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Immortal Mortals
2005-01-17 00:40
by Mike Carminati

Immortal mortals, mortal immortals, one living the others’ death and dying the others’ life.


I don't want to be immortal through my work. I want to be immortal through not dying.

—Woody Allen

When I was in Florida a week or so ago I visited a local sports museum, the Sports Immortals Museum, and even though it housed an interesting collection of artifacts I was left thinking more about the museum itself than anything in the collection.

The quote that sprang to mind was Dickens' description of Scrooge's home in A Christmas Carol, that it was "where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and have forgotten the way out again." It had the some disorienting effect.

Visitors are greeted by a bronze Babe Ruth toting a sheaf of bats as if he were approaching the plate:

The entranceway is strewn with hand-painted baseball shaped stones with the names of an assorted array of heroes and an awning supported by two immense bats, one baring Ruth's signature and the other Gehrig's (and yeah, unfortunately, that's me):

After that buildup, the interior (At least on the first floor) appears, oddly, to be nothing more than a memorabilia shop, except for the flying Michael Jordan overhead:

We visited on a weekday, so that may explain why we were the only ones there, besides MJ. The person behind the memorabilia counter switched to the museum register, and after collecting our $5 admission fee, he escorted us via elevator to the introductory film. He explained that the seats in the, dare I call it, auditorium (there were four or five rows of four or five seats) were from a number of old stadiums. We sat in the Ebbets Field row, and the tour guide put in the video and left us to our own devices.

Anyway, the film described in a John Facenda-esque voice and strangely slick presentation how the Sports Immortals Museum was a multi-media, interactive, state-of-the-art omni-sport experience. As the film prattled on about the museum and what it takes to be achieve greatness in sport, I wondered what parallel universe I had fallen into because the film's museum bore no resemblance to the actual museum in which the film aired. Then I realized that all this was an expensive sales brochure for someone's dream. And that someone was Joel Platt, whose memorabilia collection was the museum.

As the film continued, I looked about the room as I got my first taste for a collection that the film told me was worth $50 million. The ticket says that the collection consisted of "over 1 million mementos". So I guess they are worth, on average, fifty bucks, which is odd because the cheapest thing I could find in the memorabilia shop was a signed Al Barlick Hall of Fame plaque card for about that much.

In the corner of the video room was a large frame with signed solo albums by every member of the Beatles, great sportsmen all, thrown together with little figurines from early Beatlemania-dom. Then I realized that this was a fan's idiosyncratic collection, someone's basement, made available to the world.

Then I took a shot of the Willie Mays statue that, along with Mickey Mantle, stared at me as I watched the film. Note that there is a frame of Nolan Ryan and Pete Rose cards wedged between the statues case and the wall:

As the film ended we were left to room the display cases on the third floor of the museum. Each room had a theme of sorts, usually an individual sport. The boxing room, for instance, had a Mike Tyson mask in a case along side a Jack Johnson display including his signature, and then a Frito-Lay large stand-up display with a "Man without a Face"-era Elijah Wood mugging with Rod Woodson.

There were plenty of things of interest. First, a rare Honus Wagner card:

The Carl Mays/Ray Chapman ball, which was re-christened "The Death Ball":

There was Rickey Henderson's record-breaking stolen base (single season record):

Then there were also a number of souvenirs wrested from old stadiums. First were the two cornerstones from Pittsburgh's Forbes Field (I only shot one):

Next was one from the "Old" Yankee Stadium:

Then seats from Ebbets Field and Connie Mack Stadium (What, none from the Vet?):

Then there were plaques and chachkes that ran from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here's are the team pictures for the two teams who faced off in the 1903 World Series, the 1904 Boston AL and Pittsburg (not the missing "h") NL teams. Honus Wagner is in the upper left-hand corner of the Pirates photo. Fred Clarke is the big picture in the middle:

There was a collection of Negro League jerseys, each displaying the litany of players who were employed by the team, though it was impossible to tell if they were game-worn jerseys or just replicas and if they were game-worn who wore it. Here's the KC Monarchs jersey that reads, "Satchel Paige was one of the greatest pitchers of All, Monte Irvin, [unreadable]. Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige were three of the greatest base ball [players] of all time."

There was an old time base ball game from 1888 that didn't look that much different from the games I played as a child at the Jersey shore (though it had no bat):

Various mementos from the Brooklyn Dodgers sole championship (for my father-in-law):

Then there was a display of various baseball-related heads, from likenesses of famous players to mascots:

Finally, the piece d'resistance was a scoop of dirt from Brandon Field, Joe Jackson's first field, displayed in a semi-opaque Tupperware container, ready for easy microwaving. Next to the dirt was the letter from the person who sent the dirt in. I'm sorry, it wouldn't fit in the picture. It reminded me of the stories I heard of old-world cathedrals claiming to have a splinter from the cross and a bone(s) from various popes, saints, and other religiousos:

After wondering around the display cases, we went back down to the ground floor to gape at the one-hundred- to two-hundred-dollar bats from the likes of Omar Moreno, Andy Van Slyke, and Mickey Tettleton. Oh, and there was the slightly-larger-than-life size statue of Shaquille O'Neal slamming a basket:

So if you're in Boca, it's definitely worth your time and the five-dollar admission price to check out the Sports Immortals Museum. For me, other than a few photos, I was left with a dissipated feeling. I enjoyed the mementos, but after seeing the sales video (did I mention Franco Harris was in it?), I couldn't help feeling a little sad for a place that dreamed to be more than it was and evidently didn't get there. They even have a display of signed copied of their Sports Immortals coffee table book, that had been reduced.

It's even sadder when I looked at the back if the ticket to read the "Sport Immortals 'Rules for Success'", which were:

1. Never lose sight of your dreams

2. Set Goals

3. Always give maximum effort

4. Never be afraid of failure

5. Learn from your mistakes

6. Keep physically fit

7. Avoid drugs

8. Be flexible and tolerant

9. Believe in yourself

10. Have faith

They beat Frank Lopez's two rules in "Scarface" ("Never underestimate the other guy's greed" and "Don't get high on your own supply"), but I'm not sure if they apply to everyone who's found success in sport (Terry Forster did many a "Hail Mary" over rule 6).

I hope I'm not being too hard on Sports Immortals. The overall effect was an endearing one if a bit sad. I do wish them luck.

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