Detroit Institute of Arts Brings Back Play Ball! Exhibition, Adds Artifacts

The Detroit Institute of Arts is bringing back its exhibition series Play Ball! – June 15 through Sept. 15. The new edition is titled, “Transforming the Game, 1876-2019.”
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"The Ball Players"
“The Ball Players,” 1871, by William Morris Hunt, an American; oil-on-canvas painting that is part of the DIA’s Play Ball! exhibition. // Photo courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is bringing back its exhibition series Play Ball! – June 15 through Sept. 15. The new edition is titled, “Transforming the Game, 1876-2019.”

The exhibit will explore the evolution of the game between 1876 and 2019, and celebrate two Detroit championship teams — the 1887 Detroit Wolverines and the 1984 Detroit Tigers. The exhibition is free with museum admission, which is free for residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

Coinciding with the 35th anniversary of the Detroit Tigers’ 1984 World Series championship, the exhibition features items dedicated to the milestone such as a World Series program, two players’ uniforms, and five hand-written scorecards kept by long-time announcer Ernie Harwell.

This exhibition will be displayed in two galleries representing different eras of the game. The first gallery, “Baseball from Recreational Game to Professional Sport” covers the 1870s–1910s and features the Wolverines, Detroit’s first professional baseball and championship team, as well as sections on the early history of baseball cards, and a display of Ty Cobb memorabilia.

The second gallery, “The Reign of the Power Hitter,” covers 1919–present, and commemorates the first baseball card of an African-American player, Jackie Robinson. It also continues the history of baseball cards tracing the evolution of these familiar cardboard collectibles from vending machine and candy cards of the 1920s through the great Topps Chewing Gum cards of the mid-century to the present.

Other highlights include William Morris Hunt’s 1877 painting, “The Ball Players,” from the DIA’s permanent collection, a porcelain baseball vase (1876) by designer Isaac Broome, presented to the Detroit Wolverines when they won both the National League pennant and a post-season interleague exhibition series playoff (the predecessor of the World Series) in 1887.

This year’s exhibition again will display the complete collection of more than 500 rare baseball cards known as the T206 White Border Set. Released from 1909–1911 by the American Tobacco Company, this collection is owned by Rochester resident E. Powell Miller and is noted for its superlative condition. According to the largest sports card authentication service, Professional Sports Authenticator, the collection is ranked third in the world. Included in this collection is the coveted Honus Wagner card.

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