With all the talk these days about Rob Manfred taking over for Bud Selig as the new commissioner of Major League Baseball, I decided to look back at an old blog entry and reminisce about my visit to the commissioner’s office in 2009. Well, guess what? The entry was gone. Dead. Deleted from existence. And I was horrified. It went missing when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress several years ago. A bunch of my other entries suffered a similar fate, but thankfully I’ve been able to revive some of them. Anyway, here you go — the stories and photos from one of my favorite baseball experiences ever. Enjoy!
A few weeks ago, I called the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball and asked to speak to someone who could give me info on commemorative baseballs. (For those who don’t know, I’m working on a new book about baseballs.) I really didn’t expect to get anywhere. I’d called MLB’s headquarters several times in the past and always got transferred to various people’s voice-mails — and then never heard back. This time, however, things were different. My book might’ve had something to do with it, or maybe it was just because there’s a new crop of really cool people at MLB, but regardless . . . three days ago I got to go TO the actual Office of the Commissioner to ask my questions in person. No, I didn’t meet with Bud Selig himself. He was in Milwaukee, and the office is located in New York City. Instead I had a 90-minute meeting with Howard Smith, the Senior Vice President of Licensing for Major League Baseball. One of my first questions for him was, “Who actually decides if there will be a commemorative ball for a particular game or event?”
His response: “I do.”
As you might imagine, I was pretty excited to be talking to THE man, and as it turned out, he enjoyed talking to me; during the 11 years that he’s worked for MLB, he hasn’t exactly met a whole lot of people who are as enthusiastic about commemorative balls as me.
I asked Mr. Smith dozens of questions, many of which had been left as comments on this entry. (Thank you all for the ideas and suggestions.) We also looked at 27 different balls that I’d brought from my own personal collection. We talked about “juiced ball” theories as well as the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica. We discussed the cost of manufacturing commemorative balls in addition to the process of designing the logos in the first place. He was incredibly friendly and generous, not just with his time, but also with some of the stuff he had sitting around his office. You know those “gold balls” that are used in the Home Run Derby? He gave me one of those. And have you ever seen the 2001 World Series ball that features an American flag where the MLB logo normally appears? He gave me one of those too. He said it was made immediately after the 9/11 attacks and that the flag overlapped the logo to show that our country was bigger than the game of baseball. This ball never saw game action. (The standard 2001 World Series ball looked like this.) Instead it was designed to be the ball that President Bush threw for the ceremonial first pitch.
I happened to be wearing my black umpires cap, and Mr. Smith asked me about it. I explained that since I don’t have a favorite team and since I’m absolutely crazy about Major League Baseball in general, I love wearing stuff that *just* has the MLB logo.
“Clothing like that is really hard to find,” I complained. “Everything has a team logo.”
“What’s your hat size?” he asked.
“Seven and a quarter,” I told him.
He picked up the phone and called his secretary. Five minutes later, there was a knock on the door, and I was handed this:
This is the cap that umpires wore on July 4th and September 11th.
Two of Mr. Smith’s assistants — guys from the Business Public Relations department — sat in on the meeting. They too were friendly and fun, and we all had a bunch of laughs. When I asked about Bud Selig’s involvement with commemorative balls, Mr. Smith said, “He doesn’t deal with such minutiae.”
“Minutiae?!” I shouted. “I take offense to that!” and we all cracked up. It was that kind of meeting. No pressure. No attitude. I was thrilled to be getting such amazing info for my book, and I was equally thrilled just to BE there; the Office of the Commissioner is not open to the public. Even if you’re the biggest baseball fan in the world, you can’t just waltz in there unannounced. You’d never be let past security in the lobby in the first place. The office occupies four floors of a fancy (and VERY secure) office building at 245 Park Avenue, which is just a few blocks from Grand Central Station. So yeah, just by breathing MLB’s air, I felt special (that is honestly not sarcasm), but as it turned out I got to do a lot more than simply breathe. After the meeting (which had only been scheduled to last an hour), I was given a lengthy tour *and* I was given permission to take photos and share them on my blog.
You ready to see them?
Here goes . . .
This is the main/reception area on the 31st floor:
Did you notice the World Series trophy in the case on the left? Did you notice the baseball diamond on the floor?
Here’s a closer look at one section of the wooden walls. As you can see . . .
. . . there’s a list of every World Series winner in baseball history. The section of the wall on the far end features a year-by-year list of every Hall of Fame inductee.
Just beyond the glass doors at one end of the reception area, there’s a lounge with a Negro Leagues theme. One wall has a gigantic photo of the championship team from 1935:
The opposite wall showcases several teams’ uniforms from that era:
As I was led through various corridors, I kept feeling more and more giddy at the sight of baseball stuff in random places . . . like the xerox room:
I headed down some stairs and passed a World Baseball Classic display:
This is what it looks like on the 30th floor:
Every team’s current home uniform is on display. Here’s a closer look at the half-dozen from the NL Central:
Speaking of divisions, did you notice the baseballs on the wall just past the receptionists’ desk two photos above? Here’s a closer look:
There’s one column of balls for each of MLB’s six divisions; each division is arranged according to the standings, with the first-place teams on top.
There are lots of different lounges and meeting rooms on the 30th floor. Here’s one of them, and as you can see, there’s a display of game-used bases:
Here’s a closeup of a base from the 2008 World Series:
Here’s the room where press conferences are held:
I was taken up to the 34th floor after that. There was baseball stuff EVERYwhere, even in the area right outside the elevators:
That’s a display/map of the Minor Leagues.
I took the next photo with my back to the map. It shows more of the elevator area, along with the entrance to the 34th-floor offices:
This is what the reception area looks like up there:
Those are real/vintage magazines on display. The small white one on the left is a copy of “Baseball Magazine” with a very young (and slim) Babe Ruth on the cover.
The back wall of the reception area features silhouettes of baseball’s all-time greats:
The one on the right is Stan Musial. How many of the others can you identify? (If you look closely, you might be able to read the name of the player next to Musial.)
There’s a corridor on the 34th floor with one of those cool displays that appears to be different depending on which way you’re looking at it. This is what it looks like from the right . . .
. . . and this is what it looks like from the left:
There were certain things that I wasn’t allowed to photograph. The lunchroom, for example, was full of employees, so I had to put my camera away when I stepped inside. Therefore, you’ll have to settle for a description of the coolest part: baseball card table tops. What I mean is . . . each table where people were sitting and eating had the standard, food-resistant, plastic coating, but underneath it, there was a collage with hundreds of baseball cards, both new and old.
(Deep breath . . . )
Here’s another corridor:
Those are replicas of various outfield walls. Do you see the dark green section at the end? Here’s a closer look:
By the time my tour came to an end, I’d been at The Office for two and a half hours. There’s a lot more that I’d like to say, but I was asked not to mention certain things. There’s a lot more that I’m allowed to mention, but I’m too tired and busy to blog about it. And of course there’s a lot of stuff that I’m going to save for the book.
The book isn’t scheduled to be published until March 2011, but I’m already compiling a list of people who want to be reminded (via email) when it comes out. If you’d like to be on that list, leave a comment or send me an email.