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.
As New York celebrated baseball centennial in 1939, word was spreading that Yankee great Lou Gehrig had checked himself into the Mayo Clinic for treatment of an undiagnosed ailment.
The grace and humility with which Gehrig confronted his fate made him a national hero.
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.
Lou Gehrig used this bat during the 1934 season, the year in which he won the Triple Crown and arguably at a height and pinnacle of his illustrious career.
How does one know that Gehrig actually used the bat though during the 1934 season?
Well, there are several ways, and that's what gives the mystique, an allure, about game-used bats.
The center brand style and the style the power rise that are stamped on the, in the mid-middle section of the bat
will give you clues as to what date and what particular period that bat was made for Lou Gehrig.
But more telling is what's on the handle.
The weight of the bat, 37 and 1/4 ounces is actually stamped in the handle of this bat.
And the professional bat ordering records of Lou Gehrig, which are currently the original copies of which are located at the Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, actually show that Gehrig only ordered a 37 and 1/4 inch bat during the 1934 season with that style of center brand and that style of power rise.
So you know, he ordered it in March of 1934.
What's beautiful about this bat and game-used bats in general, is the characteristics that are associated, and the markings on those bats which actually link the bat directly to use by Lou Gehrig.
And in this case, ball marks and cleat marks and ball stitch impressions are laden across the barrel of the bat showing that you know Gehrig used about pounding balls to left and right field and over the fences of many ballparks throughout the American League that year in 1934.
But what's more telling is the scoring on the handle.
Again, like Babe Ruth did with the 1920 bat, Lou Gehrig used a bottle cap or a sharp knife to score the handle of the bat to prevent slippage in his hand.
And this was a characteristic that was again not really associated with Lou Gehrig throughout his entire career but there have been many examples particularly during the early part of the 1930s where Gehrig did score his handle, again giving this bat a special allure.
Three years later, in 1937 Lou Gehrig donned this uniform, a New York Yankees road uniform Gehrig wore throughout the 1937 season, a year in which he hit 351, a number of home runs well over 35 home runs, and helping the New York Yankees go to the World Series where they defeated the New York Giants.
This jersey is particularly important because it also has the appearance of the 1939 Baseball Centennial patch which was applied to all uniforms throughout the 1939 season in order to to commemorate the baseball centennial.
And this is important because this shows that Lou Gehrig not only wore the uniform throughout the 1937 season and possibly the 1938 season, but also the beginning part of the 1939 season three, almost three full seasons use of wear by Gehrig and of course in 1939 defining his legacy of when he, you know, suffered from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known today as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
This is a uniform which he wore in the last season of his career in his prime before he started to deteriorate in 1938 and '39.
And lastly the World Series program which was sold at Yankee Stadium during the 1939 World Series where the New York Yankees played against the Cincinnati Reds,
Lou Gehrig was featured on the cover even though he didn't play in that particular season, series because of his illness.
They commemorated him on the cover of the World Series program sold at Yankee Stadium.
Game-worn jackets were issued by teams to individual players every season, and typically the team would issue one jacket where the player would wear that for an entire season.
This jacket was issued by the New York Yankees to none other than Lou Gehrig during the 1939 season.
It's interesting how we uh, earlier we looked at the bat that Gehrig used in 1934 in the uniform that he wore in '37, '38 and '39, two objects from at least the height of his power and the pinnacle of his power.
The jacket is an interesting look because in 1939 Gehrig was in decline, suffering from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known today as Lou Gehrig's disease.
On May 2nd, 1939 the Yankees were playing the Detroit Tigers at Briggs Stadium and Lou Gehrig did something he had never done before since 1925.
While wearing this jacket, sitting in the dugout, he walked to home plate to meet with the umpires for the game as well as the Detroit Tigers manager and he pulled himself from the lineup.
After 2,130 consecutive games, Gehrig finally came to the conclusion that given his illness and the impact that had on his performance, he felt that it was time to pull himself from a lineup because, for the greater good of the team.
Think about what was going through Gehrig's mind while wearing that jacket, not only walking to home plate but walking back from home plate to the dugout, sitting in the dugout hands in the jacket pocket, looking out on the field to his teammates and the opposing players of the Tigers, knowing that what was literally transpiring in his body and that this was literally the beginning of the end for him.
This is one of the most important artifacts that we have in the exhibition at least from the the game-used element level because, not only who Lou Gehrig was, but also what he stood for as a player, but also the representation in symbolism of a player who once was one of the greatest and most powerful and prolific performers on the baseball diamond, wearing this jacket which would become to define his legacy.
The U.S. Postal Service commemorated the 50th anniversary of Gehrig's retirement and his July 4th, 1939 Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth speech with a 1989 postage stamp.
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