Baseball and Philately from the Vault of the National Postal Museum

Recorded Wednesday, October 21, 2020.

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Chief Curator Daniel A. Piazza shared philatelic highlights from the National Postal Museum’s exhibition Baseball: America’s Home Run with members of the Collectors Club of New York as part of the club’s Virtual Philatelic Program Series.

[Music: "Centerfield" by John Foggerty]

Good evening.

I'd like to welcome everyone to the October 21st meeting of the Collecter's Club.

Our introducer is Cheryl Ganz, who has done just about everything.

She's been the Chief Curator of the National Postal Museum.

She's signed the Role of Distinguished Philatelists.

She's on the board, I think, of the APS.

She's on the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Council, the people that create all those current stamps that come out that I don't necessarily want.

I'd like to turn it over to Cheryl Ganz.

Well, it's with great pleasure that I'm to introduce our speaker, Daniel Piazza, the Chief Curator of Philately at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

As a philatelist, Dan's an exhibitor, a speaker, a researcher, and an author.

He served as an officer in societies and as President of NAPEX, the national stamp show, and he did that for six years.

You've probably read his NPM notebook column in the American Philatelist, including in the current issue.

He's a fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society, London, and a recipient of the APS Carter Award.

Dan joined the Postal Museum staff in 2007.

He was the youngest person to hold curatorial rank in the history of the National Philatelic Collection.

He became Chief Curator in 2014.

His major exhibits include galleries in the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery and rotating exhibits on major topics, including national parks, African-Americans, Alexander Hamilton, the British Guiana 1c magenta, Titanic and Franklin Roosevelt.

He received the Smithsonian Research Prize for the exhibition and catalog, Freedom Just Around the Corner: Black America from Civil War to Civil Rights.

Smithsonian Research Prize is huge, because you're competing against all the scientists in Natural History, Air and Space, and other museums.

So, that was really a fantastic recognition of his work.

Curators tell stories through the lens of philately that capture the imaginations of a wide range of visitors, on-site and online.

Dan's work has reached millions of people worldwide, millions.

Today, he will share insights of an upcoming exhibition on America's favorite pastime: baseball.

Well, thank you very much, Cheryl, for that introduction.

It's really very meaningful to me, I appreciate it very much.

Nearly everything that I know about how to do this job and do it well, I learned from you and your years at the museum, and I'll always be grateful for that, and to have been introduced by the slugger with a designated hitter like Wade is really great for me.

I'm I'm a mere bat boy.

So, we'll leave that at that and get to the story here.

But I appreciate all of the work that the folks with the Collectors Club of New York have done in producing this series and keeping people connected during this time, and for the invitation to be here with you this evening.

So, as Cheryl, mentioned, I'm going to talk at a little bit of length here about the exhibit that I've worked on for the last several years, called Baseball: America's Home Run, a fitting topic for tonight.

I know you had a choice between this presentation and game two of the World Series.

But before I talk a little bit about the baseball exhibit, I just want to say a few words about the last six or seven months at the National Postal Museum since the COVID pandemic has struck, and what's been going on at the museum.

So, as I think everybody knows by now, the museum has been closed for about six months due to the COVID pandemic.

But the staff has been working remotely during that time.

The museum has been closed since about the middle of March, with the staff teleworking since then, continuing to respond to public inquiries and media interviews and requests for information, posting new web content during that time.

And there's actually been quite a lot of interest, I think, in our content, because this has all coincided with a tremendous period of national interest in the postal service, as people are depending more and more on it to shelter in place during COVID, and the role that it's playing now in the upcoming national election.

So, we've actually been quite busy, I think, getting out the message of postal history and philately during this time.

We wish we could be open during this time, but since we can't be, we're doing a lot of these things electronically and remotely.

So, there are lots of ways to keep in touch with us during this closure, for however long it lasts.

Smithsonian has started cautiously to reopen some of the larger museums, and then phasing in reopenings over time, trickling down to some of the smaller museums.

Currently, we don't really know when the National Postal Museum will reopen again for the public.

But in the meantime, you can keep in touch with us through our postmark E-newsletter, which you can sign up for on our website, all of our different social media channels.

Cheryl mentioned that I do write a quarterly column in the American Philatelist with some news and updates, and then some content-based stories about material in our collection.

There's one in the current issue, and those are online, as well.

NPM has a pretty extensive YouTube channel for philatelists.

One of the main things you can view there is the whole archive, our whole library of past Sundman lectures, which is just hours and hours of lectures sponsored by the Sundman family, Donald Sundman of Mystic Stamp Company and his brother, David, of Littleton Coin Company, have sponsored these lectures for years, and there are literally dozens of hours of lectures, philatelic lectures online, for you to look at, including the last two Sundman lectures, which we posted online during the pandemic.

So, lots of ways to enjoy our content and stay in touch.

And then, just for fun, in the lower right-hand corner, a post office baseball uniform that dates from about the 1950s This is from the National Postal Museum's collection.

And baseball teams composed of postal clerks and letter carriers started appearing in many major American cities around the turn of the 20th century, and they were a prominent feature of life for postal employees well into the 1960s.

At its height, there were probably about 250 different active postal baseball teams around the United States.

