Sport, at the core of popular culture, is public history at its best. That makes collaboration with museums, halls of fame, scholars, and community activists essential in conveying what sport has meant to people. Those collaborations make it possible to reach a larger audience and introduce questions regarding sport, health, and fitness into debates over public policy. I’ve been fortunate to work with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the Senator John Heinz History Center, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Josh Gibson Foundation on several projects.
In 2004, the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh History Center opened a museum about sport in Western Pennsylvania. Steel once defined Pittsburgh. But as the mills that powered the region’s economy and daily rhythms entered their death spiral in the 1970s, Pittsburgh acquired a new identity, that of the City of Champions. No city uses sport more to tell its story to the world. Pittsburgh’s across-the-board record in 20th century sport was unrivalled by any city of comparable size. Much of its success was homegrown—powered by people who grew up here like Art Rooney, Cumberland Posey, Jr., Josh Gibson, and Billy Conn. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Homestead Grays, and the Pittsburgh Crawfords each began play on local sandlots. The sport museum captures not only the teams and individuals who have made their mark on sport, but the grassroots from which they emerged. I was the guest historian for the project.
In 2006, the National Baseball Hall of Fame formed a special committee to vote on the candidacy of individuals from the Negro Leagues and the Caribbean who played during the years when a color line marred major league baseball. It did so after an extensive research project compiled evidence of their contributions to baseball in Negro League, Mexican, and Caribbean play. The committee of scholars vetted an extensive list of candidates and voted seventeen men and one woman into the Hall of Fame.
¡Viva Baseball!, which opened in 2009, was created by a team of National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum staff and advisors: Milton Jamail (Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom: Andres Reiner and Scouting on the New Frontier, and Full Count: Inside Cuban Baseball); Alan Klein (Growing the Game: The Globalization of Major League Baseball, Sugarball: The American Game, the Dominican Dream, Baseball on the Border, and How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game); Tim Wendel (Far From Home: Latino Baseball Players in America, and The New Face of Baseball: The One-Hundred-Year Rise and Triumph of Latinos in America's Favorite Sport); Adrian Burgos, Jr. (Playing America's Game: Baseball, Latinos and the Color Line); and me. I’ve never had more fun than I did working with these people on this project.
After the energy of the 1960s faded, Rob Ruck began studying labor and social movements at the University of Pittsburgh, where he now teaches the history of sport. In courses, books, and documentaries, he's focused on how different groups of people use sport to tell a story about themselves. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and co-author Maggie Patterson.
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