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.
Babe Ruth's 1920 debut season with the New York Yankees saw him hit 54 home runs and single-handedly saved the sport from ruin in the wake of the 1919 World Series gambling scandal.
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.
In one of the rooms at this wonderful exhibition in the Postmaster Suite you're going to see a very beautiful photo above the fireplace of Babe Ruth swarmed by hundreds of children in Syracuse, New York on August 11th.
There's a quote on top of this image, whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.
It was by Jacques Barzun who was a very famous French-American historian back in the days that Ruth had played.
And this quote is quite applicable here because I was thinking that whoever wants to know the essence of Babe Ruth had better look at that photo.
And this is one image that perhaps captures the very essence of Babe Ruth more than any other image.
He is in the middle of hundreds of children wearing a straw hat.
And it just captures the essence of his popularity.
In fact in the Roaring Twenties many people felt that he was the most famous American that had ever lived, even more so than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln because of his popularity.
As Dan Piazza had said, one of the objects in our exhibition in the Postmaster Suite is the very bat that Babe Ruth used during the 1920s season, his first year with the New York Yankees, and a year in which he single-handedly saved baseball from the tragedy of the 1919 World Series gambling scandal.
What's interesting about this bat and what most bat collectors look at, is the game use.
It's a very different context than display items, baseball cards for example, advertising pieces, photographs, and stamps, which were largely consumer items.
When you get to game-used bats these are the objects to which the player used in order to perform their genius.
In the case of Babe Ruth, 1920 was one of his greatest seasons having been sold from the Red Sox to the Yankees.
If you look at this bat there is tons of game-use characteristics that are completely associated with Babe Ruth.
First and foremost is the ball marks which are all across the left, right and back barrel of the bat.
You have cleat marks.
When Babe Ruth was at the plate at Yankee Stadium or other American League parks, he would use the bat to knock the mud or the dirt from his cleats before, you know, taking the bat back and ready to swing.
Also what's telling about this bat is the scoring on the handle which is typically not seen on a lot of Babe Ruth's bats.
But this one in particular has scoring.
And Babe either used a sharp object or a bottle cap to actually score the handle to prevent slippage in his hand.
And there's also, you can see elements on the handle area of tape remnants.
It's still on the bat when you see it in the Postmaster Suite you will see the tape remnants were there.
What's beautiful about this bat too is that if you look to the right of the center brand you will see four small holes as well as a shadow area which has a lighter colorization than the rest of the bat.
And you ask why is that the case?
Well, that's because a label was affixed to the bat.
Hillerich & Bradsby who was the maker of Louisville Slugger had actually placed the label on that bat and subsequently sometime in the 1930s or 40s when Hillerich & Bradsby did their Louisville Slugger traveling exhibition tour across America to showcase bats, used by very prominent baseball players such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie and Tris Speaker, uh they brought this very bat that's in the exhibition of Baseball: America's Home Run.
Ruth might have performed a record-breaking hit or home run with that very bat, and that label gives it its prominence and provenance to the bat that uh, that bat collectors look at very closely.
Since his death in 1948 Ruth has been featured on three U.S postage stamps and a postal card meaning he is tied with Jackie Robinson for the most appearances by a ball player on U.S postal paper.
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