- Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame
Originally opened in 1994 in Citrus County, approximately seventy-five miles from both Orlando and Tampa, Florida, the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame moved to its current home at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2007. Home to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Tampa Bay Rays, the museum’s new location helps temper misperception that the museum is a hall of fame solely dedicated to the Boston Red Sox, Williams’s lifelong team during his career (1939–60). While the museum rightfully has a good amount of Red Sox memorabilia, including a display of the famed 1975 outfield, Wade Boggs, and, of course, Williams, the museum instead portrays what Williams felt about the game, including nods to the Negro Leagues and even the New York Yankees.
Fans will notice one significant theme upon entering the museum. Since Williams is often deemed baseball’s greatest hitter, the museum profiles all of baseball’s great hitters, beginning with Williams’s top ten (expanded to eleven) from his book Ted Williams’ Hit List (1996). Each hitter has his own display case, beginning with Babe Ruth. The difference with the displays compared to other baseball-specific halls is that they include different personal memorabilia that blend players’ on-field accomplishments with their lives beyond baseball. Examples include Ruth’s military registration card and Dale Murphy’s childhood copy of Williams’s The Science of Hitting (1986) that the Atlanta Braves slugger asked to have displayed when he was inducted.
The bulk of the museum is divided into three sections. First, the hitters take precedence and greet visitors upon entry. A few controversial players stand out. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Mark McGwire, and Alex Rodriguez, for instance, are all members and highlight the hall’s willingness to accept and discuss baseball’s checkered past. Next is a nod to the Rays’ history, including moments from the team’s 2008 World Series appearance, its all-star players, and a photo from when Williams threw out the first ball during the franchise’s inaugural game in 1998. Also included in this section of the museum is a case dedicated to the All-American Women’s Baseball League and multiple displays for the Negro Leagues, with a quote from Williams’s 1966 Cooperstown induction: “I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will both be voted in the Hall of Fame as symbols of great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.” Lastly, visitors enter Williams’s life. This section spans twenty-two display cases, portraying his San Diego roots, hall-of-fame playing career, five years of service in World War II and the Korean War as a pilot, time as manager of the Washington Senators and Texas Rangers, and passion for fishing. Williams was inducted into the International Game Fish Association’s Fishing Hall of Fame in 2000.
While the memorabilia and historic feel bring “The Kid” to life, baseball fans and historians can navigate the museum’s limited opening only during the Rays’ eighty-one home games. The requirement to have a game ticket provides an additional boundary. However, the expansive space and metropolitan location at Tropicana Field enables the [End Page 91] museum’s continued existence, especially following Williams’s death in 2002 when the museum suffered a significant loss in attendance because Williams could no longer attend. The opportunity to continue Williams’s baseball legacy, therefore, trumps the limited hours. One final drawback is that the space, while larger than the original location, is filled with display cases and can be confining depending how many visitors are present.
While the museum emphasizes hitting, pitchers and umpires also receive recognition. Inclusion in the “pitching wall of great achievement” does not require a hall-of-fame career. For example, Denny McLain’s thirty-one-win season in 1968 was honored as the last thirty-game winner. The pitchers are part of the theater room where baseball-themed movies or Ken Burns’s Baseball play on a big screen while the museum is open.
Baseball nostalgia is packed into every inch...