So, in addition to the general history of baseball, the sport has a very particular history within the postal service and the old Post Office Department.

This is a rendering of one of the galleries inside the National Postal Museum with some of the content for the baseball exhibit, showing what it will look like.

This was prepared for us by the designers.

On the mirror on the wall, there is a quote.

It's a little bit obscured by some of the details, but what it says is, "Whoever wants to know the heart "and mind of America had better learn baseball."

And this is a statement from the famous scholar, Jacques Barzun, written in the 1950s.

And he theorized that the game of baseball itself embodied or codified certain aspects of the American national attitude in life, and that, for that reason, it had become America's national game, and that's one of the themes that we explore throughout the course of the exhibit.

One of the things that has made this exhibit possible for us is really good collaboration with the other Smithsonian museums and research units around the institution.

So, this exhibit will feature loans from four other Smithsonian museums, including Air and Space, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, where many of you members of the Collector's Club of New York are, the National Museum of the American Indian, and Smithsonian Institution Libraries, and I'll talk about a couple of those loan items over the course of my presentation.

And then, research for this exhibit was funded by the Smithsonian Latino Center, and in particular, what they enabled to do is two things, really.

To research and facilitate the loan of Mesoamerican and Mexican artifacts to this exhibit, but then also to enable translation of the entire exhibit and all of its content into Spanish.

This will be the first full-scale Smithsonian exhibition that will be entirely bilingual, in both English and Spanish.

Spanish-speaking audiences are one of the largest-growing fan bases, and also player bases, for Major League Baseball, something like 25% to 30% of Major League Baseball players in the United States now are Latino or Hispanic origin.

And so, making this exhibit something that this community could come and visit, as well, in Washington, D.C.

was a goal we set for the exhibit very early on in the museum, and it was supported by the Latino Center.

And then, the little trophy in the lower right-hand corner there is, again, from the General Post Office in New York, the Farley Building on 8th Avenue, and that's the baseball trophy for their postal baseball team in the 1930s.

And the names of all the players on the team are engraved on the base of the trophy, and that was integration and diversity, 1930s-style.

Irish and Italian and Jewish names, all playing on this postal baseball team in New York from the 1930s to the '50s, and this was their championship trophy.

This is also in our collection and will be in the exhibit.

The cover at the top of this slide is also from the museum's collection.

As a piece of postal history it's kind of interesting.

It's probably a third-class circular or advertising letter from the United States, from New Hampshire sent into Canada.

And it's a fairly decent piece of all-over advertising cover from the late 19th Century, with these lovely period, late 19th Century illustrations of a fielder's glove and a catcher's mit, that this company, Draper and Maynard in New Hampshire, was manufacturing and selling all over the United States and in Canada, as well.

This cover is addressed to Canada.

One of the reasons they had a Canadian market and audience for this product is that these gloves were developed and patented by a former baseball player.

Maybe you can see his name on two of the gloves, Arthur Irwin.

Arthur Irwin was a Canadian-born professional baseball player in the last quarter of the 19th Century.

He played on several baseball teams, but most notably, he played for Providence, Rhode Island and the Philadelphia Quakers until 1889, when he was sold to a team called the Washington Nationals.

And Arthur Irwin, for the year that he played for the Washington Nationals in 1889, played at a location that I'm going to show you now on the next slide.

But in addition to this material from our collection and the other Smithsonian units that I've already talked about, I want to acknowledge the tremendous support we've gotten from other museums and external lenders, including the United States Postal Service, the Postmaster General's Collection.

You're going to see some material in this slide presentation and in the exhibition that has never been publicly exhibited before.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has loaned extensively to this exhibition.

The Stephen Wong Collection.

Stephen Wong is a private collector of baseball memorabilia who lives in Hong Kong, and you'll see some of his pieces in the show tonight.

Library of Congress Manuscripts Division is lending us a few things, but most notably examples of fan mail addressed to Jackie Robinson at various points in his career, the 1940s, '50s, and '60s.

The Library of Congress holds the Jackie Robinson Papers, and is sharing some of the letters that fans wrote to him over the years.

We have loans from two Major League Baseball teams, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

Our colleagues at the Museo de Filatelia of Oaxaca and the Archivio Historico del Beisbol in Mexico, who are contributing some of the Mexican artifacts I mentioned earlier, and then numerous private collectors, who I'll mention as we go through the slides and I point out some of their objects.

But Arthur Irwin played baseball in 1889 at this location.

And this is a very familiar location to me, and to some of you, I think.

You can see the Capitol Building in the distance.

And just to the left center of your screen, maybe you can see a steam elevator, a grain elevator, and a feed mill called McDowell and Sons.

That was located in Washington, D.C. on a street called Massachusetts Avenue.

Just to the left, out of the frame of this picture, you can actually see some of the rolling stock in the background of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks, which come through the left-hand side of this picture and continue on up to the National Mall, where the train station was located circa 1887, when this picture was taken.

So, train tracks to the left, a place called Massachusetts Avenue in the foreground of the photograph, and the Capitol Building in the distance.

This is the site, today, of the National Postal Museum.

This is the land that the City Post Office was built on in 1914, and Union Station next door a few years earlier, is also on this plot of land.

