Baseball History Comes to Life at Unique Baseball Museums
Once the baseball playoffs come to a conclusion, baseball fans are forced to sit around and count the days until spring training arrives. Predicting who will go in the next Marlins’ fire sale is just not as exciting as watching live game action. However, late fall and winter don’t have to be periods devoid of meaningful baseball activity. The offseason is an excellent time to hit the road and discover how baseball history comes to life in some of the outstanding baseball museums around the country.
In my book Baseball State by State I highlight some of the historic baseball places to be found around the United States and Canada, and many of those sites are baseball museums.
I grew up just outside Cooperstown, N.Y., so I’ve been spoiled by many trips to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. You cannot call yourself a real baseball fan if you’ve never been to Cooperstown, so that should be at the top of your must-see list. I could go on and on about all the neat things to see there, but what follows is a rundown of all the other cool baseball museums to visit in the United States plus one in Canada (listed alphabetically by state).
Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum in Mobile, Ala.—The slugger’s boyhood home was relocated to Hank Aaron Stadium in his hometown of Mobile, opening as a museum that pays tribute to his formative years and the legacy he built over a legendary career.
B’s Ballpark Museum in Denver, Colo.—Bruce Hellerstein’s collection of baseball artifacts was featured in Stephen Wong’s Smithsonian Baseball book as one of the finest private collections in the world. Now it’s all on display in a museum across the street from Coors Field. Hellerstein has authentic seats from each of the 14 “classic” ballparks and something related to every major league team such as a complete panel from the Green Monster at Fenway Park with a visible imprint of a ball and the “NY” drainage cover that Mickey Mantle tripped over during the 1951 World Series, which permanently damaged his leg. It is arguably the coolest baseball museum outside of Cooperstown.
The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.—Not only can you see exhibits that highlight the Splendid Splinter’s career (including a bronze statue of him at the main entrance), you will also find displays dedicated to all-time greats such as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Joe DiMaggio.
Johnny Mize Baseball Museum in Demorest, Ga.—The athletic center at Piedmont College is named after one of its famous alums in Mize and it features space devoted to a museum that highlights the accomplishments of the “Big Cat” and displays memorabilia from his career including a Ty Cobb autograph.
Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Ga.—Opened in 1998 as a tribute to “The Georgia Peach,” this museum in Cobb’s hometown showcases the Cobb Collection of photographs, artwork and memorabilia. It’s an engaging roadmap to lead fans on a journey to learn how Cobb became one of the most celebrated and controversial athletes of the 20th century. Highlights of his career are engraved on bats. Don’t miss the video tribute, which includes rare footage of Cobb in action.
Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum in Nokomis, Ill.—Honors the baseball achievements of about 100 people from central Illinois, with special emphasis on the three namesake Hall of Famers.
Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa—Career highlights from Iowa’s greatest player are showcased in this special museum, which has been open in his hometown since 1995. Exhibits feature his uniforms and trophies along with newspaper articles, photos and memorabilia from his Hall of Fame career. Also on display is the bat Babe Ruth was leaning on during his retirement celebration at Yankee Stadium in 1948—the bat actually belonged to Feller.
Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville, Ky.—You can hold Mickey Mantle’s bat, see what a 90 mph fastball looks like up close and take swings in the batting cage with Derek Jeter’s bat. On display is the final bat Joe DiMaggio used to hit in 56 consecutive games in 1941 as well as one of the bats Babe Ruth used during his 60-homer season in 1927. Out front is the world’s tallest bat, a 120-foot, scale replica of Babe Ruth’s famous 34-inch Louisville Slugger. The factory tour is a nice behind-the-scenes look at how bats get made.
Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum in Baltimore, Md.—In addition to exhibits featuring the Ruthian baseball accomplishments of America’s first great sports star, the museum also shows the softer side of the Babe as a father, husband and friend. You can even see the bedroom where Ruth was born. On display are many artifacts from his formative years at St. Mary’s Industrial School such as a catcher’s mitt and lots of baseballs from his career. A giant wall of plaques pays special tribute to each of the 714 home runs the Sultan of Swat collected during his career.
House of David Museum in Benton Harbor, Mich.—Tells the story of “The Best Barnstorming Team in America,” all members of the House of David religious commune, who were celibate vegetarians forbidden from cutting their hair or beards. The House of David not only barnstormed with Negro Leagues teams such as the Kansas City Monarchs, they often insisted the Negro Leagues players be accepted as equals wherever they played, helping pave the way to integration in baseball. The museum showcases photos and artifacts from the baseball team’s history, with greats such as Babe Ruth and Satchel Paige playing exhibitions for the House of David.
