The 70-year-old institution also seeks to preserve and celebrate the game's history, because as Hall president Jeff Idelson is quick to point out: "The story of baseball is the story of America."
The Minor Leagues are, of course, a huge part of baseball's story. Accordingly, the Hall of Fame has long had a symbiotic relationship with Minor League Baseball -- one that both entities expect to take to a new level in 2010.
"The relationship that the Hall of Fame has had with the Minors dates back to our inception [in 1939], and all along we've grown together," explained Idelson. "In the early '90s that relationship deepened as we began creating content for [Minor League] game programs and stadium scoreboards. ... What we're looking to do now is foster an even stronger marriage between the two, with the underlying goal being to connect Minor League Baseball fans with the Hall in a more direct manner."
To this end, the Hall is partnering with Minor League teams in order to stage "Hall of Fame" promotional nights. Fans in attendance at such a promotion would receive a Cooperstown-related giveaway (such as Hall of Fame yearbooks, pins and induction programs), as well as discounted Hall admission and membership offers.
This initiative was first announced by Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner during his Opening Session speech at the 2009 Baseball Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, with the stated goal being to marry "the loyalty of our fan base with the history of our great game."
"The Hall is in a situation where they want to expand their membership base, and [Minor League Baseball has] 40 million customers coming through the gates each season," elaborated O'Conner in a phone conversation. "This will allow us to expose the Hall to our fans, employees and sponsors. It's an appropriate connection and a fitting program for us to be a part of."
The expansion of the membership base is indeed a top priority, one that Idelson was eager to stress the importance of.
"Our most loyal supporters are members, they are our version of season ticket holders," he said. "The thinking is that a deeper Hall of Fame presence within Minor League Baseball will result in more members."
As part of this deeper presence, the Hall plans to celebrate the Minor League experiences of the baseball greats enshrined in Cooperstown.
"Nearly every [Hall of Fame player] made a stop in the Minors, and they often have wonderful stories about what that experience entailed," said Idelson. "In interviews with the players, one of our staple questions is 'What are your favorite memories from the Minor Leagues?' We can then show these responses on stadium scoreboards and team Web sites as well as ad spots on tv, radio and the Web."
O'Conner echoed these sentiments, adding that "When you walk into that plaque room, you can count on one hand those that don't have a Minor League connection."
Visitors to the Hall of Fame are able to see a wide variety of Minor League memorabilia, including a photo of Babe Ruth as a member of the Providence Grays, Hank Aaron's South Atlantic League Championship ring and a bat from 1939's "Minor League Day" in Cooperstown.
However, the Hall is currently lacking an exhibit devoted specifically to Minor League Baseball.
|MINORS MEMORABILIA IN HALL
The Baseball Hall of Fame has a wide array of Minor League artifacts and memorabilia, dating back to the 19th century. Here is a small sampling of the museum's collection:
O'Conner, for one, is content to operate on the Hall's timetable.
"I'm a traditionalist in a sense, in that I believe that there are some things in baseball that there can only be one of," he said. "One is the commissioner of baseball and the other is the Hall of Fame. We do have our own plans for a Minor League fan experience museum, but that would be more of an interactive sort of thing. We're not going to establish our own Hall of Fame, which would be like reinventing the wheel and therefore a counter-productive endeavor. We'd much rather work with the people in Cooperstown."
Certainly, there is much to work with. The Hall's collection of Minor League memorabilia is vast, encompassing nearly all aspects of the game (see sidebar).
"We have an internal group, the Accessions Committee, that decides what to accept," said Idelson. "They are then responsible for insuring and caring for it. We are very careful in what we accept and treat it like gold. We want to make sure to preserve the greatest moments in Minor League history."
These "moments" don't necessarily occur on the playing field.
"Minor League promotions speak not just to the culture of baseball, but all of North American society," said Idelson. "A perfect example would be the Jack Kerouac bobblehead doll [given away by the Lowell Spinners in 2003]. Kerouac was a baseball fan, but also a cultural icon with an important story to tell."
Those who make the trek to the Hall of Fame would do well to make some Minor League stops along the way. Teams from the International, Eastern and (of course) New York-Penn Leagues are located within a few hours drive of Cooperstown, including the Syracuse Chiefs, Binghamton Mets, Oneonta Tigers and Tri-City ValleyCats (whose owner, William Gladstone, is a Hall of Fame board member).
"Cooperstown is a pastoral setting, like many of these Minor League teams," said Idelson. "So there's a real symmetry there."
And it isn't just the fans of these teams who can benefit from a trip to the Hall of Fame.
"A lot of the visiting teams, they'll come through Cooperstown when they're in the area," said Idelson. "We'll comp them through, because this is their museum too. It's our job to provide them, and everyone, with a firmer appreciation of the game."