Skip to main content

Baseball Reliquary Opens Patriotic Exhibit

Baseball Reliquary presents Patriotic Pitch: The Empire of Baseball, a provocative and eye-opening historical look at how the “national pastime” has been used to sell and export the American dream. The exhibit will run from July 5-30 at the Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut Street, Pasadena, Calif. At home, baseball has often promoted patriotism and nationalism, while beyond our shores it has bolstered U.S. foreign and military policies.

Mixing political analysis and baseball lore, the exhibition, which fills eight large display cases throughout the library, is based on Robert Elias’s book, The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad (The New Press, 2010, ISBN 9781595581952). The displays utilize photographs, artworks, artifacts, and documents to illustrate key elements of Elias’s research, from the myth of Abner Doubleday’s invention of baseball to the game’s appearance in America’s long history of wars, interventions, and diplomacy. Over 20 paintings and prints from artist Ben Sakoguchi’s Orange Crate Label Series: The Unauthorized History of Baseball offer further insight into the exhibition’s narrative, driven by compelling stories, unusual events, and unique individuals.

Among the many topics covered in the exhibition are baseball during the Civil War (sporting goods magnate Albert Spalding called it “a great war for baseball”); Spalding’s 1888 World Baseball Tour, an early example of baseball globalization and capitalism, and a model for U.S. corporations going abroad; Major League Baseball’s exploitation of the commercial potential of patriotism as a marketing tool down through the years; the connection of baseball to the U.S. military during World Wars I and II, particularly in terms of enhancing military training effectiveness and boosting the nation’s morale; the use of Little League Baseball as a pro-American, anti-Communist propaganda tool during the Cold War; and the unprecedented movement to align the National Baseball Hall of Fame politically to the Republican Party beginning with the 1999 hiring of Dale Petroskey, a former assistant press secretary to Ronald Reagan, as the museum’s president, and culminating in the 2003 cancellation of a screening of the movie Bull Durham because two of its stars, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, were outspoken critics of the Iraq War.

Along the way, a number of baseball and political figures are highlighted, including Eddie Grant, the most celebrated ballplayer to be killed in action during World War I; Pete Gray, the lasting symbol of baseball and World War II, a one-armed outfielder who played with the St. Louis Browns in 1945; Moe Berg, the light-hitting major league catcher who was an American spy in the 1930s and ‘40s and one of the most intriguing figures in the history of American espionage; Babe Ruth, whose emergence as the most prodigious long-ball hitter of the 1920s mirrored America’s newfound preference for brawn over finesse in world affairs and foreshadowed Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and other bulked-up stars of the Steroid Era; and Fidel Castro, Cuban Prime Minister and aspiring pitcher, who toured with a barnstorming baseball team, Los Barbudos (the Bearded Ones), to help solidify the Cuban Revolution.

 Library hours for Patriotic Pitch: The Empire of Baseball are Monday-Thursday, 9:00 am-9:00 pm; Friday-Saturday, 9:00 am-6:00 pm; and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 pm.

For further information, contact the Baseball Reliquary by phone at (626) 791-7647 or by e-mail at