Ted Spencer, November 20, 2021


Ted Spencer, November 20, 2021
Ted Spencer
Matthew Zink
Cooperstown Graduate Program (CGP)
Quincy, Massachusetts
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Cooperstown sports
Local businesses
William "Ted" Spencer was born in 1943 in Quincy, Massachusetts. Ted grew up attending Quincy Public schools, where he developed a talent and passion for art. He obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Design from Massachusetts College of Art in 1969. Ted went on to work in several corporate settings before becoming Curator of Exhibits at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York in 1982.

Ted describes his journey from Quincy, MA to Cooperstown, NY, and details how his formative years and his early career prepared him for his role as Curator, and eventually Vice President and Chief Curator at the Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition, Ted provides insight into what Cooperstown was like when he and his family moved there in the 1980s, how it has developed, and what the community means to them. Despite having retired from the Hall of Fame in 2009, Ted continues to aid the institution in its research and is an active member of the Cooperstown community.

I have placed quotation marks around remembered remarks to place them within the context of either inner thought or external dialogue. I have also removed redundant phrases and grammatical errors for the sake of readability while still preserving Ted's style of speech and narrative flow.
TS = Ted Spencer
MZ = Matthew Zink

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

And we'll be started, OK? This is Matt Zink interviewing Ted Spencer on November 20th, 2021 at his home in Cooperstown, New York. Ted, would you mind telling me about where and when you were born?

