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In 1943, baseball World Series programs featured cover photos of soldiers and sailors overseas listening to baseball games. In the 1968 series, Cardinals’ center fielder Curt Flood was blamed for a misplayed ball but went on to change the game forever with his campaign for player free agency. And in 2004, the Cardinals’ loss seemed inevitable against the curse-busting Boston Red Sox.
These moments and others that tell rich stories about American life are celebrated in a unique collection of World Series memorabilia given this month to Colby College. The collection showcasing “America’s Pastime,” which includes more than 600 items, was collected over 15 years by Kurt Cerulli, a 1978 Colby graduate who intentionally and carefully acquired baseball objects of historic or cultural interest and had them signed and custom inscribed to give them unique significance. Not only will it offer compelling opportunities for analysis by Colby faculty and students, it will be displayed for the entire community to enjoy.
“The historical context of these pieces is what really intrigued me,” said Cerulli, founder of Cerulli Associates, a Boston-based financial data analysis firm. “I’ve always had a love for history, so it’s not unusual for me to look at baseball that way.” The World Series provided the framework for curating his collection, and he intentionally selected baseballs, programs, and other ephemera for the historical context, then had the material autographed and inscribed with specific statistics relating to those key events.
“Kurt Cerulli crafted this collection with such care and thought,” said President David A. Greene. “It is a remarkable archive of American social and cultural history as seen through the lens of baseball, the closest thing this country had to a national game throughout much of the 20th century. The Cerulli Collection is endlessly interesting for anyone who loves baseball and the richness of its traditions, but it is also valuable source material for scholarship and teaching. We look forward to sharing it with students, scholars, and baseball fans from Maine and beyond.”
The Cerulli World Series Collection will be housed in Colby’s Special Collections in Miller Library, a tremendous resource highlighted by its literary and Maine-related papers and objects. Colby expects to put significant pieces of the Cerulli Collection on display year-round in the library and elsewhere on campus, as well as in off-campus venues, including downtown Waterville.
Some important pieces include programs from the 1963, 1965, and 1966 Series, signed by Los Angeles Dodgers great Sandy Koufax (and inscribed with the fact that he won the Cy Young award those years). These are significant because of Koufax’s decision not to pitch Game One of the 1965 World Series since it fell on Yom Kippur. This decision by one of the outstanding Jewish athletes in American sports received national attention and was emblematic of the conflict between personal and professional behavior in sports—a conflict with resonance today. A signed Koufax baseball sits alongside one by famous righty Don Drysdale, who, with Koufax, held out for more money one spring—an early example of collective bargaining in baseball.
Cerulli appreciates that the collection can be used in the College’s academic programs. Much as the Colby College Museum of Art hosts more than 100 courses from across multiple disciplines, Colby’s Special Collections is a learning resource for students in many classes as well as independent studies. The World Series collection will offer a unique opportunity for faculty and students seeking social context in their work, including economics, anthropology, American studies, and sociology.
Cerulli’s favorite piece in the collection is the 1968 World Series set. At that time, both leagues produced a program, and both are included. The ’68 series, played against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and cultural upheaval at home, is considered a landmark for many reasons, including Cards pitcher Bob Gibson’s remarkable record (still unbroken) of 17 strikeouts in Game 1, and for the phenomenal Tigers squad, including greats Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich, and Al Kaline. Cerulli had many of these stars sign both programs, with individual stats. Sadly, the National League program does not include the signature of Curt Flood, who died in 1997. His contribution to the game—fighting for player rights—came at the cost of his career, a contribution sometimes overshadowed by the misplayed ball that cost the National League the Series.
“He changed baseball economics,” Cerulli said. “We just didn’t know it when he lost the ball.”