Hidden Treasures Behind Baseball Hall of Fame Plaques

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  • August 05, 2020

What hides behind the iconic symbols of baseball immortality.

FIrst Class

The Baseball Hall of Fame plaque, pinnacle of a player's career, located in the epicenter of baseball's hallowed grounds, is hiding probably the rarest piece of memorabilia ever; one you may never get a chance to see.  Luckily for you, we have the photos and story of incredible, hidden treasures.

If you've been to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., you know the building holds the most incredible pieces of baseball history.  Even having never stepped foot inside the building, you still know the HOF houses legendary artifacts. The bat Babe Ruth used to call his shot in the 1932 World Series, one of first-known baseballs, and the jersey Hank Aaron wore the night he hit home run #715 all live in the Hall.  Did you know there are secret, hidden pieces of memorabilia that you look directly at, and never see?

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Baseball Hall of Fame

In 1907, A.G. Spalding, former player and founder of Spalding, wanted to establish the creation of what was at the time America's Pastime - baseball.  Research resulted in Abner Doubleday creating the game in Cooperstown, N.Y., back in 1839.  Stephen C. Clark, a Cooperstown philanthropist, lobbied to have a hall of fame placed in the small town; a building used to celebrate the greatest contributors to the game of baseball was to be constructed. In 1939, that building, the Baseball Hall of Fame, was opened to the public. Welcomed back for the opening were the first members elected from 1936, '37, and '38, along with the newly-inducted members.  Now the Hall is home to more than 40,000 artifacts and 250,000 photographs of the 333 enshrined members, but the most prominent pieces of history are the player plaques. 

Building

The Plaques

Each year, eligible players and contributors to the game of baseball have their achievements presented to a panel of judges collectively known as the Baseball Writer's Associate of America.  If 75 % of the panel votes whether the person is worthy of enshrinement, the Hall of Fame welcomes the newest member.  The Hall then honors the member by unveiling a gorgeous, bronze plaque during an immaculate ceremony.  Accompanying an etched photo is a summation of an illustrious career.  After the ceremony, each plaque is hung in The Gallery for all to see.  Roughly 3,000 visitors per day will read the plaques for as long as the Hall stands.

 

The plaque is the epitome of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  While the plaques are the focal-point of the the Hall, what is BEHIND the plaque is something of a hidden treasure.

Gallery

Hidden Treasure:

During a recent trip to the Hall of Fame, I noticed signatures on the plaque backs, where the plaques belonging to the newest members should be hanging.  Upon closer inspection, I could see that the HOF members signed their respective plaque backing!

Looking at the backing, I could clearly see Larry Walker, Class of '20, penned his John Hancock.  So. Many. Questions.  Did all members sign their plaque backings?  Was there an original Babe Ruth signature that hasn't seen the light of day since 1939 right in front of our eyes?  There would be no rarer signature than signing where THE plaque would go, and encapsulating the signature for years to come.  Given the backs are exposed for such a short period of time, few people would have even seen these signatures.  As COVID-19 postponed the 2020 induction, the Walker signature is out in the open for all to see, and for me to ask questions.  I HAD to inquire about the autograph, so I reached out to Jon Shestakofsky, VP of Communications and Education of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

History of the Signatures:

Just Collect: How long has the tradition taken place?

Jon Shestakofsky: This practice began in 2017.

JC: When do the players sign the wall?
 
Jon: Each new Hall of Fame member makes a trip to Cooperstown between their election to the Hall of Fame and their formal Induction. This is called their Orientation Visit, and this is when they are offered the opportunity to sign the backing over which their plaque will hang. 
 
JC:Why (did the Class of 17 sign their plaque backings)?
 
Jon: It began as a program that would enrich the new Hall of Fame member's experience while providing a lasting connection between each new Hall of Fame member and their plaque backer. It also gives visitors to the Hall of Fame who see the signature an understanding of both where the new Hall of Fame member's plaque will hang, and that the Hall of Fame member recently visited Cooperstown.
 
JCAny fun inscriptions or just signatures?
 
Jon: Some players include their Hall of Fame class year, but for the most part it has been only signatures.  
 
The signing of the backing on which a plaque will be hung can be an emotional moment for new Hall of Fame members as they leave their mark in our building for the first time

 

AWESOME.  While there is no hidden Babe Ruth signature, the first person to be voted in unanimously, Mariano Rivera, signed his plaque backing. In 100 years, an inquisitive person like me will be staring at Mo's plaque and wondering about the century-old hidden treasure.  

Pictures of the Signatures:

Thankfully we have our hands on original photos the hidden, and soon-to-be hidden autographs on the plaque backings!

Class of 2017, the original signings:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Iván Rodríguez
  • Bud Selig
  • Tim Raines
  • John Schuerholz

2017 Signed Plaques

 

Class of 2019 Signed Backs:

  • Mike Mussina
  • Lee Smith
  • Mariano Rivera

Signed Plaques 2019

2019 Plaques

Mos Plaque Signed

Mos Plaque 2

Class of 2020 Signed Backs:

  • Larry Walker
  • Ted Simmons

2020 Signed Plaques

If you have any photos of other signed plaques, we'd love to see them!   Share the pictures right on our Facebook page. 

The Hall of Fame has a great VIDEO of Mariano Signing his plaque, a historic moment, right HERE

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