Seen the Hope Diamond? Check Out These Treasures from the Baseball Diamond

Smithsonian acquires priceless emblems of America’s national pastime

Hat and jersey worn by Ted Williams during his Red Sox reign. The autographed portraits, from left to right, are of Williams, Babe Ruth, and Hank Aaron. Foregrounded is a baseball signed by the members of the "Murderers' Row" 1927 Yankees. Donny Bajohr

At a donation ceremony convened yesterday at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, museum board member and longtime baseball buff Thomas Tull officially ceded fourteen invaluable relics from his personal collection to the Smithsonian.

Of particular note was a glass-encased baseball signed by the 1927 Yankees, who notoriously went 110 and 44 that year before sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. The fierce lineup, dubbed “Murderers' Row” by period commentators, included both Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Scrawled in loopy cursive and still legible, is Babe Ruth's signature, which appears perfectly sandwiched between the two seams of the ball.

In addition to this singular specimen, the collection contains a signed MacGregor glove from Hank Aaron’s time with the Milwaukee Braves, a vintage Giants cap worn by Willie Mays and bearing the inscription “Say Hey,” and the zipper-equipped retro jersey of high-flying Cardinal Stan Musial. These three greats—Aaron, Mays, and Musial—each appeared in 24 consecutive All-Star Games, a feat matched by no other player in major league history.

Yogi Berra's Louisville Slugger, up close and personal. Donny Bajohr
Willie Mays's cap, bearing the words "Say Hey," the source of his well-known nickname. Donny Bajohr
Cleats worn by Willie Mays during his famous centerfield career with the Giants. Donny Bajohr
Jersey of legendary left-fielder Ted Williams. In addition to entertaining his country as a baseball player, Williams also served it in the military, participating in both World War II and the Korean War. Donny Bajohr
Ted Williams's cap. B is for Boston. Donny Bajohr
Mitt and bat of New York baseball hero Yogi Berra. Donny Bajohr
A depiction of Hank Aaron alongside a MacGregor glove from his days as a Milwaukee Brave. Donny Bajohr
A smiling image of Stan Musial stares out over Hank Aaron's bat. Donny Bajohr
Jersey of the "Wizard of Oz" himself, Cardinals star Ozzie Smith. Donny Bajohr
Jersey of Cardinals star Stan Musial, who held or shared seventeen distinct major league records at the time of his retirement. Photo by Donny Bajohr; courtesy of NMAH
This baseball bears the signatures of the 1927 Yankees, a squad feared by pitchers everywhere. Donny Bajohr

Boston slugger Ted “Teddy Ballgame” Williams, Orioles third baseman par excellence Brooks Robinson, quotable crack Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, and 13-time Golden Glove-winning Cardinal shortstop Ozzie Smith are also represented in the assortment of paraphernalia, which will eventually go on view when the museum completes its ongoing third floor renovations.

Museum director John Gray stressed the Institution’s commitment to transmitting the “ideas and ideals” of America to the public, and intimated that the near-universal appeal of sports narratives in this nation has the potential to unite disparate people in appreciation of the country’s history.

“At this polarized moment,” Gray said, “we’re working to bring America together.”

Thomas Tull, who amassed these items through years of sustained engagement with Lelands auction house and private collectors, shares Gray’s view of the higher significance of baseball. Having grown up an hour outside of Cooperstown, Tull has long been a fan, but his appreciation for the game extends beyond a single team or era.

Babe Ruth's signature looks up at the viewer from the surface of a commemorative baseball. Dating to 1927, the ball bears the names of the ferocious Yankee team that swept the World Series that year. Donny Bajohr
From left to right: donor Thomas Tull, deputy museum chair Eric Jentsch, and museum director John Gray. Donny Bajohr

“When we look at some of the biggest moments in American history over the last hundred years,” Tull says, “baseball has been part of our cultural fabric for a very long time.”

In particular, he points to the 1947 major league debut of Negro Leaguer Jackie Robinson, a landmark moment for civil rights in the U.S., as well as the World Series following 9/11, during which “the country came together watching Cal Ripken chase Lou Gehrig’s record.”

In the inspiring, unpredictable history of baseball, Tull sees reflected the inspiring, unpredictable history of this nation.

“The continuity of the sport and the stories that are passed on—that’s why I love the game.”

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