by Scott Kindberg
August 18, 2022
Editors note: The interviews discussed in this article are accessible through the SABR website.
For Baseball Fans, The Tales Are In The Tapes
The site is Yankee Stadium. It’s Old-Timers’ Day — Aug. 22, 1981 to be exact — an afternoon in which the New York Yankees are also celebrating the 25th anniversary of Don Larsen’s perfect game.
Standing at a microphone behind home plate and wearing a pinstriped uniform is Robert Merrill, the operatic baritone, who is in the middle of singing the national anthem. Just behind Merrill is Frank Messer, the master of ceremonies; and, in the background wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers jersey, is Roy Campanella, who is holding his blue cap over his heart.
To the right of the Hall-of-Fame