Baseball fans in Los Angeles have somewhere besides Dodger Stadium to celebrate the start of baseball season. Nonfans will also find the Skirball Cultural Center’s exhibit about baseball and its role in American dream, which opens April 7, interesting.
The exhibition, Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American, celebrates how the sport has emerged as both America’s national pastime and a cultural intersection of race and ethnicity in the U.S. for more than a century. Timed with baseball season, the museum exhibit included more than 130 objects, including some never displayed publically before like Jackie Robinson’s 1947 Rookie of the Year award.
Chasing Dreams illustrates how the national pastime has served as a means for Jews as well as other immigrant and minority communities to become more ingrained in American life. It celebrates superstars who were cultural icons with an impact beyond their batting or pitching stats including Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente and Fernando Valenzuela. It also celebrates lesser known people who made a lasting impact.
“Chasing Dreams weaves together baseball history with stories of immigration and integration into American life,” noted the Skirball’s Museum Director Robert Kirschner. “You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the show because it’s about American culture and what baseball has to teach us about the American dream.”
The exhibit, which debuted in 2014 at Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History, has been revamped for its L.A. showing with a heavy emphasis on Dodger history. It includes items loaned by the family of former team owner, Walter O’Malley, including baseballs autographed and dated by Koufax from his four no-hitters.
The Skirball installation has four main sections:
- The “Introduction” displays focus on the beginnings of the game. It also highlights key figures from the field to the front offices who were involved in turning a pastime into a professional endeavor.
- The “Shaping Identity” section profiles Greenberg, DiMaggio and others who became symbols of cultural pride. One lesser-known player featured in this area is Moe Berg, a 15-year Major League Baseball catcher, an Ivy Leaguer who spoke several languages and became a spy for the U.S. in World War II.
- “Overcoming Adversity” looks at notable barrier-breakers such as Robinson, Koufax, Hank Aaron, Clemente, Hideo Nomo, Chan Ho Park and Justine Siegal, who was the first woman to pitch major league batting practice.
- The final area on “Family and Community” looks at how baseball has impacted generations of fans. This section features an illustrated timeline of baseball history.
The exhibit has a variety of interactive areas. Visitors can step on a mound and bitch, play a simulation game for fielding balls, and use an touchscreen database entitled “People of the Game” that contains information on an estimated 200 Jews who played in the major leagues, including biographical and statistical data. There is also a listening station where visitors can choose from and hear more than 500 versions of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, in a variety of musical genres and by diverse talents like Harpo Marx and Frank Sinatra.
The Skirball exhibit about baseball and its role in the American dream will be there until Oct. 30, 2016. It is accompanied this summer by another exhibit celebrating the sport: The Unauthorized History of Baseball in 100-Odd Paintings: The Art of Ben Sakoguchi.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Exhibition preview April 6, 2016
Skirball Cultural Center: Chasing Dreams – Baseball and Becoming American
Daily News: Baseball history and art the subject of Skirball’s new exhibitions
Jackie Robinson’s Rookie of the Year Award, 1947. Courtesy of Jackie and Richard Hollander. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.
Fernando Valenzuela’s warm-up jacket. Courtesy of the Baseball Reliquary. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.