Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Proudest Moment at the Hall of Fame

Maybe it's fitting that my proudest moment at the Hall of Fame did not occur at the museum or even in my office in the library, but outdoors at the Clark Sports Center. Though I enjoyed every day I spent at the library (except for the last one), we're coming up on the fifth anniversary of the one moment which, for me, crystallized the Hall of Fame's threefold mission to "preserve history, honor excellence, and connect generations." That all happened on July 30, 2006, at the annual induction ceremony. Also fittingly, this ultimate Cooperstown moment involved someone named Cooper--though not the James Fenimore guy whose statue stands in front of the old library entrance.

It was in 2006 that the Hall of Fame went back in time and inducted 17 significant figures from the old Negro Leagues. There was a lot of controversy not because of the 17 electees but because of one person who was not elected: Buck O'Neil. The hugely popular O'Neil, already in his 90s, was on the committee that voted in 17 of the 39 candidates, but he reportedly fell one or two votes short himself. One rumor that circulated around the Hall was that he urged that he not be elected in lieu of other candidates.

Just as history had given short shrift to so many long-forgotten Negro Leagues standouts, so the 2006 induction ceremony short-changed them. All 17 were inducted in a mere 36 minutes, less time than it took Carlton Fisk to deliver his acceptance speech in 2000. Some of the inductees had relatives present, and they were instructed simply to read the text on the plaques. A few of them sneaked in a few extra comments, including descendants of Effa Manley and Jud Wilson. For the rest, induction consisted of the plaque being read by Bud Selig, along with general remarks by O'Neil and Jackie Robinson's daughter Sharon. The Hall had made a sincere effort to find as many relatives as they could, but with most of the inductees long since deceased, that was a tough task. Still, for the limited number of relatives in attendance, five or ten minutes at the microphone wouldn't have been too much to grant.

Let's talk about the plaques, which are the enduring memorial to those 17 now-immortals. Traditionally, the plaque text has been written by the Hall's head of public relations. For a couple of decades, from the 1970s to the mid-90s, that meant William Guilfoile. Following him, the solemn task was performed by Jeff Idelson. Since Idelson became the Hall's President in 2008, his PR successor, Brad Horn, has written the plaque text.

The exception to this practice was 2006, when Idelson understandably felt that the workload of composing 18 plaques (the 17 Negro Leaguers plus BBWAA electee Bruce Sutter) was too much. Instead, the assignment was delegated to three members of the library's staff: Russell Wolinsky, Bill Francis, and me. We actually held a draft to decide who would write which plaques; two of us did six, and the other did five. I don't remember the order of my first five picks, but they were Sol White, J.L. Wilkinson, Biz Mackey, Cum Posey, and Jud Wilson. My last pick was a guy I knew nothing about, Andy Cooper. Little did I know that just a few months later, his plaque would result in my proudest Hall of Fame moment.

The three of us went off and wrote the first drafts of the plaques. There followed a group meeting with librarian Jim Gates and Jeff Idelson, at which we critiqued the drafts, decided what needed to be omitted and what needed to be emphasized, after which we were sent back to put together final versions which Idelson would tweak into permanent wordings. I think Russell and Bill would agree with me that what you see on those 17 plaques is approximately 75% of what we originally wrote.

We had the library's wealth of research material to draw from, and the executives were the easiest to write. I knew a fair amount about Biz Mackey, and Jud Wilson's accomplishments were easy to track down. But Andy Cooper was fairly elusive. When the Negro Leaguers were elected, the Hall of Fame had issued statistical summaries of their careers, largely compiled by historian Dick Clark, and the numbers were useful though they never tell the whole story. There were a few items in Cooper's clippings file in the library which helped, and I found some tidbits in John Holway's oral histories of Negro Leaguers. Here is what I finally submitted to Jeff Idelson:

TALL PITCHER UTILIZED WIDE ARRAY OF PITCHES, SHARP CONTROL, AND CHANGES OF SPEED TO WIN CONSISTENTLY FOR TWO DECADES. EXCELLED WITH DETROIT STARS FROM 1920-1927, THEN TRADED TO KANSAS CITY MONARCHS FOR FIVE PLAYERS. LED MONARCHS TO NEGRO NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP IN 1929 AND LATER MANAGED THEM TO THREE MORE TITLES. RELIEF ACE BETWEEN STARTING ASSIGNMENTS, REGARDED AS SECOND ONLY TO BILL FOSTER AMONG NEGRO LEAGUES LEFT-HANDERS.

