From its folksy heroes to its quirky traditions, baseball has enjoyed a long and powerful hold on the American imagination. A new exhibition at the Library of Congress examines the game’s rich history and the cultural touchstones that have cemented its status as the national pastime.
Just in time for the MLB All-Star Game (on Tuesday at Nats Park), “Baseball Americana” taps into the library’s extensive collection — “the nation’s premiere secret sports archive,” according to curator Susan Reyburn — for a cultural exploration of the game. The exhibit showcases artifacts and documents that can’t be seen elsewhere, providing a thoughtful and fun look at baseball’s connection to American life.
“There’s magic, as you know, when you walk into a baseball stadium. We’re hoping you will get some of those same feelings when you experience this exhibition,” says Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden.
The game’s history is explored through photographs, baseball cards and other items detailing the evolution of its rules and traditions. An American edition of “A Little Pretty Pocket Book” from 1787, for example, includes the first known printed reference to baseball in America.
“That shows, as the United States is getting underway, baseball is already part of our identity,” Reyburn says.
The handwritten “Laws of Base Ball” from 1857, considered to be the game’s founding documents, are exhibited alongside Babe Ruth’s shoes, letters written by Jackie Robinson, and a host of historical photographs and more recent video footage.
The show features 32 artifacts on loan from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as clips from television and film — from “Cheers” to “A League of Their Own” — that emphasize baseball’s far-reaching influence. In a nod to the game’s focus on statistics, ESPN’s Statistics and Information Group culled the library’s archive to create an interactive display of trivia questions and historical comparisons that should appeal to both casual and die-hard fans.
“My hope is that you would see something you have never seen anywhere else,” Reyburn says. “That even a monster baseball fan will learn something new.”
Library of Congress, 10 First St. SE.
Dates: Through June 2019.