Baseball Heritage Museum a Hidden Cleveland Gem

By Vince Guerrieri

The Colonial Marketplace is a relic on Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland. The office/retail/hotel space hearkens back to the days when indoor arcades were the height of a shopping experience.

And on the Euclid Arcade side of Marketplace – across from the food court that connects the Euclid Arcade with the Colonial Arcade – is what might be one of the best-kept secrets in downtown Cleveland: The Baseball Heritage Museum.

The museum’s roots date back to 1997, when Robert Zimmer started putting some of his baseball memorabilia on display at his father’s jewelry store on East Fourth Street. Zimmer, now a realtor, was at one point an antiques dealer – and describes himself as a collector.

The Indians were hosting the All-Star Game that year, and ended up stumbling to the American League Central Division title and the American League pennant. There was a ton of pedestrian traffic near Jacobs Field, and East Fourth Street wasn’t the thoroughfare of restaurants, bars and clubs it is now.

Zimmer said they wanted to draw new customers, but give back, reflecting their support from the African-American community in the area. Much of the memorabilia pertained to the Negro Leagues. The museum’s scope was extended to multicultural efforts, with displays about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, barnstorming teams and baseball in Latin America.

Cleveland’s a good spot for sports diversity – and diversity in general. The Indians were the first team in the American League to integrate, with Larry Doby in 1947, and were one of the most integrated teams in the majors in the 1950s. In 1967, Carl Stokes was elected mayor of Cleveland, the first black mayor of a major American city, and eight years later, the Tribe hired Frank Robinson as the first black manager in the major leagues.

The museum moved into its current location – 5,800 square feet in the Euclid Arcade – in 2006. When you walk in the door, you’re greeted by a clamp that held baseballs in place while they were hand stitched. While there’s a display about Satchel Paige, there’s another kind of satchel, one carried by Hilton Smith, who pitched for the Kansas City Monarchs.

“It went where he went,” Zimmer said. “And didn’t go where he couldn’t go.”

Downstairs in the museum is an exhibit on baseball broadcasts, including radio calls from Indians games from the days when they played in League Park and a replica radio booth.

The museum is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and by appointment. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Zimmer said the museum is also available for rentals.

Zimmer said future plans would be to continue to raise money and expand the collection.

“The goal is an interactive museum that’s a destination point,” he said. “We’re really hoping in 2012 we’re going to make some strong steps forward and strengthen the museum and its impact on our city. We think it’s a draw. We think it’s important for the city of Cleveland.”

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