I was born in 1943 in Quincy, MA. The birthplace of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, John Hancock, Howard Johnson, and Dunkin' Donuts. My dad was a motorcycle policeman, and he had had an accident on the motorcycle and as a result, ended up with one flat foot so he couldn't go to war. So that's why I was born during the middle of the war. At night he was a shipbuilder at the local shipyard, and during the day he was a motorcycle policeman. The shipyard there actually lost twelve ships during World War II, so this was a significant shipyard. But anyway, that's where I came from. I went through the Quincy public schools. Both my parents were big baseball fans. My name is really William Thomas Spencer, as my father was William Thomas Spencer, as his father was William Thomas Spencer. But when my father was growing up, he was always referred to as Billy, young Bill, little Bill, and even though he wanted his son to be named after him, he didn't want me to be tagged with that type of stuff. They figured early on that I was left-handed, so they nicknamed me after Ted Williams, who was in his prime at that time, and so that's how I get nicknamed Ted. I pretty much use that, although most of my documents will say William. My father, when he was in the Police Department, he hooked up with some older kids, kids just out of high school who were home for the summer. They wanted to put together an amateur baseball team to play in the local park league. In those days every town had its own amateur team made up of high school graduates who still lived there or were home from college, and anybody who wanted to play, even people well in their thirties. So, I talked to my father who was out doing school crossings and everything, so he interacted with them, and he talked the chief of police into sponsoring that team. In 1948, I was the bat boy. It would have been the 1949 team. In the second grade, I was the bat boy, but we had art class on Monday mornings or Monday afternoons and we could draw anything we wanted. I always drew pictures of baseball games and my second-grade teacher said, "Oh, I'll bet you'll be an artist someday," so I said "OK." "What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to be an artist," whatever that is. Two years later, in the fourth grade my elementary school teacher was actually a graduate of the Mass College of Art, and she promoted that to any kid who seemed to be interested in that. "Oh, when you get out of high school you got to go to Mass College of Art." So, by the second grade I knew what I wanted to do, by the fourth grade I knew I wanted to go to Mass Art. I went to public schools and then went to parochial high school starting in the ninth grade. I had a terrible time. I was not motivated. I wasn't a bad kid, I just was just a non-person, you know? You know, very shy, no self-esteem. I just barely got through, but fortunately the nun I had my senior year knew I was interested in art. We had no art at the school, but she helped me get into a small three-year art trade school; there were two or three of them in Boston. That was huge because it gave me three years to get more training, but not only that, to mature. Meanwhile, I was working in the supermarket, nights, and I started there the Friday after my sixteenth birthday as a bundle boy, and then six months later they made me a cashier, and then a year later they made me a night head cashier. So basically, I'm working nights, the head cashier at the supermarket, and I'm thinking about what I should be doing. I won't get into the details of how I connected with Mass Art, but I finally just decided one day, "I've got to go to Mass Art." So at the age of twenty-one I applied to Mass Art. The dean looked at my marks and said, "Not only do I not know why you're applying here; I don't know how you graduated high school!" But anyway, I talked him into it somehow, and I got in, and so in September of 1964 I walked into the back door of Mass College of Art. I remember looking up at the doors as I walked in saying, "My God, not only am I in college, but the college I wanted to go to." Three weeks later I'm sitting in Professor Lymann's drawing class and I look across and there's this pretty girl, and now we've been married fifty-four years. Anyway, that's kind of how I got into the field of art and all of my career started. My major in college was industrial design and Patty's was in painting. I got a job with a small research firm; it was actually my intern job while I was in my last semester and then they kept me on, and it was a human factors group doing military work for the Air Force base up in Massachusetts. But they needed an art guy to do support, doing training aids, and making models of mockups of facilities and everything. Which is, you know, not out of line with my training in industrial design. Model making was a part of it. Then I was there about a year and Richard Nixon was our president, and he hated Massachusetts, so all the military contracts were now being shipped out of Massachusetts, and this place was starting to get ready to shut down. I got a job as a pay