By Paul Post
Most big leaguers save memorabilia from their careers, along with autographed bats, balls, caps and jerseys from others they’ve played with and against.
When it comes to the World Series, the exact opposite takes place – they’re thrilled to donate such items to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Caps worn by World Series Most Valuable Player Madison Bumgarner and San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, Buster Posey’s champagne-soaked jersey and the bats used by offensive stars Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval are now featured in the Hall of Fame’s “Autumn Glory” exhibit and will remain on display through the 2015 postseason.
“For a player, winning the World Series is the absolute pinnacle,” said Brad Horn, the Hall’s vice president of communications and education. “Having your artifact end up in Cooperstown . . . for many is an emotional thrill that exceeds a World Series victory.”
Take, for example, the dirt-and-grass-caked spikes worn by Giants relief pitcher and Game 7 winner Jeremy Affeldt.
He’s one of the players that Horn and Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson sought out while the Giants were still celebrating in their clubhouse.
“He’s just a real average blue-collar reliever, a really great guy who’s been around the game a long time,” Horn said. “Jeremy became emotional when he said, ‘Wow. I never thought I’d win a World Series. I know that I’ll never get to the Hall of Fame as a player. But I’m going to have something of mine in Cooperstown. What a special thing that will be for my family and for my kids.’
“That’s kind of what all of these moments represent.”
Horn displayed items at Albany (N.Y.) International Airport after traveling through the night, without sleep, from Kansas City. The last leg of his journey was the drive to Cooperstown, about an hour away.
The “Autumn Glory” exhibit also has things from the Royals. One is the cap worn by pitcher Yordano Ventura during his Game 6 victory in tribute to late Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, who died several days beforehand in a fatal car crash in the Dominican Republic. Silver lettering next to the cap’s KC logo says: RIP O.T. #18.
The display also contains the hat worn by Royals hurler Brandon Finnegan, the first person to play in the World Series and College World Series in the same year.
Previously, the Hall of Fame obtained the bat used by the Giants’ Travis Ishikawa to hit his walk-off home run in Game 5 of the NLCS, and the jersey worn by Royals manager Ned Yost in Game 4 of the ALCS when Yost became the first manager to win his first eight postseason games.
Each piece tells a different compelling story about the dramatic on-field plays, personalities and history that made the 2014 postseason so special.
“We look for six to seven stories that we can tell through an artifact exhibit,” Horn said. “There were some great individual performances, some fabulous games, and at the end it came down to a potential game-tying run at third base, game-winning run at the plate. As a baseball fan, what more can you ask for?”
Of course, Bumgarner’s performance – two wins and a five-inning save in Game 7 – was one for the ages.
“Madison Bumgarner wore the same cap in all seven games of the Series,” Horn said. “He donated this because it’s obviously one of the most impressive performances in the history of World Series play, 110 years.”
The Hall of Fame also wanted Posey’s jersey, still damp from the previous night’s celebration. Even though he struggled at the plate, Posey played a major role in Bumgarner’s dominance on the mound.
“He’s kind of a silent leader of the Giants team,” Horn said.
“The great timely clutch hitting of Hunter Pence; he was only too willing to donate a bat,” Horn added. “Pablo Sandoval is seemingly at his best when the light shines the brightest. He has donated many artifacts now to the Hall of Fame. The nice thing with some of these guys is that they’ve been a part of the 2012 and 2010 World Championship teams.”
Bochy might have stamped his ticket to Cooperstown with the Giants’ latest World Championship. He became the 10th skipper in baseball history with at least three World Series titles. The other nine managers are all in the Hall of Fame.
“Some might say that three World Series titles would make Bruce Bochy’s head get a little bigger,” Horn joked. “But considering he wears a size 8-1/8, it’s already a pretty big hat. It’s probably the biggest in our Hall of Fame collection.”
More World Series artifacts might be headed to Cooperstown in the near future. Most Hall of Fame visitors have no idea what goes into getting such things for fans to enjoy.
During Game 7, Horn and Idelson are in constant communication, conferring about things they’d most like to acquire. Of course, the game almost didn’t turn out the way they expected.
With two outs and no one on base in the last of the ninth inning, they were in the Kauffman Stadium service tunnel, en route to the Giants clubhouse, when the Royals’ Alex Gordon wound up on third base after ripping a line drive to left-center field that went all the way to the wall. Horn and Idelson quickly had to come up with a contingency plan in case the Royals staged a dramatic comeback, similar to their victory against Oakland in the wild card play-in game.
“All of a sudden I said, ‘Wow!’ ” Horn recalled. “You’re preparing for a major walk-off in which case you go right to the field, to Salvador Perez or Alex Gordon. But that didn’t happen, so we took the more traditional route of being in the clubhouse when the Giants players arrived. Over the course of about two hours from the final pitch, that’s how we were able to acquire these pieces.”
They went to work from the moment Sandoval caught Perez’s towering pop fly to record the game’s final out.
“Jeff and I get together and say, here are five or six stories we think are important for this team to be remembered by,” Horn said. “So we literally just target a guy during the celebration, pull him over and say, ‘Congratulations. This is the moment of a lifetime. I have the potential to make your day better. Would you be willing to donate your spikes, bat or jersey to Cooperstown?’
“By and large the guys’ reactions are amazing,” he said. “They stop in the moment. For some of the them it’s too much to process. They just won the World Series. Then it hits them. Something of mine is going to Cooperstown.”
The Giants franchise has two direct connections to upstate New York’s Capital Region that surrounds Albany, the state capital. Pence’s pro career began 10 years ago with the NY-Penn League’s Tri-City ValleyCats (Astros) in nearby Troy, N.Y.
“Hunter’s fabulous,” Horn said. “During the 2012 postseason, he was naming his bats. We have a bat that he named ‘Tim’ from 2012. Hunter, along with all the other Giants, could not be more professional and understanding in the role Cooperstown plays.”
Also, the Giants franchise traces its roots to a late 19th century major league franchise, the Troy Haymakers.
“The Giants are one of the preeminent dynasties of the last half-century,” Horn said.
“To get back three out of five years and win it all is very impressive. They do join select company like the Cardinals of the 1940s that did that. In this day and age, for clubs to put together three different runs is really special, and it’s not always been the same players. It’s the contributions to this team and the collection of parts that make the Giants world champs in 2014.”
Paul Post is a regular contributor to SCD. He can be reached at email@example.com.