Here is the improved version on Cooper's plaque:


On July 30, my induction ceremony assignment was along the chute through which invited guests entered the field next to the gym where the ceremony has been held since the mid-1990s. Looking from the stage, I was on the left, about even with the front of the stage, so I didn't have a very good view of the people who were up there or the inductees' representatives, but I could hear the plaques being read and the brief remarks. Near my post sat a large group of Jud Wilson's relatives, and I talked to a few of them during the ceremony. They were thrilled to be there, especially when their designated speaker, Sha'Ron Taylor, accepted Wilson's plaque. She cleared up a big mystery in my mind. I had always read that Wilson's nickname, "Boojum," represented the sound his booming line drives made when they bounced off outfield walls. I couldn't make the connection--until Taylor pronounced the word, which she did with gusto two or three times during her brief remarks. The nickname, it turned out, was "buh-ZHOOOM!!" Now I can hear it loud and clear.

But the joy of hearing "buh-ZHOOOM!!" paled next to the spine-tingling moment when Andy Cooper Jr.--one of ten Cooper relatives on hand--read his father's plaque. He was a little boy when his father died of heart disease at the age of 43 in 1941, and didn't remember anything of his father's baseball exploits. What he knew was on that plaque. I think he's a minister; if not, he should've been, because he read the plaque with evangelical zeal. As Detroit Free Press writer John Lowe wrote following the ceremony, "Cooper's son regularly raised his voice when he read his father's plaque. He emphasized the words 'in relief' during this line: 'Often pitched in relief between starting assignments.'"

You bet he raised his voice. For him, the words on that plaque represented a revelation to the world of his father's greatness, and his reading of them a once-in-a-lifetime chance to call out to his father and let him know he will live forever in the plaque gallery at the Hall of Fame. Nobody who spoke that day reveled more than Andy Cooper Jr. in the words engraved on a plaque. And I wrote those words. Standing there and listening to how my words had moved this man so powerfully gave me goosebumps, and I've gotten them again while writing this.

Talk about preserving history, honoring excellence, and connecting generations! I never got to meet Andy Cooper Jr. and might never cross his path again, but we are linked by words I typed dispassionately on a computer and which he so stirringly delivered to the world. His resounding pride made that my proudest moment as a representative of the Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Most Diabolical Hall of Fame Quiz Ever

I don't know if "diabolical" is the right word or not for this quiz. I've been working on it for a few weeks, and at different times it has seemed demented, ingenious, absurd, hilarious, or just plain sick. The one person I ran some of it by e-mailed me a few days later to call me a "sneaky son of a bitch" because an answer suddenly jumped into his head as he was driving down the highway. I took that as a compliment.

I'm offering a prize to the first person who comes up with the complete solution to this matching-game puzzle: signed copies of all three books available on this website. So please don't post answers as comments on this site, because you'll be helping other people solve it. Instead, e-mail your solution to me at gschechter@nycap.rr.com. I'll answer all e-mails and let you know how you did, and when the prize is awarded I'll post the solution on this site.

So here you go. There are three columns with 20 names apiece to befuddle you. The first column contains first names, nearly all of them the first name or nickname of a Hall of Famer. The second column contains surnames, and these are all names of Hall of Famers. The first thing you need to do is match these up to create full names. For instance, "Al" and "Kaline" would make a logical combination.

