By Paul Post
On Oct. 29, 2014, the Kansas City Royals watched the San Francisco Giants celebrate their third World Championship in five years.
The game and season were over for Kansas City, but the Royals never stopped fighting in their relentless quest to capture baseball’s ultimate crown, a saga that ended on Nov. 2, 2015, when they became the reigning World Champions.
Their story is reflected in a handful of World Series artifacts now on display in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s exhibit, “Autumn Glory.”
“These were a group of guys who were just really willed to win,” said Brad Horn, the Hall of Fame’s vice president for education and communications. “They came within one out of tying Game 7 of the World Series last year. They fell short. Seemingly, it was their mission the entire year long to keep that momentum going.”
Horn and Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson went on a mission, too, right after the Royals defeated the Mets to win the 2015 Fall Classic, Kansas City’s first World Championship since 1985. They went from player to player, asking for equipment to display in Cooperstown.
The list includes the catcher’s glove used by World Series Most Valuable Player Salvador Perez, relief pitcher Wade Davis’ cap, bats from Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar, the dirt-caked spikes worn by outfielder Lorenzo Cain, an Eric Hosmer jersey and pitcher Johnny Cueto’s cap.
“It’s amazing to have an opportunity to talk to a player moments after he’s won the World Series,” Horn said. “Then giving him the great news that his artifact is coming to Cooperstown is priceless. It’s nice to be able to do this year after year. To build an exhibit in tribute to these men who built these championship winners is an amazing honor.”
Toward the end of Game 5, at Citi Field in New York, Horn made his way to the Mets clubhouse, where he planned to ask Matt Harvey for his cap. Harvey had allowed no runs through eight innings in what appeared to be a certain Mets victory.
But as they did all year and throughout the postseason, the Royals staged another amazing comeback that resulted in their Series-clinching win. Quickly, Horn made his way to the Kansas City clubhouse where the Royals were celebrating.
During the Series, he and Idelson were in constant communication, discussing which articles would best tell the winning team’s story.
“These Royals had the offensive weapons to ‘Keep the Line Moving.’ That became their refrain all throughout the postseason,” Horn said. “They had a never-say-die attitude. That was never more prevalent than in Game 5, on the final night, down 2-0 going into the top of the ninth inning against Matt Harvey, who seemingly looked unhittable.”
“You look at the artifacts here, from Lorenzo Cain, the great outfielder who set the table (to start the Game 5 ninth-inning rally); Moustakas and Escobar for their key hits and offense throughout the postseason; you look at the pitching of Wade Davis and Johnny Cueto; and then Eric Hosmer, the guy in the middle of the order whose diving play at home plate allowed the Royals to tie and eventually win it. You say, ‘Wow! – these are guys who really fueled the Royals victory,’ ” Horn said. “We’re really excited to be able to preserve these great memories.”
The Hall of Fame has a strict protocol for processing artifacts. Each one is cataloged, photographed, measured and weighed before going on display.
“Every piece here is made possible directly by the player,” Horn said. “To a man, whether it was Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain or Perez, they were all so thrilled by the honor. Maybe some of these guys will go on to be Hall of Famers. But the likelihood is this will be their representation. This was a team, probably one like we haven’t seen in baseball history in recent years. Now they’re going to be preserved forever in Cooperstown.”
Royals artifacts in the “Autumn Glory” exhibit went on display shortly before Thanksgiving and will stay up throughout 2016 until the next World Champion is crowned. If the Royals win again, a whole new set of articles will be collected to tell that story.
The Hall of Fame is continually adding new items to its permanent collection. Recently, the shrine obtained the glove worn by four-time Gold Glove winner Adrian Beltre during the 2015 season.
On Nov. 7, 2015, the Hall of Fame unveiled a new exhibit called “Whole New Ballgame” that re-imagines baseball history from 1970 through today. Featuring new video displays, redesigned exhibits and many rarely-seen artifacts, this re-imagined portion of the museum’s timeline examines the National Pastime through three different perspectives: on the field, from the stands and behind the scenes. Altogether, it’s an exhibit that covers the complete baseball experience in modern times.
“Whole New Ballgame” was made possible by a donation from Bill Janetschek Jr. to honor his late father. The Janetscheks have been passionate fans of baseball dating back to Bill Sr.’s first Dodgers games at Ebbets Field in the 1950s.
From postseason heroics and the designated hitter to labor disputes and games on your smart phone, “Whole New Ballgame” aims to give museum visitors a comprehensive view of today’s game.
Following is a brief description of some of the artifacts in the exhibit.
– The Angels cap Tommy John wore for his 250th career win. “Tommy John surgery” is one of many ways that medical treatment has revolutionized the game.
– Dustin Pedroia’s axe-handle style bat, an innovation that helped him come back from wrist surgery. Baseball has seen many other equipment changes the past few decades, such as hockey-style catcher’s masks and helmets.
– A jersey from 2015 Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, reflecting the huge influx of Latino players to the big leagues. More than 25 percent of major league rosters are comprised of Latin American players.
– Batting helmet worn by catcher Gary Carter during the 1986 World Series when the Mets staged one of the most dramatic comebacks in baseball history.
– Bat used by Carlton Fisk to hit his famous Game 6-winning home run over Fenway Park’s Green Monster in the 1975 Fall Classic.
– Cap worn by A’s manager Tony La Russa during the 1989 World Series that was interrupted by a major San Francisco earthquake.
– First base from Toronto’s SkyDome, where the first World Series game outside the United States was played on Oct. 20, 1992.
– Spikes worn by Phillies shortstop Jimmie Rollins in 2007 when he won the National League MVP Award. The number of African-American players reached its peak (18.7 percent) in 1981, but had declined to below 8 percent by 2009. A program called Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities was created to give young African-Americans more opportunities to play the game. Rollins is one of the program’s most successful graduates.
Other trends, such as the increased role of relief pitchers and the use of detailed statistical analysis when evaluating and signing players, are also reflected in “Whole New Ballgame.”
“It’s thrilling, it’s interactive, it’s interdisciplinary and it stretches far beyond the old experience of this exhibit – which was to go to your team, read about them and move on,” said John Odell, the exhibit’s lead curator. “Every single case features some sort of neat story and something that resonates with the baseball fan.”
Paul Post is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.