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Book, exhibit celebrate baseball's glory days
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NEW YORK —  Joe DiMaggio’s 1948 Yankee jersey with a black sleeve strip commemorating the death that year of Babe Ruth. A telescope used by the Giants to steal catchers’ signs from center field at the Polo Grounds, presumably helping them get to the 1951 World Series. The cap Johnny Podres wore when he pitched the Dodgers to their Series victory in 1955.
These are among artifacts included in a new exhibit opening later this month, titled “The Glory Days,” that glorifies the 11-year period of 1947-57, when New York City’s three teams dominated major league baseball as never before. Its streak only ended when two of them decamped for California, changing the game forever.
It was an era in which at least one of Gotham’s teams reached the World Series every year but one (1948), when Dodger Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line, Giant Bobby Thomson hit the home run called “the shot heard round the world” and Brooklyn finally beat the Yankees for a World Championship.
But that wasn’t all it was, according to John Thorn, a sports historian and baseball authority who edited a new book, also titled “The Glory Days,” and serves as expert consultant to the exhibit that opens June 27 and will run through Dec. 31 at the Museum of the City of New York.
“It not only was the golden age of New York baseball, it was the greatest period in New York City history,” Thorn said in an interview. “There was postwar prosperity, and the war’s devastation in European cities meant that New York became the number one city in the world, a golden door portal for a new group of immigrants.”
Although New York suffered when the expansion of the big leagues sent the Giants to San Francisco and the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958, “that was good for the rest of the country. It became formally the `National Pastime,’ and confirmed what those cities already knew — that they were big league cities,” Thorn said.
The book “The Glory Days,” published by the Collins division of HarperColllins, features essays by 10 writers, each dealing with a particular aspect of baseball: Jules Tygiel on its long-overdue racial integration; Jane Leavy on “Forever Mick,” an examination of the relative merits of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider; New York Times sportswriter George Vecsey on media coverage; and other topics, including “Ballparks,” “Fans,” “Great Games and Moments” and “Great Players and Managers.”
As a companion piece to the book, the museum exhibit deals with similar themes, but is not an attempt to emulate the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at Cooperstown, N.Y., Thorn said.
Along with photographs, film footage, World Series rings, trophies and equipment, the show contains a wide range of baseball collectibles and “ephemera,” such as “working press” passes for Yankee Stadium for the 1947 and 1953 World Series; a Jackie Robinson Wheaties ad and a ball signed by the 1953 Dodgers.
While there can be a “religious shrine aspect” to such items as uniforms, Bobby Thomson’s bat (not THE bat, which is at Cooperstown) and Willie Mays’ glove, once described as “where triples go to die,” Thorn said he prefers “things that should have been thrown away but somehow survived.”
In the exhibit, such touches of nostalgia include a Dixie cup with ice cream smears still on it; a 10-cent souvenir Dodgers ribbon from Ebbets Field; a baseball card marked with parallel ripples showing it once was placed in the spokes of a bicycle.
“We’re not trying to produce a Sotheby’s or Christie’s presentation of the finest memorabilia in mint condition. We are trying to re-create an era through some of the artifacts that survived because of love,” Thorn said.
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