And what you see here in this photograph is a Major League Baseball game, a National League game, in progress on the site of the National Postal Museum in about 1887.

So, from 1886 until 1889, the piece of land that we now know as the site of the National Postal Museum was a ball field, a rather large one that, by all accounts at the time, held 6, 000 spectators were accommodated in this ball field, and it was the home of a National League team called the Washington Nationals.

So, Arthur Irwin, who is advertised on that cover, is pictured in the baseball card all the way on the left, along with two other notable players who played here on the site of the National Postal Museum in the 1880s.

The fellow in the middle is named Hank O'Day, and the fellow all the way on the far-right there is one of the more famous baseball figures of all time, actually, a guy named Connie Mack.

Connie Mack was famous for being a baseball player, yes, a catcher.

He had a rather uneven, undistinguished career, maybe, as a catcher, particularly early in his career, but what he's best remembered for is having been the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics for nearly 50 years, from 1901 until 1950.

And both O'Day and Connie Mack are National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, they're both members of the Hall of Fame, they both played here at the Swampoodle Grounds in Washington, DC, and Mack in particular made his major league debut on the site of our museum.

So, just a neat little tie-in between the National Postal Museum and its relation to the history of professional and organized baseball in Washington, D.C.

Now, I wish I could tell you that on the site of the museum, the Washington team covered itself in glory for these four years in the last quarter of the 19th Century, but I cannot do that.

In fact, they inaugurated the tradition that lasted, well, nearly 80 years of Washington being a pretty poor contender in the sport of baseball.

What was the old joke? "Washington is first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

That was commonly heard, particularly in the middle part of the 20th century.

So, not a particularly distinguished team, didn't have a very great record.

But it did launch the careers of at least two baseball Hall of Famers, and was on the site of the National Postal Museum.

Philatelically, though, the story of baseball in the United States really starts in 1939, and 1939 was an incredibly important year in baseball history for a lot of reasons.

Many stamp collectors and philatelists know that it's the year the first U.S. baseball-themed postage stamp was issued, and here's Postmaster General Jim Farley on the right at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, watching the baseball commemorative stamps come off the press.

This is in May of 1939.

The other fellow, I can't remember his name at the moment.

I think he was the Director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

But these stamps were being printed and issued for an event in Cooperstown, New York that was known as the Cavalcade of Baseball, and the Cavalcade of Baseball was a couple of things, really.

It was the first professionally-marketed sports anniversary in U.S. history.

It was the opening of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and it also celebrated the putative centenary of baseball, the story that baseball had been invented in Cooperstown by Abner Doubleday in 1839.

And although the stamps went out of their way not to mention any particular baseball team, or to picture Doubleday himself, there's a pretty direct reference to the Doubleday myth and the story in the dates featured on the stamp.

The years 1839 and 1939 are featured fairly prominently on the stamp.

It was also the induction of the first class into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

All of this took place in June of 1939.

And then, almost as soon as the Cavalcade of Baseball was over, followed all of the drama involving Lou Gehrig, checking himself into the Mayo Clinic for an as-yet undiagnosed ailment, and then Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium on July 4th, 1939, at which James Farley was a featured guest and a speaker at Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.

Farley had a lifelong relationship with the New York Yankees, even before he came into national political life, when he was a player in New York City, In state democratic circles, he was known to conduct a lot of his business from his box seat at Yankee Stadium, rarely missed a game.

When he retired as Postmaster General in 1940 and the Yankees were offered for sale, he was rumored to be one of the potential buyers or bidders to buy the team.

And so, he was very intimately involved with the Yankees organization down into the 1970s.

James Farley was the last surviving member of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's cabinet in the 1970s, and at the ceremonies to close the old Yankee Stadium before it was extensively renovated, really, into an entirely new ball field, he spoke at that event, as well.

So, he's speaking in 1939 at Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, and in the mid-70s, when they're closing down Yankee Stadium, again, Jim Farley is one of the speakers.

So, the organizers of this professional baseball anniversary call on Farley to help promote it by issuing a postage stamp.

And that's the origin, really, of the 1939 stamp.

And then, this is all just followed with Lou Gehrig, that whole story that becomes immortalized in plays and movies, captures the national imagination.

And then, just a month later in August of 1939, you have the first televised baseball game at the 1939 World's fair.

It was a Brooklyn game that was televised to fair-goers about 12 miles away.

So, it wasn't a very long distance broadcast, you couldn't watch it all over the country, you could only watch it at the World's Fair, but it was certainly a portent of things to come in the sport of baseball.

The New York Yankees jacket that you see in the lower right-hand corner is the jacket that Lou Gehrig was wearing in Detroit at the old Briggs Stadium in May of 1939, when, for the first time, he pulled himself from the Yankee starting lineup, ending his streak of I think it was 2, 140 [it was 2, 130!] some-odd consecutive games in which he had played.

This is the jacket that he was wearing when he went up to the to the home plate umpire, and for the first time in many, many years, turned in a starting lineup card that did not include his own name.

All of these events taking place in 1939 focused a very bright light on the sport of baseball and help to fix the mythology around this sport as being the national sport, as being a uniquely American game, helped to fix this in the public's mind, and the postage stamp was a very large part of that.