stub artist and two of the scientists who had befriended me got a job in Philly with the Insurance Company of North America and the development of a huge commercial computer system within the Insurance Company of North America. A year later, so this would have been in December 1972, one of them called me and said, "How would you like to come down here and work?" So we were never going to leave Massachusetts, and three weeks later we're living outside of Philly. It just started everything. Down there there were no preconceived notions, no goals and objectives other than to get through the day. It was doing training aids. One day a guy comes up, who was the manager in charge of developing the module for the claims part of the computer. He said to me, "Hey, I need to do a presentation. I was going to do transparencies, but I thought maybe I'd like to do 35-millimeter slides, maybe have some color in it. Can you do these? "And I said, "Well, I've never done them, but I'll take a crack at them." So, he says, "OK" -- and his name is Joe Farley, and so Joe and I worked on it over the next six weeks and after he left my desk that day, I said, "Well, I don't know anything about insurance and I don't know anything about computers. If I can do something that makes sense to me and it looks alright, I guess that'll work." Six weeks later Joe had to present it to upper management. He goes in and gives a presentation and he comes back to my cubicle afterwards and he's laughing and he goes "This is what happened" OK? There are five guys that run the division. There's actually four guys and then the big guy who's right above them whose name was Alan, and the other four guys are under him. He says, "I give the presentation and then, you know the lights come up and nobody's saying anything because they never say anything until Alan says something. So, Alan stands up and he pounds the table and he says, "From now on" and he points and his finger sweeps the room and goes, "From now on I want slides as good as Joe Farley." It was like being knighted. Over the next nine years, eight and a half years, Alan went up the food chain to the point where his immediate boss reported directly to the chairman of the board of a Fortune 500 company, 35,000 employees. His direct reports went up and I went right along with them, so that eight and a half years later I'm now in center city in the corporate home office, and I'm the Manager of Media Services. I'm in charge of graphic design and video production for internal communications with basically what I had gravitated to once they realized I could do slides. And my whole life had changed, my whole perspective on myself had changed, and just was amazing. It was the best job I ever had, because of what it did for me and did for my family. When we first got to Philly, Patty and I realized that two artists, two young artists weren't going to be able to feed children, so she went back to college and got a nursing degree. So, she's working labor and delivery at the hospital in the suburbs there where we lived, and we were never going to leave. We were well situated in the parish there, our two oldest kids were in the parochial school there – and my youngest Lucas, who was at that time two years old. Riding home on the train one day to South Jersey, every day I fell asleep – this day I didn't fall asleep. I had a design magazine on my lap, so I got to the back page and I saw this little ad that says that the Baseball Hall of Fame is looking for a person to fill the newly created position of Curator of Exhibits. The requirements are graphic design, audio-visual, and hopefully some museum experience. Well, the first two things I can nail to the wall, but ironically INA had a huge maritime and fire artifact collection dating back to the revolution, and it was housed in the museum in the building I worked in one floor above my office. And I had done bits and pieces of work for the curator there so I really had that as well. I was able to say I do all three, and I'm named after Ted Williams, and I've got a piece of the Green Monster from Fenway Park on my desk, you know? So that's what happened. It took six months to get done -- these people up here move real slow. I was at a company that was going a hundred miles an hour, but it didn't matter, I was in a no-lose situation. So that's how I got to Cooperstown, that's how we both got to Cooperstown. The night that I came home from reading this on the train, I come into the house and I say to Patty, "Hey look at this!" and I read it to her and she reads it and she goes, "Well look at this!" and she grabs her nursing magazine and she opens up her nursing magazine and on that back page is a full-page ad, it says "Cooperstown needs nurses." Don't have to kick me in the butt more than once. This is what we needed to look into. So then that night I wrote my resume, which was nine years out of date. I had my typesetter at my office set it for me and off it went. Then finally, that was the first week in October, and on the 16th of April I left INA and started here on the 19th. That's the first part of it in ten-thousand words.

