Last week, with the support of the College, I attended the 22nd Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, held at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I have been a baseball fan since childhood, and I have spent time teaching and writing about sports for parts of the past decade, but I had never been to the Hall of Fame. Cooperstown, New York just isn’t a place that one is likely to wander by on accident—it takes some work to get there.
I was lucky enough to have my father, who introduced me to baseball and encouraged my interest in baseball and baseball cards, attend the symposium with me. We toured the Hall of Fame and we attended symposium sessions. The Hall of Fame is an impressive structure with, as one might imagine, a fabulous collection of baseball history. There are so many highlights from the Hall, but some of what stood out: the plaque room (where the HOF plaques are for all members of the Hall), the exhibits on the African American Experience and Women in Baseball, the baseball card collection, and (for me) the displays on Pete Rose and the 1970s Cincinnati Reds.
As for the symposium itself, there were about 120 people in attendance, primarily scholars from a variety of academic disciplines (history, religion, education, etc.) but also independent scholars (e.g. the retired Chief Judge of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and an appraiser from “Antiques Road Show”), and some real die-hard baseball fans. A number of distinguished baseball writers also were in attendance such as Dorothy Seymour Mills and Lee Lowenfish. The symposium consisted of about 40 presentations, arranged into panels across three days. Some might have the perception that sports scholarship isn’t “real work,” but I heard really impressive research addressing a range of topics that included serious discussions of race, gender, and culture. Such areas of study are common at “traditional” conferences, only here the analysis was focused on baseball. I also found the presentations to be much more developed and reflective than the average academic conference.
Some of the presentation highlights included: a panel on women who write baseball during which I learned about the work of women baseball historians and ongoing research on the history of women’s baseball; there is so much more here than one might expect. I attended another panel on baseball in war and learned about the relationship of MLB to the government regarding the draft status of players during WWI. This panel included a presentation by Professor of Religion Jeff Marlett, a 1991 Wabash College graduate. I also heard a paper about the relationship of baseball cards to cultural trends (I so would have liked to have done this research), attended a panel on baseball in film and literature, and heard an interesting panel of papers on the Jackie Robinson-Branch Rickey relationship.
Thursday evening I played Town Ball, a version of baseball, using the 1858 Massachusetts rules. We also had dinner in the plaque room that evening—Lou Gehrig’s Hall of Fame plaque was over my left shoulder. On Friday I gave my presentation, “Making Charlie Hustle: Pete Rose and the American Dream, 1963-1985.” I can’t adequately express how it felt to be standing in the Hall of Fame making a scholarly presentation—and to do it on Pete Rose, banned from baseball since 1989, no less. It was a great experience and further underscores that sport scholarship is serious scholarship. I look forward to drawing from the trip and sharing the experience in future courses.