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The Digital Scrapbooks of Baseball

Baseballs, uniforms, gloves and bats—these are the types of artifacts that come to mind when thinking of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But there’s another fascinating type of artifact that many people might not consider and haven’t been able to see: scrapbooks.

Today, when thousands of photographs and documents can be stored on our phone or on a thumbdrive in our pocket, it’s easy to forget the importance scrapbooks once had in preserving history. Photographs were difficult and expensive to obtain, and newspapers were bulky to store. If someone wanted to collect documents, newspaper articles, photos and other ephemera, the one of the best ways to compile them was in a scrapbook.

However, the scrapbooks have been difficult to show to the public: they don’t sit well in display cases, where only one page can be seen at a time. They were meant for browsing, but the pages are delicate, often comprised of brittle, yellowed clippings pasted on (or simply tucked into) the pages, so they have been available to see only by special appointment. That’s one reason why scrapbooks are among the first items digitized as part of the Hall’s Digital Archive Project.

Some of the scrapbooks at the Hall were compiled by the players themselves, such as the scrapbook covering the career of Negro League player Art Pennington, soon to be released in digital form at the Hall of Fame website. The Charlie Gehringer Scrapbook was assembled by his wife. The recently released Jackie Robinson Scrapbook was assembled by a young fan in Chicago. The voluminous Babe Ruth Scrapbooks, now being made available to the public for the first time, were compiled by Christy Walsh, Ruth’s publicity manager and proto-agent.  The first volume of those scrapbooks can be explored at HistoryIT’s Babe Ruth Digital Scrapbook.

The Ruth Scrapbooks are an example of one extreme of the wide variety of sizes of the scrapbooks. Originally ten volumes with black linen covers (but now broken up into 25 volumes after digitization), the Ruth scrapbooks are enormous: each book is 25.5” high, and 23” wide, so when it’s laid out flat on a table, it is nearly four feet wide and and over two feet tall: over eight square feet of surface area!

Other scrapbooks are more modest in size, but might include rare treasures, such as that of Jake Daubert. His scrapbook, compiled by a friend, includes game programs, an envelope of personal photographs, and a stack of correspondence, including a letter he wrote by hand on hotel stationary, just a month before he died from complications after surgery.

The collection holds scrapbooks on some of the greatest Hall of Fame players ever, like Lou Gehrig, to relatively obscure players from the earliest days of organized baseball, like Jack Chapman, who played in the 1860s. Not all scrapbooks are about players: sportswriters have donated scrapbooks, and there are scrapbooks on executives and owners, including Effa Manley, the first woman inducted into the Hall of Fame.There are scrapbooks devoted to covering regional semi-professional leagues, and scrapbooks comprised around single seasons, both for players (Hank Aaron, 1973) and teams (Chicago Cubs, 1930).

The digitized scrapbooks are an ideal way for fans to explore this material at their leisure, and often with historical notes that provide insight and context. The first digitized scrapbooks are now online, and more will be added as the project advances, giving baseball fans around the world the opportunity to explore this previously inaccessible treasure trove of material.

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