Can you tell me a little bit about what you envisioned for yourself had you not gone to INA corp as an artist?

Yeah, I really don't know because as I said earlier, I had no real self-esteem. I just was, getting through the day. I guess I would have done OK. I mean I did great at the supermarket; I loved the supermarket work. The first job I had at the human factors place was OK, but I was just out of school. Then I was a pay stub artist for a year, it was kind of a bridge gap from that job to when the guys from Philly called me. Boy, that was Dickensian, it really was. The management style was awful. I was making good money, really, compared to the first job. But I mean, a guy with at this time seven years of art education after high school. A friend of mine who had gone to college with me and worked with me there had moved on to another bigger printing company and become the manager of it, and had promised me for years that he wanted to bring me over. He called me the night I came back from Philly on the job interview. So, sorry Jim [laughter], you're a day too late. I can't begin to believe what would have happened, because this is all in a lot of ways serendipity. Joe could've done the transparencies. He could've typed the stuff up and had his secretary run them through the copy machine. I could've fallen asleep that day and not read the back of that magazine. We would have been OK, but we would never have been where we are today in any way, shape, or form, financially, culturally. Not only that, my daughter married a local guy. My oldest son married a local girl. And my youngest son's going to marry a girl that he met at Bassett, and they all work at Bassett, but we'll probably get to that later. I haven't thought about it because what happened has been so great. I'm incredibly, incredibly thankful. To the almighty, to the nun who was the one person who really saw this kid needs a little push in a direction. To my wife – a great partner in life. And Jane Clark. I may have mentioned that before when we talked earlier that I had incredibly great bosses in Philly, and Jane was their equal, one hundred percent. So, there you go.

Yeah, so you made this long journey to Cooperstown, to the Hall of Fame. What was the Hall like when you first started working there?

Well, I left the company in which the building I was in had a population of thirty-five hundred. Then I came to a village where the population was, at that time, about twenty-two or twenty-three hundred. So, the village is almost half the size of the building I worked at. I came from a company that was pushing the envelope in technology already into the 21st century, and came to a place that had fifteen people – I was the sixteenth. The budget was still being filled out by hand. There were no computers. Of course, in those days that's not to say that they were behind the times; INA was a different story, they were they were ahead of most people. Although they didn't have computers on their desks yet either, but they were looking at it. So, there was a cultural aspect to management style. You're in a twenty-two-story building, and you're all over that building with the work you do, and interacting with endless numbers of people from all over the world. Now you're dealing with just about a dozen people who, most of them haven't left the county in their life. It's just different people. I knew when I started there was going to be a cultural difference, and I knew then that I was giving up money. And who knows what else? Because my management, even though they were at the top, those guys were destined for bigger things. To go back to that earlier story, Alan became president of Apple. My immediate boss became senior assistant to the Postmaster General. Staying there would have been pretty cool. Both of those guys -- I still talk to them. Alan died last year but I talked to him until I retired, and he retired the same year. My immediate boss Mitchell I talk to every year. I'll be talking with him in about two weeks when I'm down in New Jersey. So it was a different culture, but it wasn't anything that bothered me. I never had one instance where I said "What have I done?" I just knew that it was going to be different and it was, because the whole thing is, at the end of the day, I'm still working at the Baseball Hall of Fame. I love baseball, I was very knowledgeable about some aspects of the game, mostly from my period of time, especially the 1950s. It was just starting, and then getting into the way they do things. Because they didn't even know what my job was going to be. They had redone the museum two years before, so it was brand new in its presentation. Before that it was glass top tables with typed labels and photographs laid in, and now all of a sudden, it's interpreted. They had an industrial designer do it, but what he left, he was a New York City big shot, was something that was now going to take a lot of attention to be paid to it every year. Because yeah, we're going to be dealing with history, but history is going on forward, and there's going to be new pieces to that history every year. Which is what needed to be addressed mostly at that time and then eventually, probably about eight or ten years later, maybe not quite that, my focus had evolved. But the museum's focus had evolved too because of just changing upper management, expansion of staff, different people brought in who'd been other places besides Cooperstown. We started to look at, "What do you think we're supposed to be?" I may have said to you earlier, my first month here Howard Talbot took me on a trip up to the Strong Museum in Rochester to look at how a museum could really function. It was totally endowed by a rich lady who died. But a lot of it was her collection, of dolls and other pop culture stuff. The actual structure of the museum: collections, curatorial, education, was textbook. This is the way a museum should structure. And we didn't, because we're just too small and we're still learning, but I said to Mr. Talbot on the way back, "So what are we? Are we a museum or are we a tourist attraction?" and he said, "That's what we're trying to find out." And I thought, that was probably the most honest thing he ever said -- not that he wasn't honest, but it was very, "Yeah, that's what we're struggling with." Really, what was happening was that the museum was starting to make noises that "I want to be a museum" and it really started to surface probably 1988, so it'll be six years later when we opened the Women in Baseball exhibit -- the most important thing we've ever done as a museum, and I'll fight anybody to the death on that. Because we stepped outside what people expect. We stepped outside of Major League Baseball. We started talking about much more overtly the game and its culture, and that's where all the good stuff is. I mean Major League Baseball is great and everything, but you really want to hear some great stuff? Listen to the people who follow the game as children and what it's done in their life and how they reflected it, and then how it has reflected our culture throughout the whole world. Anyway, that's kind of how it just works for me. I had no culture shock. There you go.

