Three years ago, Maxine Simmons, her son and her mother visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame for one purpose. Simmons wanted to see herself.
Actually, the Camden native was looking for her name on a Hall of Fame display celebrating women’s contributions to baseball. Fifty-one years ago Simmons, then known as Maxine Drinkwater, was the first player chosen at the tryouts for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Simmons was selected by the South Bend, Ind., Blue Sox and played one year in the AAGBL before the league folded the next year.
Simmons, along with Marie Richardson of Rumford and hundreds of other women who played in the AAGPBL, are both listed in the wall display. They’re just two of the connections Maine has to the Hall of Fame.
The two other most visible Maine connections may be found in different parts of the museum.
In the “Today’s Game” exhibit, which highlights more recent items in the Hall’s collection, the glove used by Winterport native and former Baltimore Orioles player Mike Bordick when he played in his record-breaking 102nd straight errorless game at shortstop on Sept. 20, 2002, along with his picture, is on display in the Orioles’ section.
In an exhibit devoted to youth baseball, in which youth championship teams such as Little League World Series winners and Babe Ruth championship, a picture of Portland’s Nova Seafood American Legion team, which won the 2004 American Legion national baseball championship, was to go on display late last month.
Although exhibits change frequently as items move in and out of storage, the Bordick display is one the most visible of Maine’s connections to the Hall of Fame.
Most of the items with Maine connections are in the Hall’s collection and library, said Tim Wiles, the Hall of Fame’s director of research. A mere 4.2 percent of the Hall’s collection is on display either in Cooperstown or in a traveling exhibition called “Baseball As America.”
There are archived interviews with Clyde Sukeforth, who lived in Waldoboro and was a former Major Leaguer who became a scout and played a role in the signing of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente.
The Hall of Fame has newspaper clippings about Louis Sockalexis, the Penobscot Indian who played for the Cleveland Spiders in the late 1890s.
In 1996, the Hall of Fame asked the Bangor Blue Ox to donate the 1,200 entries and artwork that went into a contest to name the independent professional minor league team that played in Orono for two years.
At the time the Blue Ox items were the first archive in the Hall of Fame to document the naming of a minor league team by fans.
The Hall of Fame also keeps a file of clippings about every player who played in the Major Leagues, which would include men like South Portland pitcher Billy Swift, who was a National League Cy Young runner-up for the San Francisco Giants in 1993.
Some might put Ted Williams into the Maine connections category for all the time he spent fishing here – and why not, as Williams’ museum in Florida has a picture of himself fishing with former NEWS executive sports editor Bud Leavitt. One of the first pieces visitors to Cooperstown see as they enter the Hall of Fame is a wood sculpture of Williams by a Scituate, R.I., sculptor named Armand La Montagne.
There are other Williams displays, including a glove, cap and shoes from his 100th extra-base hit April 30, 1958 and a bat he used during remarkable .406 season in 1941. But the most interesting Williams exhibit may be a collection of 77 baseballs, each painted a color to correspond with how Williams thought he could hit in the strike zone – red for his highest batting percentages, a light purple for his worst.
Maine’s best contributions to the Hall of Fame may be yet to come, however.
“In a place as unique as Maine there’s a lot of town culture,” Wiles said. “They played baseball there so there could be artifacts in people’s attics that could be interesting. We’d love to hear about them.”
Simmons, now 69 and back living in Camden to care for her 91-year-old mother, Bertha Hopper, has kept her artifacts in scrapbooks, but she did send the Hall of Fame a ball she used during her playing days.
Simmons, who said she still gets about one autograph request a week, will join Bordick as an inductee into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame later this month.
Unfortunately, Simmons’ visit to the national Hall of Fame ended without a chance to view the AAGPBL exhibit. The displays had been taken down while the Hall was undergoing a renovation.
But it was still a valuable trip.
“I thought it was great fun,” she said. “My mother didn’t care for it and neither did my son, but I loved it. I could have stayed all day. I’ve gotta get back down there sooner or later.”