The Original Baseball Hall of Fame Museum of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minn.—It’s more of a shop than a museum, but admission is free and you can check out the world’s largest Twins bobblehead standing 7-feet tall. The museum features a large display of autographed baseballs along with artifacts from the collection of proprietor Ray Crump, who was a batboy for the Washington Senators and served as the first equipment manager for the Twins.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.—A statue of Buck O’Neil greets visitors as they enter the museum, as it was his passion for telling the story of the Negro Leagues players that went a long way toward making the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum a reality. The Negro Leagues were organized in Kansas City in 1920, which is the primary reason why the museum is located in this city, plus the fact the Kansas City Monarchs were one of the all-time great teams. The museum is filled with photos, artifacts, film exhibits and multi-media computer stations that tell the story of Negro Leagues baseball.
Museum of Nebraska Major League Baseball in St. Paul, Neb.—Pays tribute to the more than 140 major league players with ties or roots to the state including Pete Alexander (whose Hall of Fame career sparked the museum’s formation), Bob Gibson, Wade Boggs, Sam Crawford and Richie Ashburn.
Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State in Little Falls, N.J.—When you win more World Series rings as a player than anyone else in baseball history, you tend to collect some impressive artifacts along the way. The museum, which opened in 1998, recently underwent extensive renovations to expand the exhibit area, add new exhibits and refurbish the theater. Now on display are the uniform Yogi wore and the glove he used while catching Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series as well as the 10 championship rings he won as a player, more than any other player.
New York Yankees Museum at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, N.Y.— Come early before a game so there’s enough time to stroll through the Yankees Museum on the main level near Gate 6. You will find Thurman Munson’s original locker and statues of Yogi Berra and Don Larsen commemorating the only perfect game in World Series history. The ball wall features hundreds of baseballs autographed by Yankee players through the years.
Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, N.D.—Opened in 1984 in the West Acres Shopping Center, the museum is free to the public. You can see Maris’ 1960 Gold Glove Award and several of the balls he hit during his record-breaking 1961 season, with pennants hanging down that detail each of the 61 home runs he hit that year. Also on display is a replica of his Yankee Stadium monument and his 1961 locker. Highlights of Maris’ career play in a film loop.
Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio—The museum is adjacent to the ballpark and includes wonderful interactive features letting fans announce a game or see how fast they can throw a pitch. The exhibits include the Reds Hall of Fame gallery of plaques, life-size bronze figures of the Big Red Machine players, the “Ultimate Reds Room” filled with assorted Reds memorabilia, a tribute to Crosley Field and a wall of baseballs representing each of Pete Rose’s 4,256 career hits.
Baseball Heritage Museum in Cleveland, Ohio—Stories, photos, uniforms and memorabilia that tell the story of baseball from the Latin/Caribbean leagues, Women’s and Negro Leagues that helped shape the game today. It is located in downtown’s historic Colonial Marketplace.
The Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh, Pa.—Clemente fan Duane Rieder restored an old fire house to honor the memory of his idol. Pictures, artifacts and memorabilia highlight Clemente’s legacy of achievement as a player and a humanitarian. On display are two of his Gold Glove trophies, his 1961 Silver Bat, cleats and the home plate from the 1971 World Series.
Mickey Vernon Sports History Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa.—Chronicles the first baseman’s career and military service. See video of Vernon in action during the 1940s and 1950s.
Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Library in Greenville—Located in the house where Shoeless Joe lived and died, this museum pays homage to his legacy. The museum, which opened in 2008, is housed in Jackson’s former childhood home, which was moved to 356 Field Street (playing off his career average) across from Fluor Field in downtown Greenville. The library houses an impressive collection of documents related to the Black Sox Scandal, and perhaps browsing through them will give you a more informed opinion about whether he deserves to stay banned or to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in St. Marys, Ontario—Tucked inside a small house is a treasure trove of artifacts related to Canadian baseball history. In addition to highlighting the careers of notable Canadian players such as Larry Walker and Ferguson Jenkins one can find memorabilia related to Babe Ruth (he hit his first professional home run in Canada) and Jackie Robinson (his first professional team was the Montreal Royals). The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, which features three ball fields on its 32-acre site, has been inducting members since 1983.
Chris Jensen, who grew up outside Cooperstown, N.Y., is the author of “Baseball State by State: Major League and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites.” You can reach him on Twitter at @yankfan81.