Can you tell me about some of your goals throughout your career as you worked at the Hall?

Yeah, when I first got here, I really was just trying to get a sense of what they wanted out of me and, they didn't know, but I also knew what I had accomplished in Philadelphia. As much as I was an artist, a communications person, a storyteller, I also knew that because of those first five years in the data center, and working for guys who were very technology oriented, that I knew that needed to be addressed very early on. But they had no money, it just wasn't in the plan. "We need computers someday, but they're changing too quick." But that was OK too, because the computer world still had to evolve to really become user friendly, and it really wasn't in those days – it was still pretty difficult. My goals were really to keep things going. To keep everything as we added stuff from year to year up to snuff. To do a little more about the guys who aren't in the Hall of Fame. It was my second year here, going into the season Bill Guilfoyle was the public relations director and one of the unsung heroes in the history of the Hall of Fame staff. He had spent his life in baseball as a PR director, assistant with the Yankees for ten years, the PR director for the Pirates for ten years. He spanned the generation of my father and me, so he was like half a generation back, but we had a lot of interaction. We had a lot of overlap in our baseball memories. So, we came from the same way, but he also had a tremendous information base in major league. He also knew he had a great sense of baseball as cultural. The first year, he said, "Hey, you know what's going to happen this year?" He says, "There's going to be three guys, three pitchers, who are going to break Walter Johnson's career strikeout record." A record that was 40 years old. He said, "So what should we do?" When we talked about it, I said, "Let's do this -- let's take a case that we have in the Baseball Today area and empty it, OK? And we'll put highlights of the season, but it'll start empty and we'll fill it, hopefully, during the year." And so, we did -- and it will be not only these three. What happened was the year before, a guy named Joe Youngblood was an outfielder for the Mets, and he played in a daytime game for the Mets. He got traded during the game – he got a single in that game and during the game he got traded to the Expos. He hops on a plane and flies to Montreal, who's playing a night game. He gets into that game and he gets a single in that game. I said, "Wouldn't it be great to have the bat in which a player got two hits for two different teams in the same day?" Now, we didn't, but the whole idea set in mind: these are the type of things we've also got to look for. That's what happened is that we started doing that. The collection today now is spectacular because of that program. Unbelievable! The people who are there now, who are even more active -- and you know that first year we had about a little over a dozen artifacts, which we were thrilled with. Now we get more than that from the World Series alone. So, we became very active.
But then Women in Baseball was very important to us. We weren't sure how upper management was going to buy into it, Bill and I, so we kind of tiptoed our way through it. Once we started to do it, obviously they knew it, but we just—I don't want to get into all that red tape. We just were a little nervous, because it was really off wide of what we do. The day that we opened that exhibit, November 5th, 1988 – have you ever seen a League of Their Own? There were 150 of those ladies here, and they were singing that song. On a day we would have had four hundred people on November 5th, we had twelve hundred people! That second floor was packed to the gills. We had Dottie Collins, who was a pitcher with one of the original teams, she was the secretary of the Players Association; they had gotten together decades later. And then Ken Sells, who was the president of the league—in the movie his name was Ira Lowenstein, so Ira Lowenstein was actually Ken Sells. We had Ken and Dottie pull the drape, and when they pulled the drape and the flashbulbs went off and they all started crying, Bill just went off to the side – Bill just hits me in the ribs with his elbow and goes, "We really lucked out on this." But we did! Because Penny Marshall heard about it. She came for the weekend. She had called Bill and said, "I saw your press release—I'm coming, I think there's a movie here." When she left on Monday morning, she went into Bill's office and said, "I'm doing this," and that resulted in the movie. I think because of that, women's sports surfaced higher. I swear you see more women at baseball games now than you did, let's say, in 1985. And you know there's great coverage in women's soccer, women's basketball, and I like to think it's really a ripple effect from the movie, which took place because we did the exhibit, and she saw the exhibit. I like to think, "Here's a case we really did the job we're supposed to do." We made a difference, we brought something to light and then went from there. I just think it's a great museum story.
Then ultimately, we just started looking for other things to do. World War II. We did a two-year exhibit, something I always wanted to do, and then in 1993 the Pentagon called me and said, "We're a commission formed by Congress to celebrate [START OF TRACK 2, 0:00] the 50th anniversary of all the events of World War II, would you put up a plaque?" And I said, "No, I don't want to put up a plaque," I said, "but if you want me to tell a story, I can be there by sundown." They said, "OK," so we did. I was down at the Pentagon about a week later, which is great because I was an enlisted man in Navy aviation, and now I'm sitting across the desk from a general. Pretty cool, more than cool. We did this exhibit, two years, but what happened was it was like somebody was looking over us. We had a certain amount of artifacts; we were going to be able to tell the story alright. We had tickets from the All-Star game in World War II, and we never noticed before that it said on the bottom, "Proceeds from the All-Star game will go to buying the baseball equipment for our troops." We never realized that. And we had not yet announced that we were going to do this exhibit. Then I get a letter from a guy in Michigan saying, "Hey, I was in the Navy, and they issued us bats when I was in World War II, I've got one, would you like one?" I go "You've got to be shitting me!" We had no military baseball uniforms. A lot of places, especially units that had not yet gone overseas, or training bases, they would actually form their own baseball teams, and they played other units, or they played local teams. We didn't have one uniform. A lady calls me from over in Norwich and she says, "My son is very interested in history, and the man next door is very interested in history, and he was in the Marines in World War II and he played in the Marines baseball team, and he just gave my son his uniform." She goes, "But I'm a little nervous, I want to keep it conserved." I said, "Well, what you need to do, you need to send that to a lab to be deacidified." I said, "However, if you loan it to me for two years, I'll pay for that." So she did. That's what happened through that whole process. It was really great. So we did it. When it opened it was a great day.

