By Richard Cuicchi | September 18, 2016 at 08:30 PM EDT | 2 comments
Two weeks ago the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown launched its initial release of PASTIME (Public Archive System To Interact with the Museum Electronically). The new system represents an enormous digitization project to make the archives of the Hall’s Museum and Library accessible to the general public through the internet. There are currently more than three million library items, 250,000 unique photos and 40,000 three-dimensional artifacts housed at the Hall of Fame. According to the PASTIME website, a new group of Hall of Fame materials will be accessible every two weeks.
The initial PASTIME release contains images of ten scrapbooks that Babe Ruth’s agent, Christy Walsh, kept for the legendary player. The scrapbooks contained news clippings of the Babe’s playing days, but also had other items from his personal life, including letters, photos, and telegrams. The Hall of Fame has hit a home run with this new capability. Check it out at http://collection.baseballhall.org/.
I had the unique opportunity to do five days of volunteer work at the Hall of Fame last week. It was something that had been on my bucket list for some time now, and I was finally able to arrange it with the nice folks at the Hall. It turns out my assignment was to do some triage on thousands of digital images of HOF player photos, categorizing them into several pixel sizes, as one of the preliminary steps to eventually make them available through PASTIME.
My task was actually pretty mundane, but it did afford the unique opportunity to view photos of Hall of Famers I would have not otherwise seen. Of course, the older the player, the older the photo was, and it was fascinating to see the older baseball uniforms and stadiums. Most of the photos expectedly consisted of portraits, action photos or group shots of the players, but often intermixed were a number of candid, non-baseball shots of some of the players. For example, Look Magazine did a feature on Joe DiMaggio during his playing days, and one of the photos showed DiMaggio and his young son, both dressed in full Yankee uniform and posing together as batters. Another showed Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays in goofy-looking farm-like dresses and hats munching on ears of corn. With no caption associated with this particular photo, one can only imagine how these baseball stars got roped into that scene.
Another interesting aspect of my assignment was getting to sit in the Giamatti Research Center in the Hall of Fame while performing my work. The center is open to the public by appointment and with the assistance of librarians allows physical access to most of the items in the Library, including books, magazines, media guides, yearbooks, record books, scrapbooks, video and audio tapes, microfilm, photos, scorecards, and ticket stubs. The Library also maintains a file on each player who appeared in the major-leagues, which contains photos and news articles accumulated over their careers.
Most of these items are stored in temperature-controlled rooms and are handled with gloves to prevent wear, tear and deterioration. Thus, one can understand why PASTIME is such a critical project to the Hall of Fame—to open up the Library’s artifacts to a wider audience of baseball researchers, students, and fans who won’t have to physically go to Cooperstown to view them.
While sitting in the research center, I overheard conversations from several walk-ins who came in for assistance. Practically no question went unanswered by the center’s expert librarian/researcher during the entire week. One of the more interesting ones was whether former New York Yankee Lou Gehrig signed his autographs left-handed or right-handed. The librarian indeed found the answer by accessing photos of Gehrig, showing several of him signing right-handed, even though he batted and threw left-handed as a player. In another situation, an elderly couple came in asking to see any materials the Library had about their son, who had played briefly in the major-leagues. It turned out there wasn’t much information in his player file maintained by the Library, to which the mother then good-humoredly remarked, “I guess our son won’t have an induction plaque in the Hall any time soon.”
All of the exhibits in the Hall of Fame are truly impressive. One of the newest ones is titled “Whole New Ballgame.” It explores the cultural impacts of the game since the 1970s. However, practically every aspect of the long history of the game is captured and presented in an entertaining and educational fashion for both hard-core and casual baseball fans.
For me, it was equally intriguing to get a first-hand, behind-the-scenes view of the vast resources of the Museum and Library. I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything.