Sports Corner

Two left feet, but perseverance leads to successful sports career

The man behind the National Baseball Hall of Fame
Tim Wiles dressed as Casey from the poem “Casey At The Bat” photo: doc woods

You didn’t have a chance, really,” was the way my college baseball coach told me I was cut from the team. That night, the other cut players and I had a huge, sad, boozy party. Up to that point, I hadn’t envisioned doing anything other than playing first base for a professional baseball team (the delusion of an obsessed teenager). It was the end of the line; no more baseball; the dream was shattered. What was I going to do? I had no idea.

Unfortunately, I did not possess the imagination or vision of Tim Wiles, the head librarian at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. In 1987, while finishing his B.A. in English at the University of Iowa, Wiles was leafing through the newest issue of Sports Illustrated and came across an article about the then-current Baseball Hall of Fame librarian, Tom Heitz. Mr. Heitz was pictured in an old-time baseball uniform, playing a baseball board game. Wiles told himself, “I want to work there!”

Wiles phoned Heitz and offered his services, essentially saying, “I just graduated! I’m free!”
Tom Heitz gently brushed back Wiles by stating that, inspired by the Sports Illustrated article, the Hall of Fame had received about 30 similar calls that day.

Wiles (having read a few career-advice books) asked, “How can I convince you that I’m the best person for the job?” Heitz told him to get a master’s degree in library science.

So that’s exactly what Wiles pursued, interspersed with frequent trips to the Hall of Fame.
Since Tim Wiles began working at the library in 1995, it seems that his dream of the job has lived up to its reality. Ensconced in an office festooned with baseball knickknacks, Wiles says that “for the first five years, I was immersed in baseball and loving it.” After that, he realized it isn’t the knowledge itself that is so wonderful, it’s the awareness of the gathering of knowledge. “It’s like reading a great baseball book that never ends.”

Besides answering baseball questions from fans and writers working on books and articles, Wiles conducts his own research. He is especially interested in women in baseball. He helped research the influence of Native Americans in baseball. He helped document the seats transferred out of Chicago’s Wrigley Field to a minor league park.

Wiles tried to track down a barn in Gilmore, Ohio, where Cy Young, one of the greatest pitchers in history, grew up. Eyewitnesses said there was a constellation of baseball seam marks on the side of the barn where Cy Young, while a boy in the 1880s, had practiced pitching. Wiles thought it would be amazing if the Hall of Fame could acquire a slab of the barn to display the ball marks. By the time Wiles found the location of the barn, it had burned down.

Then there was the time Wiles drove to Montreal to collect the costume of the Expos’ mascot, Youppi!, when the Expos were abandoning Montreal in favor of Washington, D.C. and becoming the Nationals. Youppi! was designed by Sesame Street genius Bonnie Erickson (who created Miss Piggy). As he waited at the border to cross back into the U.S. with the costume stuffed in his trunk, Wiles became increasingly worried about being arrested for absconding with a piece of Canadian heritage. Fortunately, no international conflict was ignited and Youppi! now rests safely in the Hall of Fame archives. (As a side note, the rights to Youppi! were sold from the Nationals to the Montreal Canadiens, the only transfer of mascots between baseball and hockey teams.)

Regarding the twining of one’s vocation and avocation, Tim Wiles explains, “Somebody has to work for the Hall of Fame, or for Disneyland, or for whatever is your area of passion. It might as well be you.”

If only my crusty baseball coach had also been a library sciences professor, I, too, might be working in Cooperstown.

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If you are considering a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, feel free to contact me with questions about logistics and/or accommodations. Cooperstown is very much in the middle of nowhere. E-mail: [email protected]