For Marylanders, baseball history is close to home

September 21, 1994|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff Writer

As Ken Burns' marathon "Baseball" series enters its fourth night on PBS, viewers are dividing into two camps: those who are fascinated and yearn for more, and those who are having trouble staying awake.

For those who yearn for more, there's plenty out there.

Even for the novice researcher, getting an overview of the game's history is easy. Living in Baltimore, you've got a leg up on the competition. One of the finest baseball museums in the country is just a long foul ball away from Oriole Park at Camden Yards; Little League heroes are celebrated in a small town in north-central Pennsylvania and baseball's most revered shrine is only a six-hour drive away, in a little town worth every minute of the trip.

In fact, of the country's major baseball museums, only the newest -- the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. -- is not within easy driving distance.

Starting right here in Charm City, the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Baseball Center, at 216 Emory St., offers extensive exhibits -- and research material -- on baseball's greatest player and (if you're from around here) its greatest team.

The casual visitor can see the room where Ruth was born in 1895, a slew of autographed bats and balls and even the hymnal he used during his years at St. Mary's Industrial School in Baltimore, which is now Cardinal Gibbons High School. The book is inscribed in pencil, "George H. Ruth, World's worse singer, World's best pitcher."

The house also features plenty of Orioles memorabilia, including the Hanlon Cup, commemorating the Orioles' 1894 and 1944 championships; the 1983 World Series trophy and a ball scorched by the fire that destroyed old Oriole Park in 1944.

Stored in acid-free boxes in a basement storage area not open to the public are game programs dating to 1895; scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings and photographs; scorecards kept by reporters for The Sun and the now-defunct News American of every Orioles game from 1954 to the present, and several panoramic team shots, including one of the 1921 International League Orioles.

About 170 miles north of Baltimore, in Williamsport, Pa., the Little League Museum spotlights the organization that started with three teams in this small Pennsylvania town and has since grown to include 2.5 million young players in more than 80 countries.

The museum has exhibits on the league's history, hands-on exhibits for kids, and a Hall of Excellence honoring distinguished Little League alumni such as golfer Hale Irwin, former Vice President Dan Quayle and ex-Orioles right-hander Jim Palmer.

The museum also has a rotating-display case that currently features mementos of Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina's career with Johnny Z's Little League team in Montoursville, Pa. The exhibit includes a baseball card 11-year-old Mike drew for himself and newspaper accounts of a July 22, 1981, game in which he struck out 17 of 18 batters and notched his ninth Little League no-hitter.

Researchers can call curator Alan Robison for an appointment to check out the archives downstairs, which contain programs from Little League World Series dating to 1947. But the real prize of these archives is contained in dozens of boxes stacked several feet high: hundreds of rosters of Little League teams.

Look hard, and you may find rosters with names like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Seaver, Sen. Bill Bradley, Mike Ditka, Tom Selleck, Boog Powell (the first person to play in both the Little League and Major League World Series), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and actor Kurt Russell.

And since girls have been playing Little League softball since 1974, it shouldn't be long before the names of some famous women start popping up on those rosters too.

Baseball's biggest shrine, the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., is a little more of a trek. But even the casual fan will find the trip worthwhile, and if you're doing serious research into the grand old game, Cooperstown must not be missed.

Ken Burns and his staff made five trips to the hall while putting together "Baseball," ranging in length from one to five days. Cooperstown's fingerprints are all over the series.

The Hall of Fame features three floors of exhibits on everything from Babe Ruth to baseball cards, Hank Aaron to sheet music, the World Series to the minor leagues, no-hitters to the longest game ever played.

But if you want to research baseball's history, you'll think you've died and gone to heaven.

Your first stop should be the library, home to more than 300,000 black and white photos, plus another 30,000 to 50,000 color slides.

Babe Ruth is the sultan of the photo files, says department manager Patricia Kelly, with over 1,100 photos stored in 20 folders. Joe DiMaggio takes up 19 files, Hank Aaron nine and Brooks Robinson four, while some of the older Hall of Famers may be confined to one folder -- like 19th-century great Cap Anson.

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