Maltz Museum Exhibition Looks at Baseball as Intersection of Sport, Identity & Ethnicity in America
Through its legends and myths, its struggles and triumphs, baseball has been a reflection of American society for generations. Chasing Dreams: Baseball & Becoming American on view through September 7 at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage (2929 Richmond Rd., Beachwood, OH 44122; 216.593.0575; maltzmuseum.org) explores how issues around culture, race and community have played out in our national pastime through the stories of athletes, scouts, vendors, team owners, broadcasters, journalists, novelists and, of course, fans. It is the first time the multimedia exhibition, organized by the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) and made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence, has been shown outside of Philadelphia.
“Baseball has offered immigrant communities, including Jews and other minorities, opportunities to feel American, whether they’re on the field or in the stands,” says Chasing Dreams Co-curator and NMAJH Associate Curator Ivy Weingram. “For many, the sport has served as a path to learning, negotiating, sharing in and even challenging what it means to be American, and it has enabled those who might otherwise be on the margins to feel every bit a part of American life.”
Matters of identity and discrimination have been projected on, contested and occasionally solidified through the sport. From Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby breaking the color line in Major League Baseball in 1947 to Cleveland native Justine Siegal becoming the first female coach of a men’s professional baseball team, Chasing Dreams illustrates how heroes on the field have not only played the game but they’ve changed it. “Whether it’s Thelma ‘Tiby’ Eisen leaving her mark on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s or Cleveland Indians’ Frank Robinson becoming the first African-American manager in the Majors in 1975, the exhibition highlights the challenges of integration and celebrates those who have broken down barriers,” says Maltz Museum Director of Education Jeffery Allen.
Chasing Dreams also highlights the intersection of sports and values, including first baseman Hank Greenberg stepping up as the first American League player to register for the peacetime draft in 1940, the revelation of backup catcher Moe Berg’s alter-ego as a frontline spy or Sandy Koufax refusing to pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.
“This exhibition really covers all the bases, offering a mix of history, heritage, nostalgia and pop culture that will appeal to everyone, from die-hard baseball fans to former Little League players,” explains Maltz Museum Executive Director, Ellen Rudolph. This installation of Chasing Dreams features an interactive fielding experience, a database of players and 145 original artifacts, including game-worn uniforms, game-used equipment, park giveaways, awards, stadium seats and more. “The National Museum of American Jewish History encouraged us to incorporate local items that fit the major exhibition themes and our partners at the Cleveland Indians and Baseball Heritage Museum helped us to do that.” In Northeast Ohio, the exhibition will include a Louis Sockalexis photograph, Nuevo Laredo Baseball Club correspondence, a Satchel Paige button, an Al Rosen baseball card and other significant memorabilia commemorating the region’s contributions to baseball history.
Historian and Baseball Heritage Museum Administrator Morris Eckhouse sees Chasing Dreams as a perfect fit for a city with such a rich baseball legacy. “Cleveland has a history of diversity in baseball and a diversity of baseball,” asserts Eckhouse. “With League Park, the Cleveland Buckeyes, Classic Park, Canal Park and other minor league ballparks dotting the landscape, strong college teams and players like Frank Robinson, Ed Delahanty, Quincy Trouppe, Bobby Ávila, Bob Feller, Minnie Miñoso and Al Rosen, this is a community that is most definitely part of the bigger baseball story.”
Chasing Dreams runs parallel to baseball season and will be accompanied by a schedule packed with related family-friendly events. “From baseball short plays to a screening of The Kid from Cleveland, we’ve got a very diverse and fun lineup of programming in place,” says Allen. The fully illustrated 256-page exhibition companion book and a set of baseball cards developed by Jewish Major Leaguers, Inc. for NMAJH and the American Jewish Historical Society will be available in the Maltz Museum Store.
Locally, Chasing Dreams is sponsored by Cleveland Indians, University Hospital Ahuja Medical Center and The Treu-Mart Fund. The exhibition and its related programming wouldn’t be possible without the generosity Mercedes-Benz & Porsche of North Olmsted; Audrey and Albert Ratner; Swagelok; Susan and John Turben Foundation; Stephen and Penni Weinberg; Baseball Heritage Museum; Cohen & Company; FirstMerit Bank; Lake County Captains; Barb and Abe Miller; Alvin and Laura Siegal; Akron Rubber-Ducks; Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP; Corky & Lenny’s; Dollar Bank; Enterprise Corp.; Grant and Jennifer Dinner; Donald and Lynn-Ann Gries; Hahn Loeser + Parks LLP; David Malik; McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman Co., LPA.; Scene Magazine; and Robert and Brenda Weltman. Additional backing for Chasing Dreams is provided by Jim Biggar; Michael and Cindy Duber; Lottie, Rachel and Anita Gray; Ned Grossman; Jack and Minda (z”l) Jaffe; Harvey Kotler; Stephen Spiegle; and Fred Weisman.