Chief curator Daniel Piazza shares intimate knowledge, little-known facts and secrets about the stories told in “Baseball: America’s Home Run,” highlighting some of the spectacular objects on display, including discussions with key lenders to the exhibition on artifacts never-before displayed for pubic view.
I'm Dan Piazza curator of the National Postal Museum exhibition, Baseball: America's Home Run on view until January 2025.
Join me for an inside look at some of the most exciting objects from this blockbuster show that explores America's national pastime through stamps, mail, and memorabilia.
Of the more than 60 baseball stamps issued by the United States since 1939 the vast majority commemorate individual players.
Many of these postal portraits feature specially commissioned artwork designed to mimic the look and feel of classic baseball cards and recall players whose achievements on and off the field made them household names.
Roberto Clemente was born in Puerto Rico and played 18 seasons at right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
His batting average was above 300 and he played in every All-Star game from 1960 until his death with the sole exception of the 1968 season when he was plagued by shoulder problems.
Smithsonian Books author Stephen Wong, who also serves as honorary advisor and a major lender to Baseball: America's Home Run, has a closer look.
From a young age according to author David Maraniss in his splendid biography, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, Roberto had his own way of doing things.
He was pensive, intelligent, and could not be rushed.
He wanted to know how and why.
His most common phrase was, momentito, momentito, when he was interrupted or asked to do something, time out, wait a minute.
He said momentito so often that Flora, one of the older cousins who often took care of him, shortened it and started calling him Momen.
To his family and Puerto Rican friends at school and on the ball fields, Momen was his nickname from then on.
Momen appears on the barrel of this game-used Louisville Slugger bat manufactured by Hillerich & Bradsby Company.
H&B was the maker of the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bat since 1884.
This trend was followed by Clemente from his first year in the Majors, 1955 up through the 1960 season.
Early Clemente bats are particularly rare and coveted for this variation in the facsimile barrel signature which he abandoned upon claiming his first world championship in 1960.
From 1961 onwards Clemente used Roberto Clemente on the barrel of his bats.
This particular bat comes from Bill Mazarovsky's family estate.
After the 1960s season in which the Pirates again won the World Series off of Maserovsky's famous home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of game seven, Mazarovski received this bat from Roberto and had kept it in his family until it was publicly auctioned about 10 years ago.
When we think of Roberto Clemente, I for one often think of his character and what he represented to the game and his larger than life persona more than the actual statistics.
But if we look at the statistics of Clemente they're nothing more than impressive.
12 Gold Glove Awards, four batting titles, let alone 3,000 hits and a World Series victory in 1960 and in 1971.
Yet despite all those incredible benchmarks that he achieved throughout his career he only won one National League MVP title and that was in 1966, the year he wore this home Pittsburgh Pirates uniform during games at Forbes Field throughout that season.
He also wore the black undershirt which was his trademark and this undershirt actually comes from the Roberto Clemente family estate.
And this is the helmet he also wore during the mid-1960s including the 1966 season.
Again the full armor of one of the greatest players, greatest hitters, and greatest outfielders who ever played the game.
Roberto Clemente is one of only three baseball players who has appeared on multiple U.S. postage stamps, the others are Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.
His 1984 stamp also marked the first depiction of the Puerto Rican flag on U.S. postage.
For more on the intersection of postal and baseball history visit the National Postal Museum exhibition, Baseball: America's Home Run online at postalmuseum.si.edu/baseball