The tricky part is matching up those combined names with the names in the third column, which are all full names of Hall of Famers. The connections are not obvious--certainly not as obvious as the example that "Al Kaline" sounds like the quality of a battery, so if you saw "Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra" in the third column, you'd make the connection with that Hall of Fame battery. For a more typical example, one connection I failed to make was a Hall of Famer to go with "Smoky Ashburn". That sounds like a cigarette or cigar so I wanted to find the name of a brand, but until Jeff Kent is elected to the Hall of Fame I don't think there is one. So "Smoky Ashburn" will have to wait. Likewise, "Happy Day" would have worked if there was a Hall of Famer named Hawkins, since Edwin Hawkins originally recorded the song "Oh Happy Day". But no.

The connections can be made in all kinds of ways. Some refer to character or personality traits of the Hall of Famer in the third column. A lot of them involve wordplay or puns, either the sound of one of those names or the meaning of a word. Some involve a non-baseball association with the name, and others are baseball-related. A few of them might be considered unsavory, and I've been told that a couple of them are politically incorrect (though I resisted the temptation to identify Effa Manley as a "Pie Baker").

Without further ado, here are the names, in alphabetical order. Good luck--and above all have fun with it!

FIRST NAMES: Andy, Ban, Bid, Burleigh, Catfish, Curt, Dizzy, Early, Hack, Heinie, Josh, Juan, Luke, Manny, Raul, Rich, Robin, Ty, Waite, Warren

LAST NAMES: Banks, Bender, Brouthers, Chance, Combs, Feller, Fingers, Flick, Hunter, Keeler, Lemon, Mathewson, Nichols, Palmer, Ruffing, Slaughter, Speaker, Traynor, Wright, Wynn

HALL OF FAMERS
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Walter Alston
Wade Boggs
Mordecai Brown
Ed Delahanty
Joe DiMaggio
Dennis Eckersley
Charlie Gehringer
Lefty Gomez
Harry Heilmann
Rogers Hornsby
Reggie Jackson
Tony Lazzeri
Rube Marquard
John McGraw
Gaylord Perry
Kirby Puckett
Branch Rickey
Albert Spalding
Don Sutton

Saturday, June 4, 2011

From Worst To First At The Hall Of Fame







You are looking at a photo of part of the Hall of Fame's newest exhibit, "One For the Books," which covers the records and record-keeping of the game. Those of you who have visited the Hall of Fame might recall the exhibit it replaced, which wasn't called anything--with good reason. The old "records room" was without a doubt the worst exhibit in the museum, but has been replaced by a exhibit which might turn out to be the best. After striking out in this department for many years, the Hall of Fame has hit a home run for which no asterisk will be needed.

To put it bluntly, the old exhibit provided visitors with all the charm of perusing a train schedule. It contained bare listings of the top-ten career and active leaders for about twenty hitting and pitching categories. For some years there was a case with actual Cy Young Award and MVP trophies and the like, but that has been gone for awhile. All that was left was a bunch of boards with some names and numbers, and virtually no explanation of where those numbers came from.

That was the problem: the numbers came from the Elias Sports Bureau, baseball's record-keeping dinosaur, which has a peculiar attitude toward baseball statistics. Elias believes that it owns baseball statistics (which is why they charge good money to part with any numbers, unlike a website like http://www.retrosheet.org/ which shares history for free), yet for anything that occurred before the company began operation in 1918, Elias was and is still content to accept as gospel the statistics printed in annual guides. That decision was made at a time when record-keeping was lax and inconsistencies were rampant, but Elias chose to do its own work only on the games that were played after it went into business. It took until research began for the first comprehensive Macmillan Encyclopedia in the late 1960s that researchers sought to reassemble accurate statistics for games going back to the start of the major leagues in the 1870s.

