"I think there are only three things that America will be known for 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization: the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball. They're the three most beautifully designed things this culture has ever produced."
—Cultural critic Gerald Early
Described as the "definitive repository of the game's treasures and a symbol of the most profound individual honor bestowed on an athlete," the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has told the story of America's national pastime for nearly 64 years. Millions of fans from around the world have traveled to Cooperstown, New York, to see firsthand the plaques commemorating the game's 254 most memorable players, managers, owners, and announcers, and to chart baseball's evolution from a 19th century regional diversion into a national obsession. Even though last summer's labor talks threatened to bring the game to a halt for the ninth time in 30 years—a fact not lost on those who contend that its popularity and appeal have waned in recent years—baseball remains, for many, the most American of traditions.
The museum's exhibits—both static and interactive—track the game's records; profile its most revered and historically significant players, teams, and seasons; and reveal baseball's impact on the nation's language, literature, film, and even lifestyles. Like many museums, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has gradually incorporated technology into its collection in an effort to increase the sophistication with which it tells those stories. Since 1993, in fact, the museum has maintained an in-house production facility that develops and produces a variety of video content for the various exhibits. According to multimedia director Bruce Brodersen, Cooperstown's production facility "has been evolving continually" since its inception. "We began with very basic analog equipment and today have two non-linear systems," he explains. "Initially, our programs were tape-driven, but we converted to laserdisc around 1995."
Producers quickly discovered, however, that "the VCR equipment needed constant maintenance, the VHS videos degraded quickly, and, while laserdiscs proved to be more durable, the cost of creating them for each exhibit was too expensive," says Brodersen. Eventually, museum staff began "looking to find a format that was both durable and cost-effective to update"—a search that ultimately led them to Pioneer Electronics.
Hitting for the Cycle
Both sides will tell you that the story of the Hall of Fame/Pioneer relationship is essentially about timing. "I contacted the Hall of Fame about three years ago to demonstrate the DVD-V7400" (Pioneer's industrial DVD-Video player), recalls Paul Regensburg, senior regional sales manager for Pioneer. "They were still using laserdiscs at the time, but liked the unit very much. It wasn't until much later that they purchased one."
Brodersen remembered this visit when the time came to upgrade the museum's video playback devices, and he and his staff gave the company serious consideration. "We opted for Pioneer after researching the versatility of its industrial DVD player," Brodersen explains. "In our museum environment, the ability to program on and off times and repeat functions is helpful in regulating the operation of the video components in our exhibits. In talking with other museums with similar applications, the durability of the unit also was emphasized. We found no other manufacturer that came close to [having] the amount of features" available in the DVD-V7400. (Among other things, the second-generation DVD-V7400 features built-in playback compatibility for NTSC and PAL video standards; component, composite, and S-Video outputs; and an RS-232 port for direct connection to touch-screen monitors.)
By 2001, Pioneer's business solutions division had developed the PRV-9000, a desktop Pro DVD-Video Recorder that records DVD-Video discs without requiring additional hardware or software. Designed to be both a playback and recording device for markets seeking compatibility and ease of use, the PRV-9000 records video onto DVD discs using either DVD-R or DVD-RW media. Up to two hours of material may be recorded to a single DVD-R or DVD-RW disc in DVD-Video mode; up to six hours of material may be recorded to a DVD-RW disc using the video recording mode, which allows users to sort or delete specific titles and segments from the disc.
At the same time that Pioneer was rolling out the PRV-9000, the Hall of Fame was preparing to take its show on the road. In late 2001, the museum began organizing a traveling exhibition that would examine the relationship between baseball and American culture via many of the treasured artifacts from the museum's hallowed halls. For the first time in the museum's history, roughly 500 of its most significant artifacts—ranging from gear such as uniforms, bats, and balls to books, recordings, artwork, films, and even historic documents and advertising memorabilia—would leave the museum and come directly to the fans. On March 16, 2002, Baseball As America opened at New York's American Museum of Natural History—the first stop on a 10-city tour that concludes August 14, 2005, in Houston. (After a holiday hiatus, the exhibition reopens in February at Chicago's Field Museum. Other stops include Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.)
Content for the traveling exhibition, as well as regular museum exhibits, consists of baseball-related material gathered from the Hall of Fame's archives, says Brodersen, "with the remaining 20 percent coming from other sources from which we've procured the necessary rights," including film and television show clips. "We produced six feature videos for the Baseball As America exhibit," as well as countless videos that have run regularly at Cooperstown, he continues. "Our source material comes primarily from our extensive baseball film, video, and recorded sound archive, located right here at the museum. We supplement with footage from other sources such as Major League Baseball Productions, ESPN, the U.S. National Archives, and so on. We have six DVD-V7400 devices in Cooperstown and five on the road with the BAA exhibit." All are connected to plasma screen monitors.
"Building a completely mobile and reliable exhibit was the most important consideration for the Baseball As America presentation," Brodersen adds. At 10.5 pounds apiece, the devices "provide the mobility and accessibility we needed to transport this exhibit across the country."
In addition, the Hall of Fame has purchased a PRV-9000 recorder, which it uses to convert previously produced video and laserdisc content to DVD. "Pioneer helps us with any questions we may have without a fee and, since we do most of the little maintenance that is necessary ourselves, the costs are very minimal," he says.
Beyond the Ballpark
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is not Pioneer's only sports client. "There are several sports teams, at both the professional and collegiate levels, that are using the PRV-9000 to record practice games onto DVD," says Tracy Christall-Murphy, marketing manager for Pioneer. "Teams like the Dallas Mavericks use the recorder to supply DVDs to their coaches and staff for archiving and review. Other sports teams that have purchased the Pioneer recorder include the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and the Dallas Cowboys."
Looking ahead, Christall-Murphy says she expects video to remain, "as it has from the beginning," DVD's killer app. "Anywhere that video is used, whether in business or in the home environment, DVD provides a solid solution for both recording and playback compatibility," she says.
Brodersen agrees, noting that the Hall of Fame's next project, slated to occur before spring, is a renovation of its Grandstand Theater. Modeled after Chicago's original Comiskey Park—with wooden seats, simulated crowd noise, and an exploding scoreboard—the theater regularly runs a 12-minute multimedia presentation highlighting the game and its impact on American life. "The Baseball Experience is shown nearly 5,000 times annually," Brodersen explains. "It was installed in 1989 using 35mm slides, film, and special effects. In the mid 1990s, we replaced the film component with laserdisc players." Consistent with the museum's efforts elsewhere, "we look to upgrade at least the video portion of the theater presentation to DVD to make updating easier" as the game, like it always has, continues to evolve.
(National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum www.baseballhalloffame.org. Pioneer Electronics www.pioneerelectronics.com.)