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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Jeff Idelson: The President

Believe it or not, despite the fact that I have been an ardent fan of baseball for many years, I have never made a trip to the Hall of Fame. Located in Cooperstown, New York, The Hall of Fame is a shrine to America’s game, holding numerous artifacts, exhibits, and other holdings that represent the history of baseball. Visiting baseball’s holy land is an item that is literally on my bucket list, and is something I hope to fulfill in the near future. With my interest in baseball history, it seems like a travesty that I have not yet laid my eyes on the wonders that they hold. In particular, I am itching to get into their library and research facility that opened in 1994 and boasts significant resources for the baseball researcher.

Heading up the enormous operation that is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is President Jeff Idelson, who has held the position since 2008. Under his direction, the Hall of Fame has continued to flourish and bring in a large number of visitors each year, drawing 250,000 to 300,000 annually. On top of that is the yearly induction ceremony that turns Cooperstown into a city for a few days, as former players and fans alike make the pilgrimage to watch the enshrinement of the newest members. This July 24th, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven will be the next two players to join the elite club.

As a baseball fan and a person who hopes to visit the Hall of Fame one day soon, I had a number of questions that I wanted to ask President Idelson. He was gracious enough to answer everything I asked, even getting back to me on July 4th- the quintessential holiday for baseball. Although I am sure he is extremely busy on a regular basis, I also believe he probably has one of those jobs that most people can only dream about. After all, if you are a baseball fan, would there be anything better than getting to go to the Hall of Fame every day, and get paid for it? 

Jeff Idelson Interview:

Did you play baseball growing up? Did you have a favorite team or player?: I grew up just outside of Boston into a Red Sox loving family. I played through Little League and loved it. When I was 12 we won the city championship and then I retired.

What are the main job duties of the Baseball Hall of Fame President?: Overseeing a staff of about 100 year-round employees that swells to a staff of 200 in the summer. Fundraising, building strategic partnership and keeping the museum relevant are all important parts of my job. Attending major baseball events, visiting with our Hall of Famers and other key constituents such as team owners, and giving speeches is also part of my responsibilities.

How did you come to apply for the job?: I was hired by the Hall of Fame in 1994 as it public relations and promotions director. I was promoted to Vice President for Communications and Education in 1999 where I oversaw all of the non-revenue generating pieces of the museum. I was promoted to president April 15, 2008.

Does the HOF have a specific process in place when trying to acquire artifacts/items of interest?: Yes, we do. Brad Horn, our PR chief who worked for the Rangers, and I -- I worked for the Red Sox and Yankees before moving to Coop -- liaise with the major league players and clubs. Our curatorial and collections staffs, as well as our Librarian, all help in determining what artifacts we might want to acquire.

What one item would you like to see the HOF acquire that it has not already?: There's not one holy grail out there we wish we had as our collections are rich. It would have been great to have the Bobby Thomson 1951 pennant-winning HR baseball or Carlton Fisk's from Game Six of the 1975 World Series, but they don't exist.

Are you satisfied with the current process of HOF voting?: Yes. We think it is difficult to get in, as it should be, but fair. You would have a hard time arguing that the writers have elected someone that they shouldn't have, though you can certainly argue there are players on the outside looking in, who maybe should have a plaque, underscoring just how hard it is to earn election. 1% of those who play end up in Coop. Tough, tough odds.

Is there one player you would put in the HOF, who is not there yet, if you had the only vote?: Tough question. The system works well and I don't have that power. In fact, for those who don't know, the Hall of Fame does not vote. The baseball writers who have covered the sport for at least 10 years vote, and there's about 525 of them or so who cast ballots each year.

Do you have any exciting additions or changes planned for the HOF?: We just opened one of the coolest exhibits ever called One For The Books. It is about baseball records and allows fans to access a stats database in it in a large kiosk we call the Top Ten Tower. You can go to any point in history and see who the top 10 were in any category, both active and lifetime. We have also revamped Hall of Fame Weekend and we revamped the Hall of Fame Classic, which is our legends game Father's Day Weekend, complete with a golf fundraiser for the Hall. We have a ton going on and we'll continue to evolve.

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