In addition to the hundreds of discrepancies between the statistics in guides and those compiled by researchers who combed newspapers and other sources to determine what actually happened in those earlier games, there was the problem of "official" stats. Earned run average, which had been tracked by Henry Chadwick and others for decades, did not become an official statistic until 1912 in the National League and 1913 in the American League. For Elias, this meant that whatever happened before those years didn't count. Back in the 1960s, before people bothered to find out what actually happened before 1912, Elias felt it was on solid ground in protecting the sanctity of "official" statistics. By the 1980s, when dedicated researchers had pinned down the actual events, Elias lost some of its footing. In the 21st century, with websites posting extensive statistics and basing new research on analyzing those raw numbers, Elias has become the baseball equivalent of the Flat Earth Society, clinging to a premise that seems more futile all the time.

Why is this important? Why is it relevant to the discussion of this new exhibit? Because for decades, the Hall of Fame has had a deal with Elias to use its statistics and nobody else's. As a result, even as recently as the 2010 Hall of Fame Yearbook, it states that there is NO KNOWN career ERA for the following pitchers: Jack Chesbro, John Clarkson, Pud Galvin, Addie Joss, Tim Keefe, Joe McGinnity, Kid Nichols, Charley Radbourn, Amos Rusie, Rube Waddell, Mickey Welch, Vic Willis, and Cy Young. Yes, Cy Young. In 2010, the Hall of Fame was telling its patrons, "Sorry, but even though we are the greatest baseball facility in the world and are the repository of baseball history, we have no idea how effective Cy Young was. Sure it's all over the internet how many earned runs he allowed in how many innings, but we don't recognize the events that occurred before league officials at the time decided to report those numbers in its annual guides."

Even more strangely, the Hall of Fame decided to provide partial numbers for ERA--that is, they adhered to the Elias policy of pretending that a pitcher whose career straddled the years when ERA become official did have a legitimate ERA based on those post-official seasons. For instance, Christy Mathewson started pitching in 1901, had his most glorious years during that decade, and was in the twilight of his career when ERA became an official stat. Elias computed his ERA from the last five seasons of his career (which constituted 164 of the 636 games he pitched in the major leagues, or about 25%) and came up with 2.62. So that's the number that has appeared in the Hall of Fame yearbook for years, and the reason Mathewson was never listed on the "top ten ERA" board in the old room. His actual ERA, as researchers have known for two or three decades, was 2.13. Instead, the "career" leader in ERA, according to the Hall of Fame, was Eddie Cicotte, whose career began in 1905 but whose post-1913 ERA was the lowest Elias could find. Never mind that his pre-1913 ERAs showed only one season below his listed career total, meaning that, as opposed to Mathewson, his true ERA was higher than what was displayed in the museum. Official was official to Elias and therefore to the Hall of Fame.

An even more ridiculous situation existed with RBI. Believe it or not, the RBI was not an official statistic until 1920. As a result, for many years the Hall of Fame has been telling patrons and visitors that Babe Ruth drove in fewer than 2,000 runs in his career. We're pretty damn sure today that his actual total was 2,213, but it didn't bother the Hall of Fame to shortchange the game's most prolific slugger. Yes, they had an asterisk in the yearbook and a tiny paragraph in the records room which noted that pre-1920 RBI weren't counted, but it was not deemed important enough to supply the actual numbers in any place where people could find them. If you wanted to know how far from reality it was to assert that Ty Cobb drove in only 727 runs despite scoring 2,245, you had to look somewhere else. The Hall of Fame, the repository of all that has happened in baseball history, wasn't going to tell you. Nor was Elias, which has always made the American public feel like the Tin Man trying to confer with the Wizard of Oz. Its sources and methods were shrouded in secrecy; even now at the Hall of Fame, only two or three people are authorized to have direct contact with Elias, which charges fees for any question it deigns to answer. It was like trying to get officials in Florida to part with the actual vote totals in the 2000 election.



