New look set for Hall of Fame

New look set for Hall of Fame

Visitors to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2005 will experience a completely different look this spring and summer. After a period of relatively little change to its exhibits and displays, many of which were created in 1978, the Cooperstown, N.Y. museum is unveiling a new and expanded layout. It's the final result of a $20 million renovation that has been in the planning for seven years and has featured major construction at the museum over the last three years.

The Hall of Fame won't officially celebrate its newly renovated look until July 29, as part of this summer's Induction Weekend, but it offered members of the media a special tour of the major changes that have already taken place. The tour included four stops, two of which were manned by members of the Hall -- Bobby Doerr and Robin Roberts.

The renovation, which was originally planned by the Hall's administration in 1998, featured four major objectives.

"No. 1, we wanted to make the building more accessible to the handicapped," said Ted Spencer, the Hall's chief curator and one of the main overseers of the project. "We pretty much did the best we could in the past, but we really needed to get [handicapped accessibility] up to standard.

"Another thing was to create a more logical flow through the museum. People who have been here before know that getting through the building, if you weren't familiar with it, was kind of difficult. We really needed to make it a much more efficient space.

The physical condition of artifacts was also something that was addressed. "Generally, the front doors of the museum were left open during the summer, which affected the temperature and humidity inside," Spencer said. "Not having somewhat of an airlock, which we have now, was clearly causing problems with the fluctuating of heat and humidity, and it was penetrating up into the exhibit space."

In addition, the renovation has allowed the Hall of Fame to incorporate more of an interactive element into its exhibit space. Interactive features include video trivia, touch-screen computers, a model of a 19th century stereoscope and various sets of museum flipbooks, which allow visitors to read more in-depth information about particular exhibits and eras in baseball history.

The renovation, which has involved extensive construction at the museum over the last three years, has also created the unintended benefit of 10,000 additional square feet of exhibit space. By the time the renovation is completed this summer, 14 new exhibit and program spaces will have been added to the museum's floorplan.

Several of the new exhibits are already in place. It includes a display celebrating the Boston Red Sox's 2004 World Series championship. During the media tour, Doerr, a former Red Sox second baseman, was stationed in front of the championship exhibit.

Doerr said he enjoyed his afternoon seat in the museum.

"It's quite a thrill," said Doerr, who received a private tour of the Hall of Fame and Museum on Thursday. "It's tremendous. They've made so many improvements. I don't know how many days it would take to see everything. It's just a tremendous thing what they've done here."

Another new exhibit was opened just two and a half weeks ago. Known as "Baseball Today" and featuring lockers that represent each of the 30 Major League teams, the exhibit celebrates present-day baseball, making it especially appealing to children.

"All of these lockers are filled with team-specific artifacts we've collected over the last 10 years," says Jeff Idelson, the Hall's vice president of communications. "The exhibit allows a youngster who doesn't know what a Hall of Famer is, per se, or much about baseball history, to come in and realize that his favorite player is now a part of the history of the game."

The team lockers surround several exhibit cases that are reserved for new artifacts from the 2005 season, including memorabilia celebrating the first game in the history of the Washington Nationals. There is also an area where children can sneak a peak at a facsimile of a manager's office, along with a screen featuring video highlight programs that are updated every two weeks.

Beginning now and continuing right through to the induction of Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg in late July, visitors will be able to see most of the benefits of the renovation plan. A new exhibit, providing a retrospective on the history of ballparks, will open on Father's Day weekend. As part of a longt-term objective, the Hall of Fame plans to open up at least one new exhibit per year over the next seven to nine years.

The Hall of Fame is planning a grand rededication ceremony at the museum on Friday, July 29, two days before this year's induction of Boggs and Sandberg. The ribbon-cutting ceremony, expected to include a number of the living Hall of Fame members, will take place at 1 p.m. on the front steps of the newly renovated museum.

Hall notes: Doerr and Robin Roberts, who was stationed in the Hall's plaque gallery during the Saturday tour, are in Cooperstown this weekend for a number of museum-related programs. On Monday morning at 10:30, Doerr and Roberts will discuss their careers at a Legends Roundtable event in Cooper Park, located in front of the Hall of Fame Library. The two Hall of Famers will then participate in a parade through the village before throwing out the ceremonial first pitches prior to the 2 p.m. Hall of Fame Game between the Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. ...

Doerr made a point of praising the Red Sox organization for including him and other retired players in the celebration of the 2004 championship team. "They've made us old guys a part of this," says the 87-year-old Doerr. "In fact, the other night at a banquet in Boston, they gave me one of these World Series rings -- Dominic DiMaggio and me. It's pretty thoughtful that they are thinking of the older players like they are."

Bruce Markusen is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.