Past comes to life at BaseballMemoryLab.com
Site spotlights origins and evolution of baseball, fan memories
Bud Selig has presided over Major League Baseball as either Commissioner or acting Commissioner for two decades, during which he watched Cal Ripken Jr. break Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games, shepherded an emotional return to the field after the 9/11 attacks, saw the end of the Curse of the Bambino and regaled over a 2011 finish for the ages.
But now that Commissioner Selig has become the first person to submit his own story to the new BaseballMemoryLab.com, a joint effort of the MLB Origins Committee and MLB Advanced Media, everyone can see that the baseball memory he holds most dear is personal and rooted.
"My fondest baseball memory occurred late in the evening on September 23, 1957, when Hank Aaron's 11th-inning home run gave the Braves a 4-2 win over the Cardinals and secured Milwaukee its first pennant," Selig wrote. "I was 23 years old and sat in the upper deck. The pandemonium of that night was the culmination of the remarkable bond between the city of Milwaukee and the Braves.
"That was the greatest game I had ever experienced until October 10, 1982, when the Brewers won the American League pennant at County Stadium. It was a 4-3 game, and Pete Ladd got the great Rod Carew to ground out for the last out, which brought the pennant back to Milwaukee. After the Braves moved to Atlanta, we worked so hard to bring Major League Baseball back to Milwaukee. When Robin Yount's throw hit Cecil Cooper's glove, I felt that the Brewers had carried on the legacy of Hank's Braves in my hometown. That is a moment that will be forever etched in my memory."
Focusing on the intersection of personal history and the national pastime, BaseballMemoryLab.com initially will spotlight two aspects of the game's history -- the origins and evolution of baseball, and fan-submitted memories and recollections, maybe like that one from the Commissioner, which comes complete with a box score, play-by-play, tags and a link to classic video of Aaron's walk-off homer.
A year ago, Commissioner Selig announced the hiring of author John Thorn as MLB Official Historian and tasked him with chairing the 12-member MLB Origins Committee, which includes such figures as Ken Burns, George Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin and the Commissioner himself. Stemming from that committee's work, BaseballMemoryLab.com will publish content not only about the origins of the game but also fan-generated content about how baseball marked their personal and family histories.
The broadest focus of BaseballMemoryLab.com will be to build a community in context with baseball's history through its collection of memories and collaborative discussions. Site visitors can share personal reflections and photos, tagging them by favorite games, players, teams, ballparks and/or regions, ultimately creating the most comprehensive portal housing baseball memories.
Surrounding content for each submission is planned to be tied to relevant boxes, play-by-play, photos and videos, as applicable. Each fan's submission (after review) will become a permanent exhibit on BaseballMemoryLab.com.
"We want people to consider not just their relationship to Major League Baseball but also Little League, or their grandfather's playing in a twilight league in Peekskill, N.Y., in 1910. Sharing early baseball memories," said Thorn. "The idea is not just to share wonkish stuff but to share something that's personally meaningful to you. The first game you took your daughter to. The best game you ever saw. [Your] most vivid memory of baseball. What made you love the game in the first place? There are very few, if any, restrictions.
"The only thing is, we want it to be personal. Anything you want to put in there is fine. Don't make it what somebody else thinks about something. Red Smith says, 'This is the best game [I] ever saw.' Well, this is not the place for that. This is about you. There will be people contributing memories who have lifetime careers in baseball. The Commissioner, myself, players, writers of all stripes. Fans who are 9 and need their mom to help them fill their form out. It is as democratic as the game itself. Everybody can play."
Thorn, who also operates the official MLB.com Blog "Our Game," said that the metadata from submissions will result in a social network that does not currently exist. Indeed, look at his own baseball memory, and you can see that he tagged a specific Dodgers-Giants game in 1957 (his first attended), his boyhood idol Duke Snider, Polo Grounds V and the pitcher who threw a shutout that day, Johnny Podres. Anyone else who tags memories with any of those will be connected with Thorn, and they will be able to discuss something that matters a great deal to both.
A major feature of the site, Early Baseball Milestones, will tell the story of major events across baseball's historic timeline, dating as far back as 2500 B.C. The works are used, with permission, from Protoball's Working Chronology of Early Ball Play and have been edited by Thorn and MLB Origins Committee member Larry McCray, an M.I.T.-based researcher.
"The Origins network is really amazing because it's beyond what we had at previous destinations," Thorn said. "You've now got subsets and subsections, so if you want to look at just baseball in Wisconsin or baseball among African-Americans, you can go as far back as the documented history is able to go. It's a timeline from bat-and-ball games from ancient Egypt up to the Civil War.
"It's an extension of what a handful of us had been posting to the site that Larry McCray has managed for years now. He is the mastermind of the site. Those who have this Origins bent, where we are always digging to find something earlier about something, we share our finds with Larry, and he evaluates, files and categorizes in the timeline, and we also have these carve-outs."
"You'll meet friends who you didn't know existed and share a common bond," Thorn said. "If you can imagine 60 years from now, thinking about what fans thought back then. We are building an archive of tremendous historical importance. The game is not only what happens on the screen, but what happens on the other side of the screen. How do Americans interact with this game they love? I see this having enormous enduring benefits."