The City of Trees has a strong baseball history, a new California Museum exhibit shows
By Graham Womack, Sacramento News & Review
Aug. 2, 2018
In the landmark 1966 oral history, The Glory of Their Times, baseball Hall-of-Famer Harry Hooper talks about agreeing to his first contract with the Boston Red Sox in 1908 at an unnamed bar at 8th and J streets in Sacramento. Hooper, who famously recommended in 1918 that teammate Babe Ruth convert from pitcher to position player, played minor league ball in town and worked for the Western Pacific Railroad.
It’s uncertain if the building where Hooper agreed to his Red Sox contract still exists or has been lost, like so much of Sacramento’s baseball history. But an exhibit that opened July 29 at the California Museum, California at Bat: America’s Pastime in the Golden State, offers some artifacts from Hooper and other baseball greats with connections to Sacramento.
There’s Willie Mays, who appeared in the final exhibition game at Edmonds Field, shortly before the former home for the Sacramento Solons, at the corner of Riverside Boulevard and Broadway, was torn down in 1964. A Gemco store was built there, where a Target now stands. A uniform Mays wore for the San Francisco Giants the following season, when he hit 52 home runs, is in the exhibit.
There’s also a monogrammed 1936 New York Yankees uniform from Joe DiMaggio, who played games at Edmonds Field while a young Pacific Coast League (PCL) prospect with the San Francisco Seals.
Meanwhile, Hooper’s represented in the exhibit with a 1912 Red Sox sweater that its owner, Stephen Wong, says has never been publicly displayed.
“He’s one of the greatest outfielders in the history of the game,” Wong told SN&R. “In fact, Babe Ruth actually attested to that, that he’d never seen a better outfielder, in his playing days, than Harry Hooper.”
The exhibit features more than 200 baseball artifacts, photos and other relics of the game. Wong, a Hong Kong-based investment banker who grew up in the Bay Area, loaned approximately 80 items from his personal collection for the exhibit.
“Being a California native, it felt very important to me personally, from an emotional standpoint, to contribute,” Wong said.
Another 60 items, roughly, come from the private collection of Alan O’Connor, a prolific local baseball author and member of the local Dusty Baker chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research. Many items connected to local greats come courtesy of O’Connor. These include a bat from Earl Sheely, who made a name for himself as a hitter in the majors during the 1920s. Sheely later became a popular Solons’ manager, per O’Connor’s book, Gold on the Diamond: Sacramento’s Great Baseball Players, 1886 to 1976.
Some of the connections in the exhibit to local history are subtle. Brenna Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the museum, noted that the father of baseball legend Ted Williams—who’s in the exhibit as well with a 1950 Red Sox uniform—moved to town to take a job as a prison inspector.
Amanda Meeker, executive director for the museum, said she learned through putting the exhibit together that Sacramento had a far stronger baseball history than she’d realized. This included the city being one of the first sites where a game of “town ball,” a forerunner to baseball, was played, in 1851. Meeker also noted that the PCL sent many players to the majors.
“Even though we’re small, we’ve been scrappy,” Meeker said.
Wong said he’s been accumulating his collection for more than 30 years, primarily through auctions and purchases from private collections. While he’s loaned his collection to museums in other cities over the years, he’s pleased to see it come to Sacramento.
“I think it’s actually a perfect place to have this exhibition,” Wong said. “Because, being the capital of the state and having a rich history with baseball, and the fact that so many renowned players have roots in California, part of me just says, ‘Why wasn’t this ever done earlier?’”