Jim Farley traveled to Cooperstown for the first day ceremony.

Here he is in the Cooperstown Post Office, playing the part of window clerk, selling the first sheet of stamps, the ceremonial first sheet of stamps, to a fellow who we'll meet again in a few minutes named Kenesaw "Mountain" Landis, the first commissioner of baseball.

That's just a great name, and a very colorful figure, but also a controversial one, as we'll see in a minute.

And on the autographed cover below that, which is a cover loan to the exhibition by Wade Saadi, you'll see the autographs of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.

Both of these players, obviously at very different points in their career, Ruth was retired, DiMaggio had been in the game for about three years, so he's very much at the beginning of his career, but they were both in Cooperstown for this event, Ruth to be inducted as one of the first members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and DiMaggio was there to play in an exhibition game at Abner Doubleday Field later that same day.

So, trying to recreate for visitors the atmosphere of who was there for the issuance of this stamp, what the context was, and you'll see in the middle of your slide one of the actual cancellation devices that was used to cancel first day covers at the Cooperstown Post Office, and that's being lent to us by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cheryl will probably recognize the chair in the lower right-hand corner of this slide.

This is James Farley's chair from the old Yankee Stadium.

It dates to about 1923.

Cheryl and I tried very hard to get this chair when we did the FDR exhibit at the museum about 11 years ago, but it wasn't available for loan at that time.

It had actually been loaned back to the Yankees organization, they were displaying the chair in their headquarters.

But it is available this time, and we're going to have it in the exhibit.

So, I finally got that chair, Cheryl.

You're going to get to see it in person in Washington, D.C.

But just to make the very strong connection between the postmaster general and this game, and why it was that this stamp was issued to commemorate the game.

And then, looking at the next two, it was 30 years before there were any additional baseball stamps in the U.S., and they both came in 1969, again for dubious anniversaries.

The 1939 anniversary, I think a lot of people even at the time understood that the Abner Doubleday story was contrived and invented.

1969 was another one of these.

It had more historical validity, maybe, than the '39 anniversary, but this is for the centennial of professional baseball, the idea that 1969 [should be 1869!] is the first year in which teams were composed of professionally-salaried players who could be bought and sold and traded by team owners.

And that's certainly true.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings took the field in 1969 [should be 1869!] as the first all-professional baseball team, but players had been paid under the table for many years before 1969 [should be 1869!] through no-show jobs for which not a lot of work was required, sweetheart deals, consulting jobs, all of these sorts of mechanisms that you could think of were all used to pay players before 19, or before 1869, rather.

And so, this was a little bit of an anniversary that was kind of contrived.

And that same year, the Grandma Moses stamp, not issued specifically for baseball, but it does show a baseball game in progress in the middle of the stamp, a very rural, sort of a bucolic scene.

I think connecting, really, back to the 1939 stamp and Doublesday in Cooperstown, and this idea, this mythology really, that baseball was a game that came from the heartland of America, a very rural game, a very White game, its origins in the American heartland, which is not really the case.

From the very beginning baseball was always a game of the great urban areas, of immigrant communities as much as it was popular in rural and farming areas, like Cooperstown, or like the scene in the Grandma Moses stamp.

So, I think what all of these things speak to is the way in which postage stamps can really kind of shape some of the historical memory, in the way we view these anniversaries and these cultural events and touchpoints, like baseball, but also give a little bit of federal legitimacy to an anniversary, back it up with a federal imprimatur.

Yes, baseball was invented in Cooperstown in 1839.

It must be, because the government issued a stamp that proves it.

So, the role that stamps had played in creating that mythology.

Where does the mythology come from? This fellow, the author of this book, Albert G. Spalding in 1911.

Spalding was a former baseball player himself, who later became a team executive and the self-appointed historian of baseball, and he was involved in a number of the world tours that baseball went on in the early 20th century.

And everywhere he went, it really got under his skin, that, for instance, when they played in Europe, in England and other places, "Oh, this is just cricket."

"This is just rounders, this isn't an American game."

He heard this constantly on these world tours and that really bothered him.

So, he set about with the goal of proving that baseball was an American game, put together a commission called the Mills Commission.

He was the owner of a sports publishing empire.

Same Spalding, when you think of Spalding sporting goods today, this is the same guy, same company, and he charged this committee with investigating the origins of baseball, and it's this committee that came up with the Abner Doubleday story.

And one of the unusual or odd things is that, in the focus on finding the origins of baseball in the American hemisphere, they overlooked, in some ways, the game's real origins in the Western hemisphere.

If you go back even further than the United States, it has origins in the great indigenous ball games that were played in Mayan and Aztec civilization, and Carib civilization, the Caribbean Islanders, they all had their version of the ballgame that, in some ways, had many more similarities to the way we would think of a baseball game today than any of the European antecedents, or even the American ones.

This is a photograph of the ball field at Monte Alban, the archaeological site in Oaxaca, Mexico.

They built these enormous ball fields in the center of great urban cities, concentrated areas.

They imbued the game with a sense of civic ritual and national identity that I think we would recognize in sporting events now, that really doesn't have any direct antecedent in Europe.

So, in some sense, they kind of overlooked this opportunity to place the game's origins in the Western Hemisphere.

