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Gaslamp Ball Interview: Jeff Idelson of the Baseball Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame weekend is this weekend, and our very own Jerry Coleman is going to be honored with the Ford C. Frick Award. Congratulations Jerry! Here's something I've had in the vault. Hope you enjoy it...

Jeff Idelson is the VP of Communications and Education for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He's been with the Hall of Fame since 1994 when he was hired to run the PR and promotions department. During our trip to New York, he was kind enough to sit down with me to talk a little about the Hall. This interview was conducted June 13th, in person and via e-mail.

Dex: What exactly do you do here?

Jeff Idelson: I basically oversee our P.R. our publications. Our consumer marketing. Our education program both onsite and off site. Outreach initiatives. Artifact acquisition. Kinda like that bulk of stuff.

Dex: That's a huge bulk of stuff. Artifact acquisition alone sounds like a big part of it.

JI: I basically handle the major league clubs. Then we have whole other areas of the museum that work with fans. Things like that. We probably pick up 50 items over the course of the season. Maybe 40-50. Trevor Hoffman just had his 400th save. So we have his uniform. A ball from the game. His spikes. Whenever a milestone is reached. That's when my department springs into action.

Dex: Is there a cutoff? Do you turn things away if you only take on 50 items a year?

JI: As a museum, we take in about 400 things a year. Specifically from major leaguers, it ends up being between 40 and 50. There are plenty of things we don't take. Once we acquire an artifact, our responsibility as a public trust is to make sure it's kept in good condition for perpetuity. There's a cost in doing that. So we're pretty careful with what we take.

Dex: How do you maintain the things you get?

JI: Artifacts from the current season all go on display for a year. At any one time 25-30% of our collection is on display. By keeping them in good shape forever, we have a temperature and humidity controlled environment here that's favorable for textiles and leathers especially. Like gloves and uniforms. Hats. And we don't handle things unless we're wearing gloves. We're very careful with how we handle things.

Dex: Do you ever handle things yourself?

JI: Yes

Dex: What did you go to school for? I'm guessing library sciences.

JI: We actually have a librarian who oversees a library staff of about. So I don't get involved in the library. The closest I came to a library was studying near one in college. My degree actually has nothing to do with what I'm doing. I have a major in international economic theory. So I'm not doing much with it. Except explaining why the Expos had to leave Canada.

He later told me it was no longer economically feasible for them to stay in Montreal. So he is putting the degree to work!

Dex: Dispel the "broadcasters wing" myth. What comes with the Ford C. Frick award?

JI: There are no wings in this museum, but there is a broadcaster's section. There's a writer's section and a library exhibit. If you go back into that area you'll see all the Ford Frick winners from years past. Jerry's stuff will be added in July.

Dex: What kinds of things do you display for the broadcasters?

JI: We have an exhibit that shows like, Lindsey Nelson's coat. He wore a very flamboyant coat. We've got a microphone from Red Barber. We have a couple of typewriters from various writers.

Dex: You know. When Jerry does his "Hang a Star" call, he actually has a star on a fishing pole that he swings out the window. Have you looked into getting one of those for the museum?

JI: Hmmm! Maybe we will!

(He was seriously excited at this point -Dex)

JI: We haven't approached that. We don't get something from every broadcaster. Only the ones that have some sort of an indelible impact on the game. Winning the broadcaster award unto itself is pretty amazing and not every broadcaster has something affiliated with them. Jerry's hanging a star is certainly well known.

Dex: What are you going to do when you finally fill up the Hall?

JI: Well... You know... What happens when you fill up your briefcase?

Dex: You buy a bigger briefcase? (Note: I've never owned a briefcase. -Dex)

JI: Or you just be careful what you collect.

Dex: Oh. Well that too.

JI: We're in good shape. We just finished a three year, 20 million dollar renovation. We picked up 10 thousand more feet of exhibit space to go from 40 to 50 thousand square feet of exhibit space. Our collections are housed properly. Right now there's not really a need to expand beyond where we are. We have ample space to tell baseball stories.

Dex: What's your normal day like?

JI: Every day is different. When you oversee a lot of different areas, every day is different. From answering all of our external e-mail, which we rotate throughout the department, to artifact acquisitions to arranging programs - We're working on a '55 Dodgers reunion for October. To a lot of administrative work like writing press releases. Varies from day to day.

Dex: Do you ever talk to Hall of Famers?

JI: Oh sure. Talking to our hall of famers almost every day is part of it. Maintaining those relationships. Club relationships. We spend a lot of time talking to teams.

Dex: What artifact are you most proud of?

JI: I'm proud of all of them. We have a great collection. They all help to tell the story of baseball. Without them, we would have no story to tell. I like the Ruth 1932 "Called Shot" bat, Harry Carey's glasses, the Doubleday ball, the Ichiro items, and all of the items Tony Gwynn sent and donated, one of the greatest pure hitters to ever play the game.

Dex: Finally, what's the holy grail of baseball artifacts? Something the museum doesn't have that you want to get.

JI: There are many, but the records have not been broken yet. Nothing out there that has precluded us from telling the story of our great game.

Thanks to Jeff Idelson for his time and patience and restaurant recommendation.