I love baseball. I couldn't quote batting averages off the top of my head nor could I tell you who's won every World Series, I simply love the game. I love the sight of a ball field with its crisp white lines, the call of "cold beer, peanuts, crackerjacks" from the vendors climbing the bleachers and the sound of a well hit ball as it leaves the bat headed for the outfield. I love the history and tradition of the game and how it has often marched alongside, and evolved with, the history of the country. You can probably imagine my excitement then, when, while visiting the city where professional baseball began, I was able to also view the largest private collection of baseball memorabilia in the world.
The Green Diamond Gallery in suburban Cincinnati is a magical place filled to bursting with some of the most awesome mementos to the history of the baseball. While it's not a massive place, I spent three hours there trying to take it all in. It was an incredible look at baseball history and the history of the country where the game began. Perhaps most impressive, the collection is that of one man, Bob Crotty, who has spent a lifetime gathering souvenirs of the sport he loves.
Mostly on these pages, I like to share places which everyone can visit for themselves. In this case though, the Green Diamond Gallery is a private, members-only club. While there are occasional public events, most of the time you need to know the right people to get you through the door. Thankfully in this instance, I did. The club only accepts 150 members at a time, and yearly dues are currently $2000. The biggest perk of membership, besides access to the gallery, are the monthly events which bring in baseball legends for conversations about their place in the history of the game. Since membership is capped at 150, these are small, intimate events. Because no recording or photography is allowed, the former players and coaches often feel comfortable to go "off-script" and tell private, personal, behind-the-scenes stories. Their presentations are often followed by a question and answer session with the members. In an event featuring legendary Cincinnati Red Pete Rose for example, one of the members dared ask the question everyone wanted to ask: "why"? While I can't share the answer he gave here, it is just this level of access that keeps the membership thriving.
When I arrived at the Gallery, I found it in a fairly nondescript storefront on the main street through the town of Montgomery, not hidden per se, but not calling attention to itself either. I'm sure thousands of people walk by it every year without ever knowing the secrets it holds.
Upon my arrival I was met by Dan Bell, the general manager and only full-time employee of the Gallery. Dan was a wonderful host with an obvious passion for the game and the collection entrusted to his care. He took me on a tour of the Gallery, pointing out the highlights and some of his favorites as well, regaling me with stories of the people who have walked through the Gallery doors. My favorite of these stories was of a night where former Reds first baseman Sean Casey showed up with his old friend, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. Dan told me it was basically the three of them, the Green Diamond's owner Bob Crotty, former Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo and maybe a few others. The night started with stories about baseball but at some point a guitar came out and the next thing Dan knew, a late-night jam session had broken out. There is a signed Eddie Vedder photo in the bathroom to commemorate the night, perhaps the only non baseball-related item in the whole building.
As we made our way around the gallery, Dan pointed out some truly spectacular memorabilia. There are baseballs signed by the ten players baseball historian Bill James recognized as the ten best of all time. There is another display of signed balls by the greatest at each position. There are game-used bats from all the sluggers with 500 or more home runs and the jerseys of more than a hundred hall of famers hang from the ceiling. There are photos of every member inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, most with signatures attached. Another wall, called the "3000 club" features similar photos of all of the 3000 hit batters and all of the 3000 strikeout pitchers to have ever played the game.
Another section of the gallery features some wonderful mementos from the Negro League days and a plaque with the photo and signature of the players who were the first to integrate each Major League team. In another section, there are handwritten letters from Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson and a check written by Lou Gehrig to the Mayo Clinic. There is a glove warn by Willie Mays and Hank Aaron's original, signed, rookie contract. I also enjoyed seeing several items from the Seattle Pilots who only played for one season before relocating to Milwaukee.
In other parts of the Gallery you will find the signature of Abner Doubleday, the Civil War officer who was long credited with inventing baseball, and the signatures of presidents below photos of them throwing out the first pitch of the season in Washington (including local favorite and mine, William Howard Taft). There is even a whole wall dedicated to baseball "curses" highlighting the curse of the Bambino and the one which followed the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Included in this display is an incredibly rare signed document by Shoeless Joe Jackson.
As we made our way through all of this history, Dan pointed out to me that some of the collection's most valuable pieces weren't actually in the building at all. They are simply too valuable to be on display. Some of those items not on display are a game-worn Jackie Robinson jersey from his rookie season (one of maybe four in existence) and an even rarer game-worn Lou Gehrig Jersey. Dan explained to me that in Gehrig's days, professional jerseys were passed down to minor league teams and then on to farm teams until they were simply worn out. This particular jersey was bought by a local coach who had a team called the Yankees and bought the used uniforms for his players to wear. At some point he boxed them up and stored them in his attic and they weren't discovered until after he passed away. These items are only brought out on rare occasions.
Before I left, I met briefly with Bob Crotty, the gallery's owner. He was exactly as you would hope him to be, just a regular guy who really loves the game. We laughed over some of the Washington memorabilia in his gallery, including some great stuff from our own local legend, Walter Johnson. I told him that of the jerseys of teams that have moved or changed names, it wasn't the two Senators jerseys that affected me the most, but the Montreal Expos one (as they moved to Washington and became our Washington Nationals). Bob seemed to just really enjoy talking about any aspect of the game and being able to share his lifelong passion with people.
It was truly a pleasure and an honor to visit the Green Diamond Gallery during my brief stay in southwest Ohio. I love being able to see collections like this one, rooted in passion and preserved for the future. It definitely inspired me to get out to the ballpark more often and think of all the great memories I have of baseball diamonds from D.C. to California to the Dominican Republic to rural Japan. Baseball has given me a lifetime of happy memories, and my visit to the Green Diamond Gallery has helped bring them all to the surface.
For membership info or to inquire about holding special events at the Green Diamond Gallery, visit their website HERE. Many thanks to William and Doug for getting me in the door, to Dan Bell for a wonderful tour and visit, and to Bob Crotty for your hospitality and for your creation and vision.