Abby Ambach
This article was originally published on Poetinis.

The smell of must and dust immediately fills your nostrils as you walk up the creaky stairs of Whittier College’s Mendenhall building and into the room that houses the Institute for Baseball Studies. The smell reminds you of an old attic with rusty antiques lying around in piles of dust. Instead of being greeted by the smell of hotdogs and fried food and hearing fans cheering loudly for their favorite team, you are greeted by a sort of ancient smell in a quiet room on the third floor of a historic building, where the president’s and most administrative and staff offices can be found on this venerable campus.

The Institute For Baseball Studies is filled with the history of and pride for one of America’s oldest major sports, often referred to as the national pastime. In case you haven’t been there, on the third floor of Mendenhall is a room in the corner that houses the Institute for Baseball Studies, which is run by Professor of Political Science Mike McBride, as well as retired English Professor Charles Adams and Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies Joseph Price.

The Institute began back in 2014, when the Pasadena-based Baseball Reliquary was searching for a new home. According to the Reliquary’s homepage on Whittier College’s website, Price said it happened like this: “For more than two decades, Professor Charles Adams and I have made baseball-related presentations at the annual meetings of the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association. We have written numerous essays connecting baseball literature with our respective areas of study, and we routinely deal with baseball in our courses on American Intellectual and Cultural History. So when we learned two years ago that the Baseball Reliquary was looking for a partner to house its research archives, we jumped at the opportunity.”

So, with the help from the late founder of the Reliquary, Terry Cannon, the Institute for Baseball Studies was born.

When you approach the entrance, you will notice the oddest piece of art above the door. It is a hand holding a baseball with an eye in it, with lightning rods sticking out around the ball. This strange logo is so eye-catching that you have to pull yourself away to enter the room. The funny thing is, this probably will not even be the weirdest baseball sculpture you will see here.

Thanks to Cannon, the tiny room now houses over 3,000 books, numerous paintings and sculptures, mascot heads, board games, and the largest collection of Los Angeles Dodgers memorabilia anyone will find in California. This collection was donated by Richard and Teresa Santillán and includes virtually everything produced by the Los Angeles Dodgers once they moved to L.A. from Brooklyn. These items include printed materials and promotional items.

You can visit the room where these artifacts are stored in, including huge binders storing rulers with Dodger player statistics or schedules on them, Zippos with entire season schedules printed front and back (and those things are small!), and thousands of ticket stubs from thousands of Dodger games, among other items.

You find two of the three Institute founders there on a recent visit — Professor Charles Adams and Professor Mike McBride — and they are surprised, at first, to have company. Soon, they introduce themselves and the program to you. Professor Adams neatly characterizes the Reliquary as “a sort of unique hall of fame for people who would not get into the hall of fame in baseball,” and is revered as a celebration of all things baseball. He says the Institute began as a small collection of knowledge amongst the three of them, but that they never dreamed of housing an archive of history.

You start to look around the room as they talk about the program and take interest in the legion of Dodgers bobbleheads that line the tops of the bookcases. It appears as if there are hundreds of them all staring and bobbing their heads at you. Some other teams sneak into the lineup, too, such as the L.A. Angels of Anaheim, the San Diego Padres, and even a player all the way from the New York Mets. Hanging on the wall behind the bobbleheads are blue and white paintings of Dodger players (you assume) with captions about “the church of baseball” and beating other teams around. One in particular catches your eye because it mentions the Houston Astros and how they cheated the Dodgers out of glory.

You mention that there is also a large collection of Jackie Robinson memorabilia, and that’s no surprise; he is only one of the most famous men in baseball history, for both breaking the color barrier and being a great player. McBride and Adams explain that they have a whole collection dedicated to the Negro Leagues, where some of the greatest players in baseball history were segregated to before Robinson integrated the Major Leagues, and that our Institute is connected with the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Mo. — that Whittier College is integral to preserving and sharing this important history is something to celebrate. You make a note to come back and learn more about it.

As you continue to look around the small-but-fascinating room, your eyes lock onto a comically large ball of yellow and orange feathers. Your laugh echoes throughout the small room, and the gentlemen with you explain that you’re looking at the head of the old San Diego Padres Mascot, the infamous San Diego Chicken. He was with the Padres for over 20 years before he was taken over by the Swinging Friar, their current mascot, but he still holds a significant cultural impact on San Diego.

For those of you interested in some mascot history, Mr. Met of the New York Mets was the first live-mascot to make a debut in the MLB, but the San Diego Chicken, MLB’s second-oldest mascot, quickly became the favorite in many baseball fans’ hearts and still is to this day. The Reliquary has the whole suit in its collection, but only the head and feet are on display at the moment.

Amongst all of the unique and captivating collectibles the Reliquary has on display, the Institute also offers a wide variety of programs throughout the year that educate both students and faculty on the cultural importance of baseball in many countries around the world. The faculty members organize guest speakers to come to classes in a way that integrates baseball and culture into the curriculum. For example, a class on Cuban or Dominican Republic culture might benefit from guest speakers because baseball is so culturally significant in those countries.

Aside from speakers, classes are occasionally offered for students interested in Baseball literature and culture. Professor Adams and Professor Price used to take students to Cuba during JanTerm to learn about the importance of baseball in Cuban culture and how it is viewed as much as a religion as a sport.

Professor McBride has offered a JanTerm course on Baseball Literature and Film, as well as sometimes teaching a first-year writing course on the cultural importance of Baseball in America. The Institute even holds a writing contest each year and awards one student a cash prize for incorporating The Baseball Reliquary into their piece in some way. There are numerous ways to get involved with the program.

Currently, the Institute for Baseball Studies is working to get back on its feet after the pandemic. So, hopefully, starting in the Spring semester, the Institute will be able to bring back guest speakers and open its doors for students interested in baseball culture. Though the Institute is not open at the moment for students to peruse at will, if an individual is interested in learning more about the program and what it has to offer, the faculty members in charge are always available and willing to help via email or phone.

When you leave, you know you will come back. In fact, you cannot wait to travel back in time again to learn more about America’s oldest sport and its enduring pastime.


In collaboration by Quaker Campus staff members.
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