Monday, October 18, 2010

Answering questions at the Baseball Hall of Fame

When I started my internship at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame this past summer, I thought it would be fun to keep track of the questions I was asked over the course of the ten weeks. After a couple of days I gave up as the volume of queries was much too great. I've been going through piles of research of my own from this summer and came across my question list from those early days and thought I would share. These are questions I answered personally. There was another intern, the manager of the library and two researchers who also answered questions. This should give you a sense of the volume and types of questions the Hall gets.

"How many no-hitters in the major leagues have been broken up with two out in the ninth inning?"

This was my very first question. It came from the curatorial staff who I believe had received it from major league baseball. This question came on the heels of Armando Galarraga's near perfect game. Unfortunately, I recorded the questions but not the answers to these. I know I found an article from a 1970's issue of Baseball Digest that had all the ones up to that point. I believe I found someone who had kept a list online. Of course, those had to be cross-referenced and the list was incomplete. When all was said and done, there were a good number but no real way to confirm them all. Challenging way to start.

"When was Jackie Robinson's signing by the Brooklyn Dodgers announced?"
"When did Branch Rickey resign from the Pittsburgh Pirates?"

The first weekend there was the same weekend as the Cooperstown Symposium. Some of the presenters were on hand early to put the finishing touches on their presentations and these questions were from one of the folks presenting on Robinson.

"Please provide a list of all the scouts employed by major league teams from 1926-2005".

While some of the research was fun, some of it was grunt work, too. This question was an example of the latter. This was easy to answer since it is in the Baseball Blue Book, an annual publication distributed to major league teams. But having to photocopy all the lists to send to the guy with the question was a pain. It also makes you wonder, too....What on earth would one do with this info?

"How many Hall of Famers were playing in the major leagues at age 19?"

More than you would guess. If I were at home answering this, I would have used Sean Lehman's Baseball Archive. By the end of the summer, I had convinced the staff to be using it, too. It's a great tool if you have Microsoft Access skills. I forget how I answered it at the Hall, but it took longer than if I had my laptop.

"Have there been any games where both teams scored in all innings?"

No. Baseball Almanac had the answer and I think it is an overlooked site when doing research. I found an error or two over the summer but it is about as accurate a resource as you can find online.

"What was the name of Ossie Bluege's parents and wife?"

This was one of my "I'm writing a book on X" questions which are sort of funny. Some researchers have the idea that writing a book puts them in rarefied territory at the Hall. Many, many writers each day use the Hall (I'm using Hall as shorthand for the Research Center) for their research. The number of people who came in during my time there whom I could say, "Oh, I have (at least) one of your books" was large. Those guys didn't expect special treatment. So don't act like you're all special. OK?

Getting back to this question, I have worked hard to develop my own personal research library over the years. I have almost 1500 books on baseball, the majority geared towards research. When I showed up at the Hall, I thought it would be a piece of cake because of my years of using my library for myself and for SABR. Yes, when it came to books, I was very, very good. But one area where the Hall has it over me is their player clipping files. Every one who has played major league ball (in addition to execs, umpires, Negro Leaguers, women who played, top researchers, broadcasters, etc.) has a folder there containing all sorts of info. There are also player questionnaires on microfilm which is where I was able to find the names of Bluege's parents and spouse.

"What are the differences in William Harridge baseballs?"

I hated memorabilia questions. National League balls produced while William Harridge was the president of the league had different looks depending on when the ball was produced. I remember the guy asking this thinking that there was some sort of variation in the number of stars on each ball. Hated this and other questions of that ilk.

"I'm looking for a pair of articles that were in issues of Sport magazine in 1947 and 1954. Can you tell me where I might find them?"

Sure. No problem. As a matter of fact, let me scan them and e-mail them to you. Ah, technology and a library with periodicals. Another area where my library is lacking.

"I'm looking for information on an exhibition game between the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League and the New York Yankees. My father got to sit in the dugout during the game and I wanted to try and find the game."

A nice online tool is Proquest. I used that for this one and many other questions over the summer.

"Is the black edge of home plate part of the strike zone?"

I also hated rules questions. Especially ones like this. Have you watched a ball game at any level? No matter what the rule states, interpretation varies from umpire to umpire. The correct answer is no, though. The black is there to help delineate the plate for the ump.

"I'm looking for information on Charles Meara and George Levy".
"Did Mike Zavada play professional baseball?"

These types of questions came up a lot. My father, grandfather, uncle, neighbor, little league coach, this guy I met at a bar who I slept with (yes, you get those) played ball/claimed to play ball/had something to do with baseball and I want to know more. Player files, player contract cards on microfilm, Pretty standard fare throughout the summer. Levy was a little more difficult because he wasn't a player. And delicacy in the event said person did not play is just as important as finding the information.

"My father was Gordon Hutchinson. He had something to do with signing Whitey Ford for the Butler Pirates when they were a farm team for the Yankees. Was he responsible for the Yankees getting Whitey Ford?"

The last question on my list and one where my book knowledge paid off. Russell Hockenberry's A Sketch History of the Middle Atlantic League had information on league officials. I don't have the book but it is on my want list so I knew of it. I don't recall now what Hutchinson's role was but there was some info on him plus a photo which the woman asking the question thought was cool. The answer was no, though.

So that's it. I think that those were all the questions I answered the first two days on the job. About one an hour and that was when I was an ignorant grunt intern who couldn't find anything (unless it was in a book). And that was just the research side of the position. Needless to say, it kept you hopping. I still don't know how they manage when there are no interns. Granted, things are slower in the offseason, but still.

Oh, there were two other valuable resources I failed to mention which are not part of my own collection which should be. The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball is an amazing book that any serious baseball scholar should have. The other resource is media guides. I was amazed at the number of answers teams have already provided for you. Want to know who has hit home runs to the left of the flagpole in center at Fenway Park? Someone did and I was baffled as to how to find that. "Did you check the Red Sox media guide?" No. Why would it be there? Oh, look at that. They have a section called "Home runs hit to the left of the flagpole in center". Craziness.

Almost makes me miss it.


night owl said...

Very interesting.

This reminds me of what the librarian at our newspaper goes through, although on a much smaller scale. But a lot of the questions are familiar.

I love research, even the tedious kind.

Mark said...

I was hoping that you'd write this sort of blog post. Thanks for opening the door and letting us see a bit of your summer.