I bring all of this up because as part of the new "One For the Books" exhibit, the Hall of Fame has finally shed the Elias albatross and entered the 21st century, where people want to know what really happened back there in history. For the first time in decades, the Hall of Fame yearbook tells us that Christy Mathewson had a 2.13 career ERA, that Babe Ruth drove in 2,213 runs, that Ty Cobb drove in 1,938 runs, and even that Pud Galvin, whose pitching career ended in 1892, recorded a 2.85 ERA. And museum visitors will no longer be marveling at just how tragic it was that one of the infamous 1919 Black Sox--Eddie Cicotte, the all-time leader in ERA, for goodness sakes--didn't get to play out the rest of his career.

The Hall of Fame is now utilizing statistics supplied by http://www.baseball-reference.com/, one of several websites that has been providing actual numbers to the world for years. There might be some discrepancies, and there might be a more accurate number here and there that can found from some other source, but the point is that even though we might figure out someday that Christy Mathewson's career ERA might be 2.14 rather than 2.13, we're light years from the travesty of telling people it was 2.62. More importantly, the new exhibit utilizes not only the raw numbers provided by Sean Forman of bb-ref, it presents them in a unique and exciting way thanks to sophisticated software.




















At the right is one of two "towers" where folks like me could spend the whole day learning about what our favorite players did. It displays 35 categories of statistics (rotated automatically until a visitor starts pressing buttons to track specific players or stats); the one in this photo is stolen bases. It provides four top-ten lists: career leader, active leader, one-season record-holder, and active one-season record-holder. Above each list is an image of the revelant leader, in this case Rickey Henderson, Juan Pierre, Hugh Nicol, and Jose Reyes. (Hugh Nicol? Hold that thought.) That's Juan Pierre up at the top, the active leader. The numbers are updated daily, automatically by computer. If you're an Alex Rodriguez fan who checks this display on a daily basis, you can watch him climb up the various career and active lists.

Even better, you can start pressing those buttons. Press the name of any player on any list, and you'll get a display indicating every list where that player can be found. As you see, this includes batting, pitching, fielding and team lists, and you can zip through them at the touch of a finger. The capper is the feature at the bottom. You can access any year in baseball history and see what all those displays would have looked like if you had visited the museum at the end of that year's season. For instance, take Tris Speaker, widely regarded during his career as the second-best major leaguer, behind only Ty Cobb. Yet today Speaker is largely forgotten, regarded by fans as some relic from baseball's Bronze Age who put up a bunch of numbers that have largely been surpassed over the decades and are no longer relevant.



How can we appreciate just how great Tris Speaker was? One way it to press those buttons on the tower. I clicked on 1928, the year he retired, to see exactly where he stood at the time on the various lists of career leaders. Here is Speaker's report card (where he stood all-time the day he hung up his spikes):

Batting average: 6th (.345)
Hits: 2nd (3,514)
Singles: 6th (2,383)
Doubles: 1st (792--this record he still holds)
Triples: 6th (222)
Runs: 3rd (1,882)
RBI: 6th (1,529)
On-base %: 7th (.428)
OPS: 7th (.928)

He also made the top-ten lists for active players in home runs (tied for 8th) and stolen bases (fourth). Throw in the all-time records for outfield assists (449) and double plays by an outfielder (139), and you start to get an idea of just how great Tris Speaker was.

Approximately 1,000 players have led a category at some point, and all but a handful are represented by images in this display--in itself a remarkable achievement by the Hall of Fame's photo department considering that many of them are relatively obscure 19th-century players (when it was easier to break records). Roughly 2,700 players, or more than 15% of all players who have seen action in the major leagues, have been on a top-ten active or career list at some point, and you can find out where and when in this one display. See what I mean about spending all day there?

