Thanks to a recent donation by Mrs. T. Lorraine Graber, wife of the late Ralph S. Graber (’46, ’48G), Ralph’s collection of juvenile fiction books about baseball was added to Lehigh’s Special Collections. When Humanities Librarian Heather Simoneau first saw the three boxes of baseball books, she immediately recognized their exhibition and research potential. Building on the Graber collection, other rare books related to baseball were identified within Special Collections. The circulating collection was also scoured for items that could be used to contextualize the history of baseball.
The resulting exhibition, titled “Batting Around America’s National Pastime: The Cultural Impact of Baseball”, examines how baseball, the first uniquely American sport, assumed a significant place in America’s national identity. The origins of the game are murky, with roots in British sports like cricket and rounders. During the 1850s to 1870s, baseball became professionalized with paid players, formal rules, and more stable ball clubs organized into leagues. Around this time baseball also became a part of intercollegiate sports, with Lehigh’s team beginning play in 1885. An entire case is dedicated to baseball at Lehigh, and reproductions of team photographs from each decade are on display outside Lucy’s Cafe. To help identify Lehigh baseball material to put on display, the libraries collaborated with volunteer Athletics Archivist Robert Kaufman (‘68), who maintains a collection of historical Lehigh sports material in Taylor Gymnasium. Kaufman highlighted how the sport of baseball is taken for granted today, without an understanding of its old and humble beginnings. Asked what he wanted the exhibit to teach, Kaufman noted that baseball is “not high tech; in its simplest form it’s euclidean geometry, and all of the folk tales that go with it.”
The exhibit is divided into nine cases that each highlight a theme of art and culture, including the previously mentioned juvenile books, rare books, and Lehigh material. Baseball has long been a favorite subject of writers, who used it to explore everything from the human condition to what it means to be an American. In addition to literature, the exhibit also features thirteen popular baseball films, which address themes of friendship, teamwork, honor, and fair play. The development of new metrics and analytics has enabled a more complex numerical understanding of the game, as shown in the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) case (material donated primarily by Eric A. Simonsen, ‘76/’71). Baseball also shares in America’s shameful history of racism and misogyny. Excluded by Major League Baseball’s unwritten policy of racial segregation, players of color found an outlet for their considerable talents in the Negro Leagues until desegregation in 1947. Women were also relegated into their own league, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, enabled by the vacancy left by men fighting in World War II.
To learn more about baseball’s influence on American culture, Lehigh Libraries invites you to view the exhibition cases located on the ground, first, and third floors of Linderman Library. The exhibition will be on display until December 18, 2018. If you can't make it in person, visit the exhibit online!