But one of the things that we explore in this exhibit is that, although we may have overlooked it, a number of other countries in this hemisphere have not.

And Mexico, a number of countries in Central and Latin America, places that embraced the game of baseball very early on, because it resonated with this Aztec and Mayan tradition, named their teams Aztecas, and they've issued postage stamps, also, that have that have asserted their historical linkage with the game's identity.

So, through artwork and through team names and yes, through postage stamps, they've kept this Latin and South American connection to the game of baseball alive and brought it to people's attention.

So, the Aztec and the Mayan artifacts in the center-left of your screen are the two that are being lent to us by the National Museum of the American Indian.

The bat, which is a modern artistic piece created by an artist in Mexico, in which he took an American-made bat and laser-inscribed the feathers of Quetzalcoatl, the serpent god, onto the bat itself in order to make a statement about the game's dual nature, it's American and it's Latin American origin.

One of the results of this mythology that was created in the game of baseball really was to make a point about to whom the game belonged and to whom the game did not belong.

If you're defining who the game belongs to and where it came from, in some sense, you're also defining who it does not belong to.

And one of the groups that it's emphatically defined that the game does not belong to in the 19th Century is African-Americans.

Over a process of several years in the 1880s, through a series of gentleman's agreements among team owners - there was never a ban, an outright ban on African-American players in Major League Baseball, rather it was something that was instituted privately among the team owners themselves.

They all got together and agreed that none of them would hire African-American players.

And so, you have the growth of the Negro leagues, which were, in their own right, professional baseball leagues.

In one sense, black-owned businesses, teams that were managed, recruited, operated and owned by African-Americans, played for primarily African-American audiences, but in some places like Washington, D.C., where I was just mentioning the White baseball teams who were actually rather lackluster for 80 years, the Negro League teams in Washington, D.C., when they played were really good, and drew large White audiences, also.

But it was the opportunity and the chance for African-Americans to be team executives, owners, and managers In the upper right-hand corner, the original artwork for the Negro Leagues stamp featuring Rube Foster, who was a prominent early Negro League team owner and manager, and a postcard that he mailed from Cuba back to his wife in the early 1900s.

The date is indistinct, and the postmark can't really be read.

But one of the features of the Negro League teams was that they frequently played in Cuba, where the game was very popular.

It had been adopted almost as a national game in Cuba after the revolution to replace the bull fights that had been favored by the Spanish.

And so, your allegiance to the bull fights or the ball game could really belie your political leanings in Cuba.

But also, the Cuban teams were open and willing to play all-Black teams and racially integrated teams from the United States in a way that American teams were not willing to do.

So, Negro League teams frequently spent the winter leagues in their winter seasons playing ball in Cuba.

And the series of postcards from Rube Foster back to his family in the United States illustrate that very clearly.

The cover in the upper-right is the Mobile Black Baseball Club cornercard or letterhead from that Negro League team in Mobile, Alabama to a fellow named Edward Bolden.

Edward Bolden was an owner and manager of two Black baseball teams in the Philadelphia area, who was also a postal clerk in the Philadelphia post office.

For most of this period, Black and White players alike - most of them did not make a lot of money.

Sure, there were the Ruths and the DiMaggios, and the people who had huge salaries and big contracts.

But for most baseball players, they did not make enough money playing ball to support themselves and their family and pay the bills.

So, many of them, Black and White alike, had "day jobs."

For many Black baseball players, one of the most accessible and easily obtainable day jobs was in the Post Office Department.

The Post Office Department was the single-largest civilian employer of African-Americans during this period, and Bolden created and recruited two Black baseball teams in the Philadelphia area, almost entirely from his fellow Black post office employees.

Not all of them were postal employees, but most.

And he and Foster went on in 1924 to create what was then known as the Colored World Series, which played irregularly for a number of years, but drew a huge audiences every time it was played.

And so, this was a real business.

The Negro leagues were a big business, and in some markets, they were even bigger, more successful, better athletes than the White players.

The postcard in the lower left-hand corner is one of several that we're showing in the exhibit addressed to Judge Landis, who I mentioned earlier.

This was from a moment in 1943, when it looked like Major League Baseball might finally integrate.

There had been some pressure on the part of Black sportswriters, and also the actor Paul Robeson, and several other African-American celebrities in the United States, had pressured baseball to integrate against the backdrop of World War II.

African-Americans are serving in the military.

They're fighting for freedom and equality overseas, and they don't have it at home.

And one of the places this was very glaring was in the segregation of baseball.

And so, Judge Landis invites Paul Robeson and several of the Black sports writers, members of the Black Sports Writers Association, to a meeting with the owners in 1943.

And he is deluged with postcards and letters from fans, encouraging he and the other owners, encouraging them to finally integrate baseball.

Nothing comes of the meeting, Landis kind of drags his feet, he dies a year or two later in '44 or '45, and it's not until 1947 and the well-known story of Jackie Robinson that the sport integrates.

And as a result of this meeting, it's an interesting little story that's surfaced this year.

Many people didn't even realize that the Major League MVP award that you hear about every year, one American League, one National League MVP Award awarded every year by the Baseball Writer's Association, is named for Judge Kenesaw "Mountain" Landis, and just a month or two ago, the writers association voted to remove his name from the award because of his lackluster performance at this meeting and his failure to press the issue of integration and leave it to his successors to integrate baseball.

