'Baseball as America' comes to Detroit

'Baseball as America' comes to Detroit

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Even Hall of Famers still get excited about the game of baseball.

Legendary Detroit Tiger Al Kaline joined fellow Hall members George Kell, Sparky Anderson, Ryne Sandberg and Fergie Jenkins at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., Friday to preview the final stop on the national "Baseball as America" tour.

More than 500 pieces from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., will be on display at the Henry Ford Museum from Saturday through Sept. 5, much of which has not recently been on display in Cooperstown.

After stops in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cincinnati, Florida, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Houston and Oakland, it was only fitting that such an exhibit would come to the Detroit area.

"It belongs here, absolutely," Kell said. "People are going to flock in here in droves, you watch it, all over Michigan, when this word gets out what they've got here. Shoot, if I lived here, I'd come over here myself and look around because I won't see it all today."

Many of the pieces were selected for this stop with the city of Detroit in mind.

"We have Hank Greenberg's ball, his 300th home run, we actually have Ty Cobb's sweater, Ernie Harwell's microphone, things that ring great to this great baseball city of Detroit," said Christian Overland, the Henry Ford Museum's vice president of museums and collections.

Anderson, who helped the Detroit Tigers win a World Series in 1984, pointed to a case when asked what item attracted his interest.

"The Detroit hat with that 'D,'" Anderson said. "That's the most famous and recognizable hat in baseball. It's never changed. It's amazing, all these years."

Sandberg, who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, said being among such an esteemed group of people was still sinking in for him.

"To be with Sparky Anderson and Al Kaline, Fergie Jenkins and be with them and be a part of that group, it's still pretty incredible to me," Sandberg said. "I'm just a big fan of the game. What's neat about this exhibit is just the history that's behind it. I get kicks just walking from window to window and just seeing the history and seeing how far the game has come, kind of how the game was played way back when. It's come a long way. There's a lot of history there that I respect. You really get a good feel coming to an exhibit like this."

Although it was a day of celebration for the Hall of Famers at the "Baseball as America" exhibit, many of them were thinking about one of their own who won't be at this year's induction ceremonies in Cooperstown -- Kirby Puckett, who died suddenly this week at the age of 45.

"He was a super guy," Kaline said. "I got to know him pretty well because he was always on the same flights coming from Minnesota to Cooperstown and back. We would ride in the limousine all the time. The other thing about Kirby was, we'd always go downstairs in the little lounge in Cooperstown at the hotel there and Kirby would get up and grab the microphone and start singing. Of course, he was into all the old stuff, which a lot of us guys liked, and we all started singing. He was just a fun guy to be around, just a great guy to be around."

Sandberg said he first met Puckett when the Chicago Cubs played two spring exhibition games in Minnesota in 1989, but he'll never forget reuniting with him last year.

"I got to see him when I got inducted into the Hall of Fame last July and he sang a song for my wife and myself that we danced to," Sandberg said. "He was just a big part of my experience with the Hall of Fame last July."

Many people probably don't remember that Anderson got a chance to manage Puckett when he took a group of All-Stars to Japan.

"I had Kirby Puckett in '88 in Japan," Anderson said. "Kirby, I'll never forget, I asked him one day, 'Do you ever shut up?' and he said, 'No,' and I said, 'Well, keep talking.' He loved to talk."

Kell remembered when Puckett was at the height of his popularity and some friends wanted his autograph. Although some superstars could be aloof, Kell said Puckett was anything but.

"I walked up to him, told him who I was and I said, 'Mr. Puckett, would you sign these two balls?' And he said, 'Yeah!'" Kell said. "He not only signed them, but he drew a little picture on them of a smiling face. I tell you, I was a Kirby fan right from that day on. When he got into the Hall of Fame, I reminded him of that. He was a great guy."

Dana Wakiji is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.