May 5, 2021
By Crosby Kemper
Editor’s Note: IMLS Director Crosby Kemper shares his thoughts on how the humanities—and his favorite sports team—are more connected than you might think. Do you have a favorite baseball poem? Share it with us on Twitter by tagging @IMLSDirector and @US_IMLS, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve just closed out April and National Poetry month, and now we look to baseball season, which is in full swing. As I write this, PBS is also showing Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s “Hemingway,” so, I’ll put my own spin on what the old man said in Old Man and the Sea: “Do not fear the Indians of Cleveland, have faith in the Royals of Kansas City.”
Baseball has such an enduring legacy in America, and it’s important to preserve the history, challenges, and accomplishments of the sport, teams, and individual players.
At IMLS, we’ve made a few grants in support of “America’s National Pastime.” In 2018, the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery used Museum Grants for African American History and Culture funding from IMLS to digitize its collection of sports-related images. The collection covers several sports and represents some of the oldest work of photojournalist Dr. Ernest C. Withers, dating back to 1948, when he began capturing images of teams in the Negro Baseball League. The collection includes images of Jackie Robinson, Samuel "The Jet" Jethroe, and Luke Easter that were previously unknown to public audiences.
And in 2012, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was selected to take part in Developing a Model for Technology-Based Museum School Partnerships, an IMLS-funded partnership between the New York Institute of Technology and the Albany Institute of History and Art. Through this program, the Hall of Fame staff received training and equipment that have allowed them to broaden their distance learning options and relationships with classroom teachers and museum educators.
Baseball stadiums are slowly reopening across the nation. But besides going to a game, how about visiting some of the great baseball museums, virtually or in person. A favorite of the few home team Hall of Fames I’ve been to is the Cardinals in St. Louis. Two of the most well-known museums are the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City. Some of the baseball museums still on my list to visit include the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Georgia, the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore, and the Louisville Slugger Museum, in—you guessed it—Louisville. You can also visit the Field of Dreams in Iowa and the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, S.C. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, of course. Do you have a favorite museum or exhibit on baseball?
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to introduce Donald Hall, a former Poet Laureate, at a poetry reading in Kansas City. I have always enjoyed his great, epic poem, “Baseball,” from his collection The Museum of Clear Ideas. Central to the poem is a stanza on John Tudor, the Cardinals’ ace in the 1985 World Series with the Royals, and his Heraclitan “fury of self-love and flagellation” on losing the seventh game to the Royals. I told him this was like telling the story of the Iliad from Hector’s point of view.
Here is a short excerpt from “Baseball,” by Donald Hall:
From home plate to the pitcher’s rubber,
As the actress said to the bishop,
Takes sixty feet and six inches. Of
Course you will recognize Being: It
Looks just like Nothingness except that
It wears a striped Thai-silk four-in-hand.
As the poet says, “Words cannot tell,
Cannot express…Words falter…Words are
inadequate to describe…” Poets
woo the unspeakable to their desks,
listening to radio baseball.
Meantime the cells or constituent
molecules go on sunning themselves
in the pure daylight of unconscious
punning and dancing, now slowing down’
now jetting Cambridge blue electrons---
the enterprise of ongoingness,
This condition resembles baseball
A perfect triple play to end on Heraclitus to Heidegger to Hall. All that is left is to utter the two unutterable words left out of the poem: our Achilles, “Bret Saberhagen.”
About the Author
Crosby Kemper is the sixth director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. He was commissioned by the White House on January 24, 2020, following his confirmation by the United States Senate.