By Paul Post
Jeff Idelson and Brad Horn thought they had all the 2011 World Series collectibles needed for the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Autumn Glory” exhibit.
However, David Freese changed that with two swings of the bat.
His ninth inning game-tying triple and walk-off home run in Game 6 – among the most dramatic moments in Fall Classic history – not only put him in the record books, but set up the Cardinals eventual Game 7 victory and 11th World Championship.
“Then we had to go back to the drawing board,” said Idelson, president of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He and Horn, the Hall’s senior director for communications and education, make annual trips to the World Series where they gather caps, spikes, jerseys, bats and balls of historical significance.
With one strike to go, it appeared that this year’s “Autumn Glory” display would be heavily laden with Texas Rangers artifacts. Now, most items are bright red, from St. Louis skipper Tony LaRussa’s cap to the spikes Albert Pujols wore in Game 3 when hitting a record-tying three home runs.
Idelson and Horn returned home to Cooperstown with bags full of World Series artifacts, stopping briefly at Albany (N.Y.) International Airport for a brief press conference – less than 24 hours after the final out was made – before driving the final leg back to the “Birthplace of Baseball.”
Horn proudly displayed Freese’s No. 23 shirt that fellow Cardinals literally ripped off his back, following his Game 6 home run.
“This is probably one of the most unique artifacts we’ll have in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “It’s the perfect artifact. It was right in the moment. David recognized that jersey, that bat belong in Cooperstown. That’s how we were able to get it so quickly that night.
“Fans come to Cooperstown, they expect to see Mantle, Mays, Ruth, Aaron, the great heroes,” Horn added. “I think they’re pleasantly surprised when they see items from recent baseball history. We really do pride ourselves on preserving the game as it happens. We’re here to preserve the game for the player and for the fan.”
Gathering items is no easy task, especially after the final World Series victory.
“It’s about timing because you need to let the guys come in, celebrate a little bit and unwind,” Idelson said. “They’ve got their families there. Then you try to make your way through a massively packed clubhouse like nothing I’ve ever seen in New York, and try to find a guy who’s wearing goggles and covered in liquid and hope you get the right guy.”
But players, coaches and managers are thrilled to have their equipment become part of baseball’s legacy at the Hall of Fame.
“They understand what Cooperstown is,” Horn said. “They respect what we do. They understand that there’s a place where their baseball moments live forever, and that’s Cooperstown. They’re just as excited as we are about acquiring these items. All it takes is one great day at the ballpark for a player’s feats to be preserved in perpetuity.”
These are the collectibles that Idelson and Horn acquired, which will go on display at the Hall of Fame for a full year, beginning Nov. 19.
– Chris Carpenter’s Game 7-worn home jersey; the bat used by Allen Craig to hit a Game 7 home run that broke a 2-2 tie; a bat used by Lance Berkman throughout the World Series; and caps worn by manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.
– Those items will join three other key artifacts from the Cardinals during the World Series: The jersey worn by David Freese and the bat he used for his Game 6 walk-off home run; and spikes donated by Albert Pujols worn during Game 3, when he set a World Series record with 14 total bases and tied another record with three home runs.
– These eight items will be joined by Carpenter’s hat, worn in Game 5 of the NLDS in a dramatic 1-0 series-clinching win over Philadelphia, in the “Autumn Glory” exhibit, which features more than four dozen artifacts related to the history and great moments of the World Series.
– Four items from the Texas Rangers’ postseason run were also acquired during the 2011 World Series. Adrian Beltre donated his jersey from Game 4 of the ALDS at Tampa Bay, when he tied a postseason record with three home runs in the game. Nelson Cruz donated the bat and batting gloves he used to hit his Game 2 walk-off grand slam – the first in postseason history – along with the jersey he wore in Game 6 of the ALCS, when he tied a postseason series record with his sixth home run.
Nine-year-old Jared Nightingale was among the dozens of fans who got an up-close look at collectibles in Albany. His face lit up when he saw the bat Cruz used.
“Even though my second-favorite team lost the World Series, it’s still cool,” he said about the display. “I like it because Nelson Cruz is my favorite player on the Texas Rangers. I think it’s awesome that I get to see his bat and his jersey.”
Idelson recalled sharing a light moment with Pujols after his three home run performance.
“I talked to Albert the next afternoon,” Idelson said. “I told him it seemed that he was being compared to Babe Ruth. I told him if he really wanted to be compared to Ruth he had to learn to close games. He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, Ruth pitched a 14-inning complete game in 1916.’ I suggested that Albert work on his pitching in the offseason. He said, ‘No, I don’t think so!’ ”
Idelson and Horn work painstakingly to make sure they get all the right items.
“Brad and I collaborate,” he said. “We each make a list and then we compare them. Then we come up with one list.”
“We take care in traveling with these items,” Horn added. “We have great cooperation from Major League Baseball, who helps us at every turn.”
The Hall of Fame is already planning a special St. Louis Cardinals tribute weekend next spring, when the team’s World Championship trophy is expected to be in Cooperstown, too. The Hall has been staging such events for the past several years.
Last May, fans of the San Francisco Giants descended on Cooperstown from throughout the country for two days of activities. Hall of Fame staff took fans on a tour through the museum focused strictly on Giants franchise artifacts, from their earliest days in New York to Tim Lincecum and the 2010 World championship team.
Fans also took part in a Giants quiz game in the Bullpen Theater, and got an up-close look at some of the Hall’s most prized possessions, seldom brought out for public viewing.
Next May, similar activities are planned for Cardinals fans. People will be able to learn about the club’s long, rich history and multitude of Hall of Fame stars, from Grover Cleveland Alexander to Pepper Martin and “The Gashouse Gang,” Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial . . . right on up to Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith and members of the 2011 World Championship team.
“There’s a lot there to celebrate,” Horn said.
Lifelong Cardinals fan Mike Smith of Queensbury, N.Y., is sure to be there. He came back home to upstate New York from the World Series on the same flight as Hall of Fame officials.
“The exhilaration was unbelievable,” he said. “Lots of great memories. Game 6 was just incredible. We were in a right-field luxury box. But we were walking around, we were by the left-field foul pole when Freese hit that home run. It’s hard to even describe, hard to imagine.”
Next spring, he and other Cardinals fans will be able to relive those moments during the Hall of Fame tribute weekend.
Idelson, a New England native, took special pleasure in obtaining Carpenter’s cap, because the Cardinals hurler is from New Hampshire.
“I talked to Dave Duncan about obtaining his cap,” Idelson said. “He’s someone who’s deserving to have something in the Hall of Fame for all that he’s done. Allen Craig couldn’t have been greater in terms of donating a bat.”
Craig turned out to be one of Game 7’s heroes after the player he replaced, Matt Holiday, suffered a series-ending injury. Craig not only hit a home run, but made a leaping catch to deny Cruz a round-tripper.
“Having been to every World Series since 1986, this ranks up there,” Idelson said. “Game 6 especially had all the drama of Game 7 of 2001, and Game 6 of 1986. The ups and downs were unbelievable this year.”