One of the subtle joys of visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is stumbling upon an especially meaningful artifact that you didn’t realize was on display.
When touring the Your Team Today exhibit on the museum’s third floor, for instance, you might walk past the San Francisco Giants case and glance casually at the collection of black and orange jerseys, helmets, and bats.
Suddenly, your eye gets drawn to the cap hanging on the side—it’s the only San Francisco item in the display featuring every color of the rainbow—as you realize, “Holy cow, this is the Pride cap the Giants wore on the field in 2021!”
At that moment, you realize that in a museum loaded with an endless parade of greatness—from Babe Ruth’s “called shot” bat to Henry Aaron’s 715th home run uniform to Anthony Rizzo’s World Series jersey—there is also a piece of history representing every LGBTQ baseball fan in our community.
That’s what the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, is all about: one otherwise inconspicuous baseball cap becoming an emotional touchstone. It’s because the museum understands that the historical context of its artifacts gives them a sense of resonance that hits profoundly and elevates them beyond being an everyday piece of equipment.
Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch knows that the feelings conjured up by the Giants Pride cap are what makes the display meaningful. As he explained, that significance was readily apparent when the museum made the decision to accession it.
“As an institution, our job is to try to document the history of everything that happens in baseball,” he explained, “And certainly from a standpoint of the way Pride events and Pride Nights have grown throughout the game and the fact that the Giants took that step, I think it was pretty powerful for that to be added to our collection.”
In cases like Giants Pride where the Hall knows ahead of time that an historically significant event will be taking place, its executives form a committee to determine ahead of time what artifacts from that game will best tell its story. Rawitch was especially pleased that they chose to acquire the cap worn that day by Giants manager Gabe Kapler.
“Knowing Gabe Kapler and the kind of person he is, it was also very fitting that he chose to do that and says a lot about who he is as a person,” he lauded.
The cap is also emblematic of how the Hall’s efforts to tell the story of the LGBTQ community in baseball and incorporate LGBTQ-related programming into its offerings have grown substantially over the past decade.
In addition to the Pride cap, the Museum has also acquired artifacts from other significant milestones like a scorecard and lineup card from 2015 when minor league pitcher Sean Conroy became the first active out gay pro baseball player to take the field.
Furthermore, over the past year, the Hall has hosted LGBTQ-centered book talks with Dale Scott sharing his autobiography and Andrew Maraniss telling the story of Glenn Burke. Both sessions were streamed on the HOF’s YouTube channel and Rawitch noted that the Museum received significant positive feedback during each one.
While LGBTQ-related artifacts and programs are now a regular part of what the Hall offers, there are currently no plans to create a display specifically dedicated to our community’s efforts in the game.
Rawitch explained, “I wouldn’t say that we have considered it but I would say that it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. There are a lot of things on our list of exhibits that we would love to get to and at the moment, we don’t have any plans to do a specific LGBT exhibit but it certainly hasn’t been decided that we wouldn’t.”
It usually takes the Hall of Fame around three to five years to make a new exhibit a reality and every year, HOF executives review a list of ideas for new displays to determine what could come next.
But when the day comes that an active major league player comes out, the Hall of Fame will be ready to properly commemorate that breakthrough moment. “Certainly we would want to find a way to document the history here at the Hall—whether it’s through artifacts or documents or interviews and oral histories and those sorts of things with that player,” Rawitch declared.
The Museum and Cooperstown itself have to walk a fine line in order to continue to thrive. Both are cultural destinations rooted in history and commemorating the past, yet they also have to adapt to the 21st century in order to remain relevant and continue attracting crowds in the present day.
Thankfully, it’s something that the Hall and its surrounding village have managed to pull off. As Rawitch observed, this year, the Hall of Fame added its first gender-neutral restroom to provide “another step in the evolution of the museum.”
As for the surrounding village of 1,800 people in the heart of central New York, he remembered how uplifting a place it was when he moved there two years ago.
When Rawitch toured the local school with his kids, he found rainbow flags and logos everywhere in the building and was similarly encouraged to see Pride banners outside of the village’s churches and storefronts. During his two years in the village, he befriended several members of Cooperstown’s LGBTQ community and was heartened to learn they embraced it as their home just like he did.
“It makes me very happy to know that I live in a place that’s very welcoming. I don’t know that I could live in a place that wasn’t… Knowing that the community supports people of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, LGBT community, you name it, I’m certainly proud to live here and proud that this place is the way it is,” he emphasized.
Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame work hard at creating an idyllic image. When visiting LGBTQ fans happen upon rainbow flags or Main Street or the Giants Pride cap, it’s gratifying to know that our community is an important part of that ideal setting.