Of course, this is only part of the new exhibit, which features over 200 artifacts and, for the first time, puts those numbers in context by devoting a separate display to each category. The Hall of Fame has shed its trepidations about displaying numbers that reflect what actually happened on the field, and is now eager to explain why and how those numbers came to be. Amen Hugh Nicol is a good example. An outfielder whose career ran from 1881-1890, Nicol played most of his career in the old American Association, which lasted only a decade and presented a quality of play somewhat inferior to the more established National League. The view of historians over the years has given short enough shrift to the American Association that its most outstanding stars, including Pete Browning and Harry Stovey, have barely gotten a sniff at election to the Hall of Fame. Yet there is Hugh Nicol listed as the one-season stolen base champion with 138 in 1887. In the stolen base display, we find not only a helpful paragraph describing how he did what he did, but also the rulebook from the time, open to the page which showed how stolen bases were to be tabulated--essentially, until the mid-1890s, players were credited with a stolen base for going from first to third on a single, etc. Yes, Nicol didn't do what Rickey Henderson did, but he was the best at doing what he did when the rules rewarded those feats. So he is honored, while the reason for that number is explained. In the same display we find Sophie Kurys, who stole over 200 bases one season in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League--and a fine explanation of why comparing stats from different leagues in different eras is such a fruitless apples-and-oranges exercise. Kurys played on a field with only 72 feet between bases and with a ball about the size of a softball. But nobody else in that league did what she did, and her stolen base total is better than anyone else playing in any professional league, so she is honored in this new records exhibit.

It isn't just the raw numbers of the records that get the attention they deserve in the "One For the Books" exhibit. Senior Curator Tom Shieber and his staff also tell the stories of how records have been kept over the past 150+ years of organized baseball, and show us the evidence. When I worked at the Hall of Fame, I loved giving library tours which included a look at the actual record books (large ledgers) kept in the league offices, which showed what every player and team did from day to day in every measurable statistical category. The new exhibit displays many of these daily sheets--for instance, visitors can see what Joe DiMaggio did during every day of his 56-game hitting streak in 1941. It also includes many scorebooks and scoresheets kept by official scorers and reporters of the game's most significant events, such as the official scorebook from the 33-inning game between Pawtucket and Rochester in 1981, or the official scoresheet signed by Johnny Vander Meer after his second consecutive no-hitter.

Here is my favorite such display:





What is this? At the left is part of the "Honey Boy" Evans Trophy awarded to Ty Cobb for posting the highest batting average in the major leagues in 1910. The only problem is that Cobb didn't actually have the highest batting average that year. Nap Lajoie did. How do we know this? It took until the 1970s for someone to take the time to figure it out, but the evidence is in this display. There are two pages displayed from the official 1910 American League daily records. At the right is the page showing what Cobb did every day in September 1910; at the left is the similar page from his teammate Sam Crawford.


In a nutshell, here's what happened. The poor schmuck charged with keeping these records--like a medieval monk meticulously transcribing one word at a time--made a mistake. Instead of marking the Tigers' stats from the second game of a September 24 doubleheader, he made a notation indicating that they were from one game of a September 25 doubleheader (the Tigers played only one game on the 25th). Meanwhile, on the last day of the season, in a controversial doubleheader involving Lajoie which isn't worth retelling here, Lajoie got enough hits to pass Cobb--though nobody knew it at the time. Why? Because that league scribe had realized that those September 25 stats really belonged on September 24. The trick was that, for some reason, instead of merely leaving the numbers intact and changing the date, he added a line to each Tiger's record indicating the numbers as being from September 24--but neglected to cross out the same data from the September 25 line.

After the season ended and the controversy swirled over how Lajoie was allowed to get seven bunt singles in the final-day doubleheader, league officials (presumably American League President Ban Johnson) discovered the double entry and directed that those extra numbers be deleted from the players' pages. They were, too. The numbers were crossed out--you can see the little red pen-strokes through that line on Crawford's page--for every Tiger except. . .Ty Cobb! That is the discrepancy that was discovered in the late 1970s and first reported in 1981 by The Sporting News. All the records had been corrected except Ty Cobb, who got credit for an extra game in which he went 2-for-3, enough to push his average to .385 (as calculated then, but wouldn't you know it, they got the arithmetic wrong, too!), enough to earn him that "Honey Boy" Evans trophy.