So, the legacy of Landis in this meeting is still being debated today, and we're showing some pieces of correspondence related to it.

And then, original artwork from the Postmaster General's Collection, featuring Larry Doby.

The story of Jackie Robinson is well-known, but what's less well known is that about three months after Robinson integrated the National League, Larry Doby integrated the American League.

And so, we tell that story with the artwork from the PMG Collection.

Some other material from the PMG Collection concerns the famous postage stamp series that were issued around the turn of the 21st Century featuring baseball.

This is the Legendary Playing Field series and the Legends of Baseball series.

And this section of the exhibit will be very heavy with never-before-seen archival proof and production material for these series.

So, what you see here are photographic croppings.

No press sheets have been harmed in the making of this PowerPoint.

This has all been done through the magic of Photoshop, because I can't show the full sheet on a slide.

But full-size press sheets, color separations showing the red, yellow, magenta and black images of the different stamps, and all of this wonderful material on display for the first time.

I really like and have grown very fond of the Legendary Playing Fields section of this exhibit, because what we're doing is taking the stamp material, the production material, and pairing it with actual artifacts from the ballparks that are featured on the stamps themselves.

So, in the upper-left, there's the old Yankee stadium, 1923, one of the terracotta baseball emblems that used to ring the outside of the stadium and was saved from demolition in the 1970s.

There are only three or four of these terracotta pieces from the old stadium known to exist.

That's the Polo Grounds at the lower-left, paired with the proof of the postcard.

So, the Legendary Playing Field stamps were issued both as stamps and as prepaid postal cards.

And we're showing the material from both.

There's the postal card of the Polo Grounds with the home plate from the last game that was played in the Polo Grounds, 1957, "rescued" from the field.

At the end of the game, the fans just rushed the field, started tearing the place apart, everybody knew the stadium was going to be demolished, so everybody's looking for souvenirs, and somebody grabbed home plate and made off with it, and this is it.

From Pittsburgh, in the center-bottom of the screen, you have from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh one of the stone corner pieces, not really cornerstones, but there are decorative elements.

You can maybe see them in the postcard, they're these little gray triangles here that you can see in the postcard, are actually these concrete cornices or freezes, with the initials of the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, which was the parent company of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And then, that's Fenway Park in the lower right-hand corner, with it's iconic Big Green Monster and the scoreboard that's still operated by hand.

That's the number 49 from the scoreboard, which was used when pitcher Tim Wakefield was on the mound for Boston.

Wakefield is probably the second most famous pitcher in Boston history after Roger Clemens, with a similar longevity in the game and win record as did Clemens.

So, it's important in showing this stamp material, I think, to be able to help the visitors get a sense of scale, as to these small stamps and postal cards, what the size of the actual thing being depicted really is.

And then conversely, you also get a sense of how hard it is to depict something the size and scale of a ballfield on a tiny postage stamp.

And I think this pairing of architectural details and artifacts from the fields with the stamp production material, does that really nicely.

Some seats from Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, which was the header of the stamp sheet, and then signage from the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit, alongside the stamp and production materials showing those two fields.

Another section is called Magic Moments, and this is drawn exclusively from the Celebrate the Century Series.

Something like seven of the Celebrate the Century stamps were moments that commemorated great events and great moments in the history of baseball.

We've picked three of them, and the one that I really like, it's the one that's the largest on your screen, it's The Shot Heard 'Round the World.

This was Bobby Thomson's walk-off home run in 1951, to clinch the league pennant and advance to the World Series.

It's an unusual stamp design.

You see, the dominant thing is the baseball itself.

The field is remote and distant, the players are little stick figures.

And the reason for this is that a number of the players pictured on the stamp were actually still alive in 2000 when the stamp was issued, including Bobby Thomson, who hit the home run, and Ralph Branca, who pitched the ball to him.

They were both still alive.

So, they couldn't show the field action or the players.

They'd be recognizable, and you can't have living people on U.S. stamps.

So, they adopted this rather unusual bird's eye view of the ballpark, and one of the things through our lenders that we're able to do is assemble a number of the artifacts from this moment that's pictured on the stamp and show them in the case alongside the stamp art and the production material.

So, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is lending Bobby Thomson's bat that he used to hit the home run.

The private collector Stephen Wong, who I mentioned earlier, is lending Leo Durocher's jersey.

Durocher was the third base coach at that moment, and he turned to Bobby Thomson as Thomson was walking up to bat and said, "If you were ever "gonna hit one, now's the time."

Durocher was a very plain-spoken, gruff sort of a guy.

And so, we have his jersey that he was wearing in that game, being able to bring these moments that are pictured on the stamp to life with actual artifacts that were there on the ballfield, and we're doing the same thing for the Subway Series of the 1950s, and then 1961, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were both questing to break Babe Ruth's 60-home run record.

And a similar thing for the Legends of Baseball.

I'll tell one quick little story about, Jackie Robinson is in the upper left-hand corner.

We have his stamp art paired with his actual road jersey from the 1948 season, which was of the same style as pictured in the stamp art shown side-by-side.