It was of those things, where, in 1982 I was happy to be here and about three or four years later I woke up one day and I said, "You know? This stuff's really important." It isn't just about bats, balls, and gloves. Or runs, hits, and errors. This is bigger than that, it's more important, and it's more fun than that. So that's kind of at least how I started to think about it. We were just lucky that Bill got a phone call that kind of motivated us to do the women. I got a phone call that motivated us to do World War II. By the time we got to 1995, Bill was getting ready to retire and Jeff Idelson was coming in, but we were all over the place looking at stuff. So that's kind of how it did. It was not initially a plan, it was just kind of sitting here all of a sudden one day feeling wait a minute, there's more that we can do, it could be better, so that's how it worked. Then we get to the late 1990s and Jane Clark steps in. Woof, you know, strap your seat belt on because we are on our way.

But I should explain our national tour. In 1994 we took, in conjunction with the Smithsonian, an exhibit to Japan which was going to get run for, I don't know, six or eight weeks in Shiba City outside of Tokyo. It was called the American Festival and was co-sponsored by NHK, which is like their PBS, I think, over there and Yomiuri Shimbun was one of their big newspapers. They partnered with the Smithsonian, but they wanted the Hall of Fame because it's so big in baseball over there, to do the exhibit. We hooked up with the Smithsonian and those people, but we basically worked directly with the Japanese people, but I got some good support, emotional support, from Lonnie Bunch. Lonnie Bunch is now the head of the Smithsonian. Lonnie's a friend of Gretchen Sorin's, and we had gotten to know each other because he had visited a couple of times. When I realized that he was the head curator for the Smithsonian, then we hooked up and he was great. So we go, we do the exhibit, we get it all set up, and that morning, Lonnie and I are standing there looking at these sixteen thousand people or whatever it was in line – it was some incredible number of people in line to see the exhibit, not just baseball, but the whole thing. And I said to him, you know, this thing should not be going back home, it should land on the West Coast and go through every city and town in America and let them see what we're all about. I was talking about the whole thing, but of course I was focused on [inaudible]. When I got back, I went to the guy who was now the president, Donald Marr, and I said, "I think that we should do the King Tut tour of baseball." I said, "And I think what we should do is make sure that it's not in malls, it's not in ballpark lobbies, it's in a major museum in major cities, and it's a major cultural event taking place at that time in that city." It will do a number of things—one is it'll help us tell the story of what baseball really means to the culture. But also it'll put us on the map with our fellow museums, that we're a part of the museum community, that we're not a tourist attraction. I tell people we're not baseball's Disney World, we're baseball's Smithsonian. So those are the two goals. I've got to watch what I say about him even though he's long gone—he went off and he tried to get an incredible amount of millions of dollars from Boeing or somebody to do this thing, or General Motors, or something, and they would have none of it, so it kind of died on the vine. However, it alerted Jane to the idea. Then Marr left in November 1998, and it was at that point Jane found a sponsor and said, "Let's get going!" In that year, when we did not have a president before Dale came in—Dale Petroskey came in 1999—we got going on it plus a major renovation at the same time, but that's how it all took place. And we ended up going to sixteen cities. They were in whatever museum would take it, so it started in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Museum of Natural History in L.A., and then the Field Museum in Chicago, the Museum of Science in Boston, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, so it was whatever museum had the nerve to take it. We were thrilled with it. We were thrilled to go to these different cities. What was awesome was that, when we opened up in New York there was this, who was it? George Vecsey, he was a writer for the New York Times. I don't know if he was just an editorial writer and he liked baseball or whether he was a baseball writer, but he came and went through the whole exhibit there, Kristin Muller, she's a graduate of CGP and she was my chief curator on this project. When it was the end of it, he talked to me, he goes, "I have loved baseball all my life," he goes, "but I just learned so much about the game that I never knew – this is just unbelievable," and then he wrote it up in that way in the New York Times. It was great, it was like, you know, we nailed it! This is what we're trying to do. We hoped that people would have the wherewithal to pay attention to what we're saying. It was all about race relations, it was about business opportunity, it was about lunch boxes and record albums, it was about American spirit. How does the game represent America itself? The case you saw when you walked in had FDR's "green light" letter – the letter he wrote to the commissioner of baseball during World War II saying, "You've got to keep the game going because the people need it! They're going to have other things to do – they're going to be building ships and building planes, but they need to know the country's going on." So that was big. We had a handmade bat! A handmade bat that was made in [unclear] Germany by a bunch of diplomats and reporters who had been interned at the outbreak of war. So to stay in touch with their lives, they took a tree branch and carved it into a bat and set up teams. For those number of months, the seven or eight months that they were incarcerated, they played baseball. We've got that homemade bat. We got a ball found in the rubble of 9/11 that was given to us six or eight weeks before the museum hit the road. What happened was the fireman had this ball, he had been going through the rubble, going through the cavern under what used to be the World Trade Center. And he said everything was reduced to a talcum-like powder. But he saw this little lump and he went over, and he looked, and he touched it and out of it came a baseball. It was a promotional baseball which had signatures, but the signatures were really company names, and it was a promotional thing for a technology company, and it must have been on somebody's desk. He says, "I took that ball – I looked at it and I thought about how much baseball meant to me, and how much it still means to me, and this ball proved to me that as a country we will survive." He wrote to the president of the company, told him kind of those words and said, "Do you want the ball back?" because he also wanted to know what happened to the staff. As it turned out, wherever they were in the building, they all got out. The president said, "No, you keep it. I think it'll mean a lot to you." But the president took his letter and circulated it out throughout the whole company. Somebody in the company had a spouse or a cousin or whatever, or a sibling, working for the Today Show. So he or she sent that to the Today Show, and the Today Show says, "Wow!" They contact the NYPD, they get him and the ball, they interview him, somebody in Cooperstown sees it watching the Today Show, and calls the Hall of Fame. We have somebody on our staff who knows somebody on the Today Show staff, and a week later I'm sitting in the coffee shop of the Ritz Carlton with him, with the ball, and he said, "So do you want it?" and I said "We'd love to have it, but let's do this—we're going to hit the road and this has to be in it. It's going to be the newest artifact in it. When it all comes back in six years, you and I will sit down, and we'll decide, 'Do you want it back or do we keep it?' I'll leave the decision up to you." Ultimately, he left it with us—but anyway, great stuff. Was that where I was going with it? I don't know. That's how the exhibit took place. Here's the neat thing—the oldest artifact in the exhibit was a ball that was used in what they called the Fashion Race Course game, which was a baseball game played on a racecourse infield in New York back in the 1850s. The significance about it is that it was the first game in which admission was charged to a baseball game. That's the oldest artifact in the exhibit. The newest one was found by a New York firefighter. The admission was charged at that game back in the 1850s because it was a charity event to raise money for the widows and orphans of New York City firefighters. So this job didn't suck, you know? Those things are just incredible.

