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Baseball: America’s Game


Baseball is part of our shared heritage, something that helps define the American experience. It infuses our popular culture, our literature, our politics – our everyday lives. The game evokes childhood – both our own, and the nation’s. Baseball was born in the mid-nineteenth century, and its rhythms echo that bygone era; for all the high-tech trappings of the modern age, baseball is at its essence the same game you could have watched being played by barefoot kids in an Ohio pasture, circa 1890. 

This exhibition celebrates baseball’s place in the American story – its portrayal, in arts and letters, as the game and the nation have grown up together. Photographers such as Wayne Miller and Terry Evans capture the game as it’s played on sandlots and suburban diamonds, and writers from John Updike to Jimmy Breslin have chronicled the heroics and the hilarity of the sport. And thanks to illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, J. C. Leyendecker and Lonie Bee, baseball graced the covers of Collier’s Weekly, The Saturday Evening Post and many other magazines of a time long past.

Baseball’s most electrifying moments live on in iconic photographs and in the frenzied poetry of a radio announcer’s voice, many on view and available to listen to in the exhibition. Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World,” Don Larsen’s perfect game, Stan Musial’s 3000th hit – captured forever on film and audio, and so live on in our collective memory.

The game came of age during the Linotype era, flourishing during the mid-twentieth century when a magazine featuring Ted Williams or Willie Mays on the cover was guaranteed to sell out. One of the greatest baseball feats of the last twenty years – Cal Ripken, Jr.’s setting a new “Iron Man” record for consecutive games played – is preserved here in offset plates from The Baltimore Sun, history captured for all time in three-tenths of a millimeter of aluminum.

Baseball helped give birth to American sportswriting, spawning a distinguished fraternity that includes the likes of Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice and Roger Angell. Even so, some of the finest baseball commentary has been written by non-sportswriters; it is a mark of the game’s broad appeal that poets like Marianne Moore, historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin and former ball players like Jim Bouton have all put pen to paper in its tribute. One of the best-known chroniclers of the game uses not a pen but a camera: documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, whose Baseball and The Tenth Inning offer a lovingly exhaustive history of the National Pastime.

The familiar baseball shrines of yesterday have, one by one, given way to the stately pleasure domes of a new age. Of the 26 major-league stadiums in use back in 1982 – preserved in Jim Dow’s classic series of photographs – only six remain open for business today. At a time when we most needed heroes, major-league baseball provided the nation with them – and many are captured here in George Brace’s elegant photographic portraits.

Selected Images

To view additional images, click here.