Hall of Fame exhibition to start run in St. Louis

Saturday, December 18, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Lou Brock smiled broadly Friday as he studied a photo of Mark McGwire heading to first base after hitting his record-setting 62nd homer in 1998.

It wasn't the momentous occasion that had the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer smiling. Visible in the stands behind McGwire was Brock's wife, Jackie. And behind her, a fan wearing a multicolored "Brockabrella," a combination umbrella/hat that Brock marketed years ago.

"Two things very dear to me," Brock said.

The photo is part of "Baseball as America," a traveling exhibit of hundreds of items from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., that opens at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park Sunday and runs through April 24.

St. Louis is the seventh of 10 cities getting the exhibit. After St. Louis, it will appear in Houston, Oakland, Calif., and Detroit.

"St. Louis is one of the great baseball cities in America," said Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Hall of Fame. "We couldn't imagine having this traveling exhibit without it being here."

A news conference and media tour of the exhibit featured five Cardinals Hall of Famers -- Brock, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendienst and Stan Musial.

"The average person doesn't just pass by Cooperstown," Gibson said. "Bringing this exhibit to St. Louis gives all the fans here who want to see it a chance to see it."

The exhibit includes more than 500 items ranging from the historic to the quirky to the touching, even the shameful. Museum officials call it the first major exhibition to examine the relationship between baseball and America, showing how the sport has reflected -- and sometimes shaped -- our culture.

There's Lou Gehrig's farewell trophy given by his teammates in 1939 after Gehrig was diagnosed with the fatal disease that would eventually kill him and bear his name. There's Babe Ruth's 60th home run bat, the baseball pitched by Cy Young in the first World Series in 1903, the helmet Pete Rose wore when he broke the hit record.

There's also the "Wonderboy" bat from the movie "The Natural," the San Diego Chicken's mascot costume, George Brett's "pine tar" bat.

Ruth's touching note to a young polio victim is displayed, as is a baseball found in the rubble of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attack.

The exhibit doesn't shy away from troubling times, with items pertaining to the 1994 strike and displays focusing on racism in the sport. That includes a 1953 handbill from Brooklyn, N.Y., that reads, "Why does the New York Yankees management refuse to place a Negro player on its major team?"

"Obviously the game's important on the field but it is important off the field, too," said Ted Spencer chief curator of the Hall of Fame. "It's a reflection of the eyes, the brains, the hearts of the fans."

Brock, who was baseball's single-season and career stolen bases leader when he retired, agreed.

"You see Americana here -- you see the progressive nature of our country," Brock said. "Baseball has been one of the leading components of race relations in America."

The St. Louis Baseball Hall of Fame has also donated Cardinals and Browns items to the History Museum to join the display during its stay in St. Louis.

The exhibit recently finished a six-month stay at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, drawing some 950,000 people, Clark said.

Missouri Historical Society president Robert Archibald said the exhibit, like baseball itself, joins us with our past.

"It's a string of continuity that joins generations," Archibald said. "It extends back and connects us."

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