And you got to do it all in the background of Cooperstown. Could you tell me a little bit about what Cooperstown was like when you first moved here and how you've seen the community change?

Well, when we got here there was a photo exhibit in a glass case in the lobby of 22 Main Street, now where the police station is and the clerk's offices, with pictures from the 1950s, maybe the 1960s. And Main Street looked exactly the same, almost all the stores. The only difference is where the CVS used to be, there was an A&P at the time—a supermarket. The men's stores were the same, the drugstores were the same—it was unbelievable, this is 1982. It stayed pretty much like that until about 1989 physically. We got here just for our job interviews on about the 10th of January, it was fifteen below zero. We came from a place where on the 1st of March, spring arrives. Fifteen below zero, there must have been two, only three feet of snow on the ground. But Santa Claus' house was still up at the corner, because it was only a couple weeks after Christmas. The movie theater was still operating at the time, so the chaser lights were running and, "The French Lieutenant's Mistress" was playing. So then we turn down Main Street and we look like, "Oh my God, this is either Main Street in Disney World or it's Main Street in Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life!" I mean, it was unbelievable. So then we get to the flagpole, and we see Santa's house and it's like, "My God, this is incredible." So that's what it looked like. We had a huge year in 1989. It was our 50th anniversary, Carl Yastrzemski and Johnny Bench were inducted; two guys who played their whole careers and cities that were drivable to Cooperstown. It was crazy, and it ended up being the largest year of attendance we ever had. Hard to believe, but we actually had the induction in the park Cooper Park, if you can imagine such a thing. So, some of the people who owned businesses got older and retired, and some people just sold out. But what happened was, new people didn't buy the old business, they bought the store, and then the memorabilia stores just inundated Main Street. When we got here in town, I think there was maybe three, maybe two. I mean, not that many. And then all of a sudden, they were all over the place, like dandelions sprouting up everywhere. That really changed the look of the village. I think that the village government has become a little more progressive. I guess yeah, they have, because for one thing everybody who's running it now is really from somewhere else, whereas when we arrived everybody who was running the government was from here. They really were. But you see some nice attention to detail, and a lot of it also reflects Jane's growing influence from that point when she became chairman of the board and the head of the family. Look how good Doubleday Field parking lot looks; it's gorgeous. It was filled with potholes and everything. There was an effort to put in a parking garage back in the 1980s, which was going to sit as you look at Doubleday Field, it was going to sit to the left and be built into the hill, it was perfect. It was going to have a facade that replicated the bank building, you weren't going to be able to see it from Main Street or from Pioneer Street or from Elm Street. It just didn't happen, but now look at the beautiful parking lot. Then they redid the streets, you know the sidewalks, everything a few years back. Politics, I don't know. It's hard to say. It's just hard to think because politics are so raw to everybody nowadays. There was one thing where there were two guys running for mayor, Republican and Democrat. And the Democrat was an out of towner—in fact, he lived right there, right behind you there, and the Republican was born and raised here, and he was a little bit older, but he was also in the fire department. There was some sort of a get together, whether it was a meet and greet or whether it was a trustees meeting, I have no idea what it was. The Democrat has a heart attack and dies on the floor, and the Republican brings him back. You know, pretty cool. That's a story that doesn't get told. But yeah, Stuart brought Jim back, and it was really something. You feel a lot of interaction between the churches here, which may exist in big cities, but there's so much noise—you know, there's less noise here so you see more, you experience more at levels like that. Of course, Bassett, there was no clinic building, but it was a nice hospital. And they had built, I guess in the late 1960s, the wing that, if you look at the stone building and to the left there's this building, which obviously has been built in the late 1960s, was there. But it wasn't until, what was it, the 1980s? I forget now. Well, it has to be the 1980s because I wasn't here in the 1970s. So anyway, whenever it was that the clinic was built, it was huge. And look at the way that thing was built. When you look at it it's virtually a one-story building on River Street, but it's really a five-story building. It's incredible the way they built it into the hill—perfect! The clinic facility is just a great facility in such a small town. And a lot of people have complaints, but that's the way the world is. I mean I remember when I got here, I heard somebody complaining, "Well, I had to go to the emergency room at Basset last night, I had to wait twenty minutes before anybody saw me!" I said, "Go to a city—you'll be waiting 20 hours!" That's one thing I felt very early on, and I said it to a number of people: They should take every person that's born in this village, load them into a bus, drop them in New York City for a week. Then the ones who are alive and come back, they'll have a whole different perspective of just what they have here. You know, the quality of life, and you can put up with the things that piss you off.