Today Lajoie is recognized as the 1910 batting champion at .384, just ahead of Cobb's .383. But the ramifications are much greater than the 1910 batting race. If you subtract that 2-for-3 game from Cobb's lifetime totals, it turns out that he had 4,189 hits instead of the 4,191 that was accepted for so long (and of course some earlier sources had him at 4,192). Incidentally, according to the 2010 Hall of Fame yearbook, Cobb had--Elias strikes again!--4,191 hits; the 2011 yearbook finally credits him with 4,189.

The 4,191 figure was one of the most glamorous statistics in baseball for decades, a career record that lasted even longer than Babe Ruth's 714 home runs. So it was that as Pete Rose moved inexorably toward setting a new mark, the baseball world and the public geared up to celebrate the new record. It occurred on September 11, 1985, a single off Eric Show of the Padres that we've all viewed on television many times. That was hit #4,192, and that's when the festivities began. That was history. That was it.

Of course, we know now that Rose actually passed Cobb three days earlier, at Wrigley Field. Facing Cubs starter Reggie Patterson (who allowed all of 77 hits in his major league career), Rose singled in the top of the first inning for hit #4,190. In the fifth, he slapped another single off Patterson for #4,191. As the http://www.retrosheet.org/ "play by play" account of the game notes, "ties Cobb's hit record, which was presumed to be 4,191 at this time". In reality, he had tied Cobb's 4,189 two days earlier, on September 6, a game I remember watching intently on television. The actual tying hit was a sixth-inning hit off. . .reliever Reggie Patterson. Earlier in the game, I vividly remember, he had sneaked a home run just over the right field fence at Wrigley off starter Derek Botelho.

Although we can surmise that Rose, as the manager of the Reds, might well have kept himself out of the lineup until the Reds got home following their weekend at Wrigley so that the home fans could witness the record-breaking hit, the fact is that he tied Cobb's record on Friday at Wrigley and broke it there on Sunday. After going hitless in Cincinnati on Monday, he singled and tripled off Show on Tuesday, September 11, and that's when the big party began. Were the Chicago fans gypped out of the privilege of witnessing the unseating of a record that had stood since 1928?

I wonder if footage exists of those games at Wrigley. My guess is that none does, and that it's one of the reasons why the MLB Network and other media outlets still insist on calling September 11 the day the record was broken. Quite simply, the hit off Show is the piece of footage they have, and it's easier to keep rolling that footage rather than do what the Hall of Fame has now done, namely present the facts as they happened. Not only does Cobb go from 4,191 hits to 4,189, his (all-time record) career batting average goes from .367 (the figure I grew up revering) to .366.

This leaves us with just the philosophical question: doesn't the belief of everyone at the time that Rose broke the record in Cincinnati trump our current understanding of what happened when? That may be true in terms of appreciating why the celebration at the time would be more important than holding a retrospective ceremony today in Wrigley Field would be. That isn't going to happen. But it's important that the Hall of Fame has finally seen the light and acknowledges that what actually happened on the fields trumps a bookkeeping error that wasn't caught soon enough to be corrected without unforseen consequences.

That is the legacy which makes the Hall of Fame's new "One For the Books" exhibit so important from the historian's point of view. The exhibit is full of dozens of such contexts, and though few of them are as dramatic as the Cobb fiasco, each has its fascination for us and illuminates some aspect of the game itself, how events have been recorded, and how a closer look at the details bolsters our love of the game and its rich history.

Tom Shieber, who headed this massive undertaking, deserves a ton of credit, as do the many Hall of Fame staff members who assisted him (I was even consulted on a couple of the items while still working there). I also want to single out Dan Wallis, who designed the exhibit in a visually inviting way, not only facilitating the new technology that aids our baseball education but also providing striking non-baseball perspectives. This is an exhibit which both casual and serious fans are going to enjoy for a long time, and it will look different every day thanks to the constant updating of history as it occurs.