Baseball for All?

Baseball: America's Home Run

The distinctly White, male, and rural image cultivated by baseball in the nineteenth century was used to justify the exclusion of those to whom the game did not "belong," especially women and African Americans. Despite several attempts to integrate baseball racially, change would have to wait for Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis's 1944 death and the return of Black World War II veterans unwilling to tolerate segregation. Women, on the other hand, have never played regular season, major league ball in the United States. Professional women's leagues flourished during World War II and a handful of females have played in exhibition games and the minor leagues, but their opportunities continue to be limited to softball at college and amateur levels.

Display case containing memorabilia in the wood-paneled Postmasters Suite gallery
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Little League Player, Los Altos Hills, California, 1975
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32¢ Women's Softball (Summer Olympic Games Issue), 1996
Scott Catalogue USA 3068o
Courtesy United States Postal Service
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U.S. Postal Inspection Service softball tournament T-shirt, circa 1995–1996
Loan from Janene Gordon

Janene Gordon became one of the first female U.S. Postal Inspectors in 1971. She later wore this T-shirt (pictured above) to play in the San Francisco Division's softball tournament.

Front of T-shirt with softball team name and player number at center, “Handlers 13,” and manufacturer’s label on lower right
Back of T-shirt with softball team player’s name and number at center, “Teri 13”

Front and back of mail “Handlers” softball team T-shirt, circa 1982-1985
Loan from Janene Gordon

Recreational softball played a unique role in a US Postal Inspection Service investigation. During the early 1980s, Postal Inspector Janene Gordon worked an extended undercover assignment with the mission of identifying drug dealers and users. Her cover was that of a USPS mail handler. To further legitimize her standing with co-workers during her assignment in San Diego, California, she joined an employee softball team called the “Handlers.” This is the jersey she wore while on the team and the back of the shirt included her undercover name, “Teri.” Being part of the softball team helped cement her “cover” and gather evidence. The investigative work of Gordon and others in a multi-city operation resulted in the prosecution of dozens of individuals for selling drugs to postal employees.

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Women's Softball League trophy, 1985

The New York Metro Area chapter of the American Postal Workers Union sponsored a women's softball league and awarded this trophy.

Baseball equipment illustrated advertising cover with BOSTON/ MASS. oval cancel, addressed to Mess. Moore and Pollard Proctorsville, Vermont; images of a two-wheeled cart, baseball player standing with left shoulder in front, and one-wheeled cart
Baseball equipment illustrated advertising cover, circa 1880s–1890s
Scott Catalogue USA 206

For nearly a century, everyday objects carried imagery emphasizing baseball's supposedly American, rural, and White origins. In reality, the game has worldwide roots and has always drawn much of its vitality from cities and from immigrants.

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Baseball Player match safe, circa 1890
Loan from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
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6¢ Grandma Moses (American Folklore Issue) engraved die, 1969
Scott Catalogue USA 1370
Loan from United States Postal Service
1924 Colored World Series teams features Ed Bolden as manager of the Eastern Colored League champion Hilldale Athletics

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.

Baseball: America’s Home Run