Could you tell me a little bit about what Cooperstown and the community here means for you and for your family?

This is our hometown now. I mean I was born in Quincy; Quincy's always been my hometown. When we left in 1973 we said, "We'll be back in five years," and obviously that didn't happen—we're closing in on fifty years. I've gone back, fortunately, to do talks and everything because when you're the curator of the Hall of Fame that catches people's attention. Believe me, I'm very thankful for that, to be able to go back home and talk to people, especially see people I grew up with. But the kids went to school here. Jenny was going into the seventh grade, Matthew was going into the fifth grade, and Lucas was still two. It was great. I remember dropping Jenny that first day at the high school, watching her go into this big school with all these people she didn't know. And her first day—it was a half day, and at noontime she's in my office with two or three friends—it was great. I really feel, and it's obviously forty years later now, but I feel that they stepped into this place without missing much of a step. Patty and I did the same thing. I mean we would go down to the little church, it was Saint Mary's Church at that time. You would make friends through your kids going to school and meeting other kids' parents, and then little league, because Matthew was old enough to play little league and things like that. It was great. One thing you learn early on though, you better behave yourself because if you step out of line, the next morning everybody knows it. I mean, I haven't, I'm just saying. But we've seen things, especially early on when we were more sensitive to that, somebody of note—I won't get into what it was, but it was a guy of note. It really wasn't over the top, but it was ill-advised and that was the end of his career. But it was in the paper the next day. There wasn't a better place to live. I tell people when I start the tour at the Hall of Fame, when I give the behind-the-scenes tour, I talk about the Hall of Fame and everything, but I say, "There's no place better to live than in Cooperstown." Then I always say, "Except for February, which lasts till May." So I let them know that if you want to come and live here, you better know how to get through winter. Although it's not nearly as bad as it was when we arrived. When we arrived, winters were so bad that, I think I told you before, there were car races on the lake. You know we haven't seen a car on the lake in over thirty years now. Patty and I were coming down the lake road, and all of a sudden there was this motion off to the left, we looked out there, there was this fantail of snow and an Oldsmobile flying faster than we were going down Route 80 right down the throat of the lake. I was like, "Wow!" Where I grew up it was all saltwater—you weren't doing that. Winters have sort of become a little more tolerable, but they're still winters. It's my kids' hometown. Even though they were all born somewhere else, they're natives. Emotionally they're natives. I guess for the most part, Patty and I are too. Forty years will do it for you. I just flat out love the place. My parents moved out of Quincy in the sixties, and they moved to Florida. They were down there about fifteen years before their health brought them back to where somebody in the family could look after them. I don't see us doing that, we go away for now for the month of February, but that's it. I mean they all say, "Gee, you guys should go for two months," but we've got seven grandchildren, they're doing great things. It's good fun. The way we have it now is that we go away for a month, and any of them who want to can come down and stay with us on winter vacation week. Then on April vacation we all go together to South Carolina. We started that in the 1990s when Lucas was still at home, and Jenny and Matthew were in college. We went to Myrtle Beach a couple years, and it was OK, but then we discovered Keel, which is a drive on island outside of Charleston. So a whole bunch—like eight families went, and we had a great time. Then the next year about six families went. The first year it was Jenny and I and Lucas in a one-bedroom with a pullout couch. About eight or nine years ago we rented a six-bedroom house because all three kids, the spouses, all the grandchildren, and we found that was a little too much. Now what we do is we still all go but we get adjacent units and it kind of becomes our little neighborhood for the weekend. So we do that. It's an emotional place for us, because we just all have had so much fun there over the last 25 years. They started going there as kids and now their kids are now older than they were when we started going. It's pretty cool.

Great, well, we're actually at the end of our time here, so this is perfect. Thanks so much—this has been great.
Upstate New York
Cooperstown, NY
Matthew Zink
Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta
Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY
27.4 mB
1344 x 1080 pixel
Track 1, 16:03 - National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Track 2, 13:53 - Cooperstown in the 1980s
Track 2, 20:05 - Bassett Medical Center
Track 2, 22:00 - Cooperstown and Family
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