A major exhibition opening in June at the Library of Congress will celebrate baseball as community, including the people, from amateur players to professionals, baseball diamonds from city lots to rural fields, and places across the globe from Mexico to Japan that have embraced the game. “Baseball Americana” will explore baseball’s gritty roots, its changing traditions and the game today. It is a story the nation’s library can uniquely tell, showcasing items that cannot be found anywhere else.
Featured artifacts will include the first handwritten and printed references to baseball in America; early rules of the game; historical baseball images, including a lithograph of prisoners of war playing baseball in captivity during the Civil War and photographs from baseball throughout the decades; familiar players from some of the great collections of early baseball cards; Branch Rickey’s scouting reports; beloved baseball movies and early flickering footage from the late 1800s; broadcasts of iconic baseball moments and rare interviews and clips of Hall of Fame players, including Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and others.
The exhibition is made possible by the Library of Congress Third Century Fund, the James Madison Council and Democracy Fund.
Original content developed in collaboration with ESPN will support the Library’s world-class collections. Statistical comparisons, game trends, video presentations and intriguing stories will explore the art and science of baseball, bridging the game’s storied past and exciting present.
Additional artifacts and video footage, borrowed from Major League Baseball, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and private collectors, have been selected to expand upon storylines developed from the Library’s baseball materials.
“Baseball has been part of our community from children playing in local ballparks to professional athletes playing in the country’s biggest stadiums – and the Library’s unique collection shows how the game and American society evolved together,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “My childhood dream was to play shortstop before I found my calling at the Library. We’re excited to offer visitors an immersive experience, exploring baseball in the past and now. I know I am.”
The yearlong exhibition “Baseball Americana” will open in late June, just before Washington’s Nationals Park hosts Major League Baseball’s 89th All-Star Game. The exhibition will tell the story of the game’s origins, its contemporary character, how the game has stayed true to its traditions and areas where it has diverged. It will also feature ongoing conversations and connections between baseball’s rugged past and its refined present, along with showing how baseball has long forged a sense of community.
The exhibition will be organized into five sections:
- “Origins and Early Days” will feature the development of baseball from its early forms, when Massachusetts Town Ball and the New York Game battled for supremacy, to the game we know today.
- “Who’s Playing?” will encompass the variety of participants and the diverse array of ball clubs that ruled the sandlot, barnstormed the country or occupied magnificent stadiums. An integral piece of this story will be that of the players who have fought for the right to play as equals regardless of their race, ethnicity or gender.
- “At the Ballpark” will examine traditions and changes in the architecture and accoutrements of baseball, fan interaction, music and media coverage.
- “The Promise of Baseball” will explore the many ways that the sport gave poor players a path out of poverty and new immigrants access and the ability to help shape American culture, as well as the economics and business of baseball and how the game has been used for diplomacy beyond U.S. borders.
- “The Art and Science of Baseball” considers the constant and changing views of mastering the game, building a team, getting an edge, tracking statistics and the art of winning.
“Baseball Americana” will be on view in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The exhibition will be free and open to the public Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Library of Congress will develop a series of special programs including family activities, gallery talks, film screenings, panel discussions, educational materials and teacher workshops, docent-led tours and more.
Two books published in association with the Library of Congress will be released to coincide with the exhibition. In May, Harper Perennial will release an updated edition of “Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress,” which includes hundreds of historical images and numerous milestones of the national pastime. In October, Smithsonian Books will release “Game Faces: Early Baseball Cards from the Library of Congress,” which showcases rare and colorful baseball cards from the Library’s Benjamin K. Edwards Collection.