Picturing America’s Pastime
February 17 – June 16, 2024
"The greatest of all, the game which seems to breathe the restless spirit of American life, that calls for quick action and quicker thinking, that seems characteristic of a great nation itself, is baseball."
— Photographer Charles M. Conlon, 1913
Picturing America's Pastime:
A Snapshot of the Photograph Collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Since the 19th century, baseball and photography have grown up together. From the grandeur of the early game to the vibrancy of today’s sport, every facet of our national pastime has been captured in sepia, color, and black-and-white.
The Hall of Fame’s collection of approximately 350,000 unique images is the world’s premiere repository of baseball photographs, spanning well over 150 years of the sport’s history. The 51 photographs in this exhibition cover a period from 1866 to 2012 and reflect some of the most memorable moments not only in baseball but in American history.
Images of Jackie Robinson, Dorothy Kovalchick, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Roberto Clemente, and Orestes "Minnie" Minoso, to name a few, tell stories of thrilling achievement and devastating heartbreak. Accompanied by the words of those who were there, the Hall of Fame presents a selection of timeless photographs, each picturing America’s pastime.
While it may be cliché to say that a picture is worth a thousand words, it is also an understatement. They are really worth much more. Images tell stories that go well beyond words. And the honesty and immediacy of a very special type of image — the photograph — makes for a unique relationship between the picture and the history it records.
Baseball and photography grew up together, each becoming more refined and gaining in popularity during the mid-19th century. As the repository of our national pastime’s long history, it is only fitting that the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum should tour an exhibit highlighting its expansive photographic archives.
When preparations for the exhibit began in 2012, the Hall of Fame’s curatorial team faced the daunting task of choosing around 50 photographs from a collection of over 350,000 images. The team embraced the challenge, worked diligently for a number of months, and culled down the vast possibilities to a selection of a few hundred pictures. Further cuts proved grueling, as each photo seemed to beg for inclusion. The difficult process reinforced just how impressive the Hall’s photo archive is and ultimately resulted in a great exhibit, both on the wall and on “the cutting room floor.”
At the same time that selections were being made, curators also rigorously researched each photograph. Many of the images had never been thoroughly examined, and the work revealed undiscovered and interesting details that made for intriguing stories. Ultimately, our final choices for the exhibit were those photos of exceptional quality that told rich stories and helped show off the breadth and depth of the Hall of Fame’s unparalleled collection.
In 1924, American photographer Alfred Stieglitz wrote to novelist Sherwood Anderson: “Yesterday afternoon as I went for the mail, the drugstore was filled with villagers listening to the Radio. Baseball. ... I was wondering, would a crowd of Americans ever stand before a picture of real value with a fraction of the enthusiasm spent on baseball?” Perhaps they would, if the pictures were of baseball.
Tom Shieber, Senior Curator
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Baseball History Made in Dubuque
Did you know that one of the first-ever baseball tournaments in history was played in Dubuque in 1865? Or that the second-ever professional baseball league, the Northwestern League, was co-founded by a Dubuquer in 1879. Picturing Dubuque Baseball presents over 150 years of professional baseball in Dubuque. More than 100 images, newspaper clippings, and artifacts tell the story of Dubuquers role in our national pastime’s 175-plus-year history.
Explore images of the 1879 Dubuque Reds, the first Northwestern League Champions, a team that included two future baseball Hall of Famers. Learn about the meetings at the Hotel Julien that led up to the creation of the American League. Explore the career of Clarence “Pants” Rowland, World Series-winning manager of the 1917 Chicago White Sox. See Hall of Famer Urban “Red” Faber shaking hands with New York Yankee Babe Ruth on “Red” Faber Day at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Follow the growth of twentieth-century minor league baseball in Dubuque from the 1903 Dubuque Shamrocks of the Three-I League to the 1976 Dubuque Packers of the Midwest League, including “Dubuque’s Ambassador of Baseball” Johnny Petrakis and four-time World Series Champion Bruce Bochy.
In 1981, singer-songwriter Terry Cashman wrote his baseball anthem reminding the baseball world that once upon a time “they knew ‘em all from Boston to Dubuque.” Dubuque’s baseball history is American baseball history and it led early twentieth-century sports writers to refer to Dubuque as an early cradle of baseball - ultimately giving rise to the ghosts of baseball’s past at the Field of Dreams in a sea of corn 25 miles west of Dubuque.