But about the detail that's gone into, to get everything just accurate in the stamp design.

In the middle is the artwork for Lefty Grove.

Lefty Grove played for the As, and he played also for Boston.

And the stamp artist who was painting Lefty Grove's portrait for the stamps had only a black and white photograph to work from.

And moreover, the black and white photograph that he had showed Grove in his Boston Red Sox uniform.

So, he's working from this photograph but changing the logos, painting Grove in Philadelphia colors, instead, and Philadelphia blue.

Just change it all out, paint the picture, and "Bob's your uncle."

Well, it didn't quite work that way, because everything was right and worked well, except for the socks.

Boston had a different style of socks than Philadelphia.

Philadelphia's socks were solid, Boston's socks had stripes.

And so, although the artist had painted the socks in perfect shade of Philadelphia blue, he had left the stripes, and they were all wrong.

And so, you can see this notice.

One of the things that they do is pass these stamp designs around to a committee of experts to verify their authenticity and make sure that everything's correct.

And a couple of the experts flagged that the socks were wrong, and so there are these big notices all over the artwork, "do not use the socks."

They're the wrong color, wrong style, no reproductions of these socks are allowed.

So, we're showing the artwork, and miracle of miracles, through our lender, Stephen Wong, he actually owns the socks.

So, no stone has been left unturned to bring the story of baseball to you.

The artwork with the almost-stamp-error, with the wrong color socks, and then the actual socks.

The socks will get you every time.

And similar stories for Roberto Clemente and Ted Williams, featuring the original artwork, and the difficulties that both of them faced, Ted Williams being half-Mexican playing baseball in Boston in the 1940s and Roberto Clemente playing baseball in the 1960s and '70s from Puerto Rico.

And then, we round the whole exhibit out with this last section, which explores the interrelatedness between baseball collecting and philatelic collecting.

Baseball card collecting, one of the ways that it starts out in the early 20th century is through these little, small square cards, photo-engraved pictures that the tobacco manufacturers who printed them actually referred to them as stamps, and philately, packaged them in with the cigarettes, self-consciously mimicking and imitating the stamp designs of the time.

You can see the players in these ornate frames with their name in ribbons, just like the postage stamps of the era, and distributing them in their boxes of tobacco.

And then, it comes full circle in the 1950s and '60s, as the baseball card publishing companies start to issue collectibles that look like stamps, complete with perforations and little albums to collect them in.

So, there's always been this sort of interplay, this interrelatedness between baseball collecting and philately, and one of the most remarkable examples of this are these postcards from the turn of the 20th Century.

They were actually fairly common then.

Baseball card publishers printed postcards, or baseball cards rather, that were designed to be used as postcards, regulation-size with a divided back so that you could mail them.

And these are collected by baseball card collectors, they're recognized as legitimate baseball cards, they're collected by postcard collectors, and they're collected by philatelists, also, as an exponent of baseball philately.

There's the full size of the Lefty Grove stamp.

You can see the stocks very expertly cropped out of the picture, and here, very consciously, the USPS, in designing this stamp series, was mirroring the design of 1930s baseball cards to give them all a uniform look.

So, these two hobbies have kind of mirrored and tracked and shadowed each other for over a hundred years now, and the exhibit really explores that.

So, that's just scratching the surface.


Just a couple of highlights from the exhibit.

There's my email address and contact information, if you want to get in touch.

I would tell you, this is absolutely utterly fabulous.

There was a lot of chat going on.

People just absolutely marveling about the material.

Oh, good.

Artifacts and everything else, although you did get corrected about the number of consecutive games that Lou Gehrig played.

Yeah, I couldn't remember, it's over 2, 000, what was- 2, 130, naughty boy.

And 30, I thought it was 40 right, yeah.

(Dan laughing) Gotta go back of the class.

Okay? A record that was finally broken by Cal Ripkin back in the '90s here in Baltimore, and I don't think, you know, that's one of the records that I think will never be broken now.

It's hard to see that will get broken again.

I'm used to putting together a stamp exhibit.

And what you've got here would not fit in our frames.

(Dan chuckling) Yeah.

How do you guys at the postal museum, how do you conceptualize and put something together? Because it is utterly and completely vast.

What is the thought process, how do you come up with it? Sure.

Two things, I would say.

And I also want to also want to know, which comes first, the chicken and the egg? Home plate from the Polo Grounds, was it? Yes, yes.

The idea that you can have the home plate from the Polo Grounds, it's like chicken and egg, right? Right, right.

Well, a couple of things I would say.

One is when I'm speaking with philatelists, I like to tell them, I think Cheryl's heard me say this before, maybe I got it from her, I don't remember.

But that what we get to do at the museum, it's kind of like display-class exhibiting, or social philately, but we get to play with much bigger toys.

It's in that mode, it's in that vein of taking the philately and putting it in context with the actual objects, except with the space and the resources that we have, we can include three-dimensional objects and big three-dimensional objects, and they don't all have to be just philately.

So, you think of it like that, a display class exhibit on steroids.

The first germ of an idea for this exhibit, you heard me mention earlier that Cheryl and I worked on an FDR exhibit.

Cheryl was the lead curator on that.

