Chief curator Daniel Piazza shares intimate knowledge, little-known facts and secrets about the stories told in “Baseball: America’s Home Run,” highlighting some of the spectacular objects on display, including discussions with key lenders to the exhibition on artifacts never-before displayed for pubic view.
I'm Dan Piazza, curator of the National Postal Museum exhibition, Baseball: America's Home Run on view until January 2025. Join me for an inside look at some of the most exciting objects from this blockbuster show that explores America's national pastime through stamps, mail, and memorabilia.
Of the more than 60 baseball stamps issued by the United States since 1939 the vast majority commemorate individual players.
Many of these postal portraits feature specially commissioned artwork designed to mimic the look and feel of classic baseball cards and recall players whose achievements on and off the field made them household names.
Ted Williams played 19 seasons at left field for the Boston Red Sox.
Born in San Diego to an American father and Mexican-American mother, he rarely mentioned his heritage.
The Red Sox were the last major league baseball team to integrate, and Jackie Robinson once described owner Tom Yawkey as quote, one of the most bigoted guys in baseball.
During his 1966 Hall of Fame induction speech, Williams urged the election of Negro League players in future classes.
Smithsonian Books author Stephen Wong, who also serves as honorary advisor and a major lender to Baseball: America's Home Run, has a closer look.
When I was a kid, Ted Williams told writer David Halberstam in 1988, I'd see a falling star and I'd say, make me the greatest hitter who ever lived.
When Williams made his major league debut on April 20th, 1939, as a right fielder for the Boston Red Sox, he was well on his way to fulfilling his dream.
He roared onto the field announcing himself with an authority that did not quite fit with his lighthearted nickname, The Kid, which he had earned playing minor league ball.
He sought advice on hitting from legends such as Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb, absorbing their lessons so well that Babe Ruth dubbed him Rookie of the Year.
Ted finished his rookie season with a 327 batting average, 31 home runs, and 145 RBI, a harbinger of things to come and perhaps the greatest rookie batting performance in baseball history.
In 1941, Ted Williams reached a career zenith.
That year was a fraught time in American history.
The nation was still feeling the economic and psychological effects of the Great Depression.
War was looming though most Americans thought it would be fought in Europe and not in the Pacific Rim.
Americans were on the lookout for heroes who could assure them that America would prevail in troubled times.
They found one in Ted Williams, who set a goal of hitting 400 for the 1941 season.
On May 7, 1941 Williams clouded the longest home run ever recorded in Chicago's Comiskey Park, hitting the ball a full 600 feet.
He started a 22-game hitting streak on May 15th, the same day Joe DiMaggio launched his famous 56-game hitting streak.Wwhile wearing this gray Boston Red Sox road uniform and cap shown here, Williams hit a staggering 536 for the two-week period, from May 17th to June 1st.
Hugh Duffy who had hit 440 for the Red Sox half century earlier, declared the 23-year old Williams to be the best hitter he had ever seen.
By September, even fans of opposing teams were pulling for Williams to achieve a 400 season, something only five players had done in the preceding 20 years.
The Red Sox would close the regular season with a double header in Philadelphia.
Williams entered the final games with a .39955 average, good enough when rounded up, to give him a 400 batting average for the season.
But it wasn't good enough for Williams.
On the night before that September 27th match, Williams recalled, I kept thinking about the thousands of swings I had taken to prepare myself.
I had practice and practiced.
I kept saying to myself, you are ready.
I went to the ballpark the next day, more eager to hit than I had ever been.
Williams got six hits in eight at-bats in the two games, boosting his average to 4057 which is officially rounded up to 406.
No player since has broken 400 and only one has broken 390.
Williams also led the American League in home runs with 37, runs scored 135, and slugging percentage at 735, and he belted 185 hits that year.
Six years later, and after returning from active duty in World War II, Williams magic at the plate would remain steadfast.
In 1947, the season he wielded this Louisville Slugger bat, he won the Triple Crown with a 343 batting average, 32 home runs, and 162 RBI.
The bat was shipped to Williams on April 14, 1947 according to Hillerich & Bradsby's bat ordering records.
The bat exhibits outstanding game use with several ball marks, deep stitch impressions, and cleat marks on the left barrel, and a few red and green bat rack streaks along with a light coat of pine tar on the handle.
The player-use characteristics are perfect for Williams.
Period photography documents Ted at the plate gripping the bat with the center brand up or down.
With the center brand turned down, which is not the traditional grip, the bat is positioned to contact the ball on the surface of the left barrel above the branded player name.
This is where the ball marks are most prominent on this bat.
J.A Hillerich Jr. once tested Williams with six bats, five were identical, the sixth, a half an ounce more.
Ted picked that one out instantly.
Only in this context, and in that brilliance of Williams' 1947 Triple Crown season can the importance of this bat be fully appreciated.
When Williams felt that he was at his best during one of the finest seasons of his career, this bat was held in his hands.
It was one of the two bats returned for duplication in August of 1948 and stamped with the factory vault mark coating W155 on the knob as well as on the end of the barrel to serve as a template for future orders of the W155 model which was Williams' only model through August of 1950.
In 2012, Ted Williams became the second Latino player to appear on a U.S postage stamp, after Roberto Clemente.
For more on the intersection of postal and baseball history visit the National Postal Museum exhibition, Baseball: America's Home Run online at postalmuseum.si.edu/baseball