Go Crazy, Folks!

One museum. Five hundred pieces of baseball history. All kinds of sweet!

Dec 15, 2004 at 4:00 am
Lo, the season has arrived. Twinkling lights and garlands of holly festoon every house, and the aroma of roasted chestnuts wafts through the air. Children lie nestled snug in their beds, with visions of the jolly fat man dancing through their heads. Yes, the San Diego Chicken is coming to town.

OK, so the actual San Diego Chicken is wintering in a Bal Harbour condo with Fredbird and Youppi!, downing mojitos and chasing tailfeather, but one of the famous chicken's costumes is on display starting Sunday, December 19, at the Missouri History Museum (Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; 314-746-4599 or www.mohistory.org) -- and the mascot's outfit is just one of several artifacts in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's traveling Baseball as America exhibit.

This touring show explores the impact of baseball on American culture and society, covering such topics as the sport's place in the development of business, racial relations and mythmaking, the physics and technology of the game, and its role in popular culture. Fortunately, the exhibit does not depend on pompous talking heads to investigate such subjects but instead relies on approximately 500 pieces of baseball history -- game souvenirs, films and more -- from the National Baseball Hall of Fame itself.

The exhibit marks the first time that these artifacts have left their Hall of Fame home in Cooperstown, New York, and the show's curators aren't holding back. Among the artifacts on display are the baseball used in the mythical first baseball game that Abner Doubleday organized; the bats with which Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run, Roger Maris hit his 61st and our beloved Mark McGwire hit his 70th; and, for those who want their baseball myths debunked, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson's shoes. We're especially looking forward to seeing "Wonderboy," the miraculous bat from the classic Robert Redford film The Natural (sadly, Homer Simpson's "Wonderboy" bat wasn't available), and the "pine tar" bat of George Brett -- whose eye-bulging, tobacco-frothing tantrum after the home run he hit with this bat was ruled an out makes Ron Artest's recent antics look like a Ghandian act of passive resistance.

St. Louisans longing to relive the glorious days past -- like, say, mid-October, when the Red Sox were still cursed, and we thought maybe, just maybe, this would be our year -- will be thrilled: The exhibit features a special section devoted to local baseball. You will find seats from Sportsmans Park, the bat that Stan "The Man" Musial used to hit a record five home runs in a double-header -- even a can of Brocca Pop, the cherry soda named in honor of Lou Brock. Those longing to relive St. Louis' not-so-glorious baseball days will be equally thrilled: The St. Louis Browns are well represented, right down to the jersey that the three-foot-seven Eddie Gaedel wore during his one and only plate appearance in the major leagues -- possibly the greatest promotional stunt in baseball history. (He walked.)

Baseball as America runs through April 24, 2005. The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and until 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, and free for children ages six and younger; admission on Tuesday is free for everyone.