Smithsonian Insider Series | Stephen Wong

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Baseball memorabilia collector and author Stephen Wong reflects on his involvement with the National Postal Museum’s forthcoming exhibition Baseball: America’s Home Run, and the exhibit’s importance in light of recent conversations about race and American national identity. Wong is a major lender to the exhibition.

Recorded Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

Hi everyone.

My name is Stephen Wong.

I have the unique privilege of speaking to you for a couple minutes about one of the most important projects of my entire life.

And I don't say that lightly.

I've had the unique privilege of working with Elliot Gruber, Dan Piazza and the Smithsonian National Postal Museum staff for the past three years on Baseball: America's Home Run, a baseball exhibition.

I was born in Montreal, but raised in San Francisco Bay area.

I collected baseball cards like most kids in the United States did at least at my time.

I watched at the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park, and baseball became a part of my life.

Really the genesis of it all was when my best friend David Castellani, who still lives in Los Altos Hills, showed me a 1959 Topps card of Roger Maris and the seas parted.

That was it.

And I don't know what it was, but that's when it all happened.

Maybe it's an affinity towards history and objects that commemorate it, but that's how it all started.

And I came into touch with Smithsonian Books and my involvement with the Smithsonian organization, ironically, during the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong, which obviously, as you all know, is very similar to the COVID pandemic.

And that happened at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003.

I had left my job as an investment banker, and I decided to move to the United States to pursue my lifelong passion, which was to write a book about baseball history.

And the Smithsonian, I was so privileged to be signed by them to write my first book, which got published in 2005.

I published a children's book after that.

And then the latest book on the game worn uniforms that the players wore, which is a highly coveted area of collecting.

And that was published in 2016.

Throughout all of those three book projects, I had explained to Carolyn Gleason, who was my editor as well as the project leader for all three of my books, and told her that it would be my dream come true to do an exhibition of artifacts at the Smithsonian Institution.

Out of the blue, she gave me a call in the summer of 2017 and told me that Elliott and Dan Piazza were coming to Hong Kong and that they were the director and the curator of the Postal Museum, and that they wanted to do a landmark exhibition on baseball history.

My involvement has essentially been a couple of things.

One is to help with the exhibition narrative as well as the key themes working closely with Dan Piazza, the curator.

I've obviously lent a number of my artifacts in my collection to the exhibition.

I also helped source artifacts from other renowned private collectors or institutions.

And I've also helped Anissa with the sponsorships in terms of getting certain organizations and institutions to really appreciate what we are trying to do and become a sponsor of the exhibition.

Why is this exhibition so important to me? And why I think it should be so important to you all - I think of the quote from Jacques Barzun, who was a very renowned French-American historian, who graduated from Columbia University in 1932.

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."

And why I think that's so important is because we live in very difficult times, highly politicized times.

Arguably times where we may have lost a sense of self as a country, lost a sense of who we are.

And in a nutshell, I think baseball is one of those things that remind us of who we are as Americans.

And so I think it's importance really gravitates way beyond the incredible artifacts you are going to be able to see during the exhibition.

But it's also a very stark reminder of who we are as a people and as a country.

So, hopefully it opens sooner rather than later, but when it does, when it's safe to open, I hope you'll all enjoy it.

And rest assured, I, and the entire Smithsonian staff, have put our heart and soul into this.

And we hope that you will love and cherish it as we do.

Thanks so much and have a great day.