I was her assistant on that project back in 2009 about FDR, and there was a tiny little baseball section, in that exhibit for which we tried to get Farley's chair.

And that was the first time I really got an inkling that there was more of a story that could be told with some of this item.

And I wrote a couple of articles back then, 10 years ago, about Postmaster General Farley and baseball.

And the idea just sort of percolated, and over the years, you start to make connections, and find, well, this person has this thing, this museum has this collection.

And fortunately, one of the great advantages that the Postal Museum has, and that the hobby has from being affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, no other hobby really has a a Smithsonian Institution museum dedicated to its content and its passion in Washington, D.C.

There are some galleries, but no other whole museums, really, and that name opens a lot of doors.

So, when we go to places like the Baseball Hall of Fame and our other Smithsonian museums, we're able to borrow a lot of things that maybe other places would have a hard time getting.

Now, if you're going up to Cooperstown and asking for something, do you trade them for a trip? (Dan laughing) Well, in terms of the timeline, I took a research trip to Cooperstown and spent four days up there.

Their archivist and librarian up there, by the way, is actually a very avid philatelist.

And so I knew him, he had been to the museum researching a few stamps that he collected.

And so, I made that connection and went up and visited with him.

But that was 18 months ago, and that was actually fairly far along.

So, a major exhibit like this can be easily four-to-six years in the making and the production.

And the curator does a lot of the research and selects the objects and puts the story together, but we're able to do it because there's a whole team of everybody from registrars and conservators and educators and everybody who just takes on that project and builds all the bells and whistles.

And that the exhibit is kind of like the hardware, and then all my colleagues at the museum build the software around it, and the end result is a great experience for visitors and people who come to the museum, and a very positive impression of philately and stamp collecting, and an association of philately and stamp collecting with the Smithsonian name and brand and Smithsonian quality.

So, what are the dates for the exhibition? (Dan chuckling) Well, originally the exhibition was supposed to be open.

It was supposed to open this year, in the before times.

And so, now it's been pushed back.

We're very hopeful that we'll be able to open it next year, but we really just have to monitor things, see where it goes.

Some of the lenders may end up having other commitments down the line.

So, once everybody's back and we know what the situation is, we'll have to revisit all those loan agreements and all sorts of other things.

So, we're very hopeful for next year, but I can't promise next year.

Well, I'll tell you, I really look forward to getting on the OSOLO and walking across and having a real good- Yeah, and remember that you're walking onto one of DC's oldest baseball fields when you walk into the museum.

Can't wait.

It's interesting that, at the time the ball field was there, that was actually a very poor neighborhood.

It was described at the time as an Irish slum, and the location of the baseball field there was taken at the time as a mark of how far the game had fallen.

The first baseball field had been on the South Lawn of the White House, and the one before that was right behind the Capitol Building up on Capitol Hill.

But now, the game, at the end of the 19th Century, had the province of gamblers, and drunken men, and seedy types.

And so, now it was often this Swampoodle, it was called, this swamp land on the edge of Capitol Hill, a place where no respectable person would go.

And so, in and of itself, the location, that was a very industrial area, and the game being located there in the late 19th century charted how it had gone from a respectable gentleman's club sport to a popular pastime.


A couple of quick questions.


I could.

The artwork used for the 1939 stamp, is that based on a photograph or was it from a painting? Do we know who the artist was who was responsible for that artwork? We do, I don't remember off the top of my head.

It might've been McCloskey, Victor McCloskey, who did a lot of stamp designs in that period.

My recollection, though, is that it was a composite.

It was not based on an actual photograph, but several photographs, and in that sense, an entirely new piece of artwork.

And there were a number of people who questioned aspects of the design at the time, that it wasn't quite right.

The stances weren't right.

Some of the equipment in new uniforms, the way people were playing, the way they were situated wasn't right.

But the idea was to show a boy's sandlot game, because they didn't want to commemorate any specific team or league or person.

And it probably brought up memories for Farley.

Farley himself, as a boy in Rockland County, played on his high school baseball team in games a lot like that.


He was influential in the design.

Not the only one was influential in.

Right, right.

Won't even mention his boss, huh? Did you have any contact with the Negro League's Museum in Kansas City for the exhibit? We did.

A number of people from the National Postal Museum went out there and visited, and certainly, they've consulted and been very helpful to us, in terms of script and object selection.

We ultimately didn't borrow anything specifically from them, because they were just in the middle of opening their museum at the time we were putting the exhibit together.

They weren't sure what they were going to need and what would be available to lend.

But yeah, the museum in Kansas City, I know our director, Elliot Gruber, was out there.

Several of our curators made a visit and met with their staff and brought back information, if not objects, that helped in the interpretation and telling that story.

So, have you always been interested in baseball, or is this just, you had to do it professionally because it's your job? No, I've always been interested in baseball.

Maybe not expert in it to the level I've had to become in order to sort of put this together.

But it's kind of a fallacy.

People think, oh, you you're an expert in a subject, and then you put together an exhibit.

But if you really want to learn a subject, commit yourself to an exhibit or an article, and you'll learn about it real fast.

Serious there.

I'm not like an uber-mega fan.

I've always had an interest in it, but I certainly learned quite a lot more about it through doing this.

Baseball: America’s Home Run