By Paul Post
Jon Shestakofsky’s job at the 2016 World Series was something akin to Mission Impossible.
He was there to collect artifacts such as caps, jerseys, bats and spikes from players as soon as final out of Game 7 was recorded.
Those items are now part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum’s Autumn Glory exhibit in Cooperstown, but getting them there was no easy task, considering how the Series-deciding game played out.
Shestakofsky, the Hall’s vice president for communications and education, was stationed directly outside the Cubs clubhouse, watching on a TV monitor, when the Cubs finally ended the longest championship drought in baseball history.
“When the Indians’ Rajai Davis homered to tie Game 7 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the roar of the Indians crowd at Progressive Field shook the press box,” he said. “The hardest part was being ready to approach players when the World Series ended, because it’s important to be at the winning team’s clubhouse after the final out is made. I will always remember shifting back and forth between the Cubs and Indians clubhouses, depending on which team looked to have an edge. Even in the bottom of the 10th inning, a home run would have given Cleveland the Series victory.”
“The fact that the Series went down to extra innings in a winner-take-all game between two teams trying to end significant championship droughts placed this World Series among the most compelling of all time,” Shestakofsky said.
That’s one of the main themes and story lines the Autumn Glory exhibit conveys, through some of the most coveted artifacts from this history-making Fall Classic.
“All of the items on display tell their own interesting stories about the Cubs’ magical 2016 season – from the first pitch baseball of historic Game 7 to a jersey worn by Kyle Schwarber as he returned from injury to play an important role in Chicago’s World Series success,” Shestakofsky said. “Ben Zobrist’s Game 7 bat, which the World Series MVP used to put the Cubs ahead in the 10th inning, is another special piece. It speaks to the excitement of that Fall Classic and one of the most important moments in the storied history of that franchise.”
Other artifacts in the exhibit are the home jersey worn by Anthony Rizzo during Game 4, the mitt used by Cubs catcher David Ross throughout the World Series, and the second base bag used in the 10th inning of Game 7 when the Cubs clinched the title.”
Also included are 2016 World Series tickets, press pins and a program.
The Hall of Fame worked collaboratively with the Cubs and Major League Baseball to make the newest Autumn Glory display possible.
Hall of Fame officials attend World Series and postseason games each year and bring home a veritable treasure trove of material to tell the story about the World Championship team. Sometimes, after traveling without sleep, they’ve reached Cooperstown with champagne-soaked jackets, still wet from the winning team’s clubhouse celebration the night before; or with spikes still clumped with mud and grass that give exhibit visitors a true first-hand look and feel of the equipment players used.
“The process begins with a conversation with each of the key performers, explaining our desire to preserve and display the history of the game in Cooperstown as part of our annual Autumn Glory exhibit,” Shestakofsky said. “No two World Series are the same, and similarly the process and circumstances of gathering artifacts can change from year to year. As always, we work with Major League Baseball and the clubs involved and follow the procedures they suggest.”
“In this case, the items we received from Major League Baseball – the base and ball from Game 7 – were donated, and the player artifacts on display are on loan,” he said.
Upon arriving at Cooperstown, artifacts are processed and the Autumn Glory exhibit is typically revamped to tell the newest World Series winner’s story shortly after the Series ends. Then it stays in place until the following season’s World Champion is determined.
Who will it be this year?
Could it be the Dodgers, which headed down the regular-season home stretch on pace to set a franchise record for wins? Or perhaps the Astros, which helped revive and bring hope to the city of Houston following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.
Or can the Indians return to the World Series and complete a job they couldn’t quite finish in 2016?
Whoever wins, valuable memorabilia will be part of the Autumn Glory exhibit for the next year, to help fans make the most of their baseball pilgrimage to Cooperstown.
It’s one of many new things the Hall of Fame presents on an ongoing basis to make each visit as fresh and exciting as possible. On Aug. 26-27, fans had the opportunity to relive the magical 2016 season with special Cubs Weekend. Visitors had their pictures taken with the 2016 World Series Trophy and learned about the history of the Chicago Cubs through guided exhibit tours, artifact spotlights, player profiles, trivia contests and themed craft stations.
In June, the Hall of Fame opened a 2017 Inductees Exhibit to honor the newest members of baseball’s shrine -- Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Iván Rodríguez, John Schuerholz and Bud Selig. The display, which will be up through May 2018, is located on the first floor of the museum as visitors approach the Plaque Gallery.
Some of the artifact highlights are:
* Jeff Bagwell’s 1994 National League Most Valuable Player Award.
* A Montreal Expos jersey worn by Tim Raines during his rookie season of 1981 when he stole 71 bases in 88 games.
* A bat used by Iván Rodríguez during the 2003 World Series with the Marlins.
* Personal World Series trophies from the 1985 Royals and 1995 Braves given to John Schuerholz, who was the general manager for both teams.
* A pitching rubber from the first interleague game on June 12, 1997, highlighting Commissioner Bud Selig’s work to bring interleague play to Major League Baseball. Visitors will also be able to visualize the Class of 2017’s achievements with a highlight video display.
“In May we debuted an exhibit case featuring a celebration of the iconic ‘Homer at the Bat’ episode of The Simpsons, 25 years after it originally aired,” Shestakofsky said. “This episode featured nine Major League Baseball superstars, three of which are now in the Hall of Fame.”
In “Homer at the Bat,” Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs and Ken Griffey Jr. were three of the nine “ringers” brought in by the owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, C. Montgomery Burns, to ensure his team’s victory. But almost all of the stars were fated not to play, each having suffered a separate and unique misfortune leading up to the game. The voices of the actual players were used in the episode.
“The Hall of Fame’s Museum collection is always growing, and we have many new pieces already from the 2017 season that are on display, including Scooter Gennett’s four-home run bat and most recently, All-Star Game MVP Robinson Cano’s jersey from the Mid-Summer Classic,” Shestakofsky said.
For more information about the Hall of Fame go to: baseballhall.org or call 888-HALL-OF-FAME (888-425-5633) or 607-547-7200.