons forgers used these postal cards to put the autographs on is that the mint postal cards are very cheap to get and buyers seem to associate some kind of authenticity with the fact that it is on a government postal card. And they actually are a pretty ripe and juicy target for forgers. Any autographs on postal cards you would want to get them authenticated or expertised as stamp collectors would say.
SARAH: Thank you. And we got a comment, after Babe Ruth passed his wife would get requests for autographs and would send canceled checks. Another fun fact.
DAN: You see those in actions a lot, too. Canceled checks. We actually are showing in the exhibit two letter writing campaigns involving Kenesaw Mountain Landis. One being the one I talked about from 1943 when he appeared to be willing to open major league baseball up to integration but the other was from 1921 and Landis was brought on as the commissioner of baseball to clean up the game after the 1919 World Series scandal. And he was so zealous in cleaning up the game that in 1921 he went after Babe Ruth because Babe Ruth had been playing barnstorming games without the sanction of the major leagues and he actually suspended Babe Ruth from major league baseball. So you have the 1919 scandal, right. Babe Ruth comes on the scene in 1920 and almost single handedly saves the game using a bat that Stephen is lending us for the exhibition. His incredible performance takes the game whose reputation are in tatters and people are disgusted with it in 1919 and Ruth comes on the scene and single handidly saves the game and the next year Landis suspends him from baseball for playing exhibition games in the offseason. He was deluged with thousands of post cards and letters encouraging him to reinstate Ruth. That's another Ruth and Landis story that's in the exhibition.
SARAH: Thank you. Time for just a couple of more questions. I'm fascinated from by the subtitle America's Home Run. Can you please elaborate?
DAN: It is kind of a, not quite a double entendre but has double meaning in terms of actual home runs which are one of the major statistics of the game and all throughout the exhibition this is a major feature of uniforms and bats and other game-used equipment that were used questing after the number of home runs in a particular season. But then also the idea of hitting a home run or the home run being a great success of baseball as being America's in some ways its greatest export. One of its greatest kind of cultural icons that has spread all over the world. So both home run in its actual meaning of the home run but home run in terms of the home run as a metaphor for being a great success or one of its great shining high points, feature of the country's culture and national life.
SARAH: Thank you. We have several logistical questions about the exhibit itself. And I know some of these you might not be able to answer. What is your best estimate when the exhibit will open, how long will it be up? And right now, when we can't visit the museum, how can people learn more and interact with the exhibit?
DAN: Sure. Our best estimate right now is next year. It was supposed to be open already. It was supposed to open earlier this year but just with the changing environment right now, we just can't really predict with anymore clarity or certainty than we are hoping for next year. One of the things that complicated it for us is, because there are a lot of loan materials in the show, getting those shipments from places like Hong Kong and upstate New York and other museums and institutions that are lending us stuff are themselves closed right now. It all depends on when those — we all want places to open up again and when we are able to start shipping material. That was one question.
Sorry, that was a three-part question. How long will it be up? The plan for the exhibition when it opens is to be up for three years and we programmed three different iterations or rotations of material in the exhibition to allow us to extend its life. Rotating in new material or in some cases replacing a few things with reproductions in order to allow us to keep the exhibition for a little bit longer. So, whenever it opens, we are hoping for a lifespan of three years but all of that will be determined by when it opens and what we have coming next down the road and so forth.
In terms of how to interact with the visit kind of between now and when it opens, we are working at putting together a companion website. All of the exhibits that we do at the National Postal Museum usually have a companion website with selected stories and images and text from the exhibit. So that should be up this fall, hopefully well in advance of the exhibit opening. So I would say keep an eye on our website for when the companion website goes live. And you can read some of the stories in advance there.
SARAH: Thank you. Well, I know we have several more questions in the chat box but we are bumping up on the hour. We will wrap up here, Dan. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. And like he said, we actually dropped the link to the online exhibition in the chat feature. And we will be sharing some more images tomorrow when we share this recording. So stay tuned for more of that. Otherwise, we hope to see you in the museum soon. And please follow up with any more questions. And we're thankful that you joined us today and hope you have a great rest of your week.