'Baseball as America' stops in Houston

'Baseball as America' stops in Houston

HOUSTON -- In some ways, it was like baseball was standing still.

It was the preview for the "Baseball as America" traveling exhibit from the National Baseball Hall of Fame which is making its eighth stop on a 10-city tour that began in New York in 2002. This one sits down at the posh Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for a three-month stay beginning May 22 and baseball lovers will be captured by it.

Especially on this day when the Hall of Fame brought forth five of its distinguished inductees to help kick off the show. In one corner, there was the old Yankee, Yogi Berra, looking fit at 80 years old and holding court with the media trying to explain his "Yogi-isms."

In another corner stood former Baltimore manager Earl Weaver talking about the good old days. And in yet another, Dave Winfield, the ex-Yankee, ex-Padre, ex-Blue Jay looking as imposing and as big as life as he ever had, stood laughing about his favorite Yogi Berra saying.

And then there was Gaylord Perry, the old spitball pitcher who never admitted he threw the spitter. Adorned with pure white hair and moustache, Perry was still offering the same evasive one-liners he gave when hitters were enraged at him for adding substances to the ball.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Perry said in mock dismay. "I just had to make the hitters believe I was putting something extra on it."

So it was all an illusion?

"I don't remember doing it," Perry said looking straight in the interviewer's eye.

Laughter ensued, and it brought back years of rich memories that baseball has provided, of course everywhere, but especially now for this exhibit in Texas. Perry was a Texas Ranger for a while, but was recalling when he pitched for the Giants in his earlier days and came to old Colt 45s Stadium in Houston. "Texas has a good baseball history," Perry said. "This was always a great spot for baseball, whether it was Colt 45 Stadium or the Astrodome or the new park here, which we all attended last night."

Ironically, Houston's biggest baseball icon, Nolan Ryan, had attended the first two days of festivities leading up to this media unveiling but was unexpectedly called away on business on this day and couldn't join his Hall of Fame teammates at the exhibit. But he was fondly recalled by several of the others, including Berra, who coached with the Astros when Ryan played here, and Winfield, who batted many times against Ryan.

"He was an amazing player," Winfield said. "How do you play 'til you're 47 and still have all those strikeouts? Texas has a tremendous history in baseball and a lot of it is right here."

The exhibit includes 500 baseball treasures, barely two percent of the collection at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., but a fascinating representation nonetheless. It includes such artifacts as one of Babe Ruth's bats, one of Shoeless Joe Jackson's shoes and a baseball found in the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9-11.

Other features include Jackie Robinson's jersey, home run record bats from Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Maris and captivating displays of uniforms and equipment from teams of all eras. Ex-Cub Ryne Sandberg, who will be inducted into the Hall later this summer, stood in front of one display he found especially intriguing, a fingerless leather glove from 1896 and several other gloves, including one of his from 1990.

"Some of this stuff is mind-boggling," Sandberg said. "How a guy caught a ball with that fingerless glove, I don't know. And to have my glove next to it is special for me."

There's also a separate display running in conjunction with the "Baseball As America" exhibit called the "Latino Baseball Story: Photographs by Luis Villegas," documenting the role of Latin Americans in the game as well as a concurrent exhibit by the Museum of Fine Arts of baseball photography which will start in June.

The show finishes up with an extra room provided by the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston baseball memorabilia, including early day Colt 45s and Astros pieces along with artifacts from championship college and Little League teams from the area.

The "Baseball As America" show runs from May 22 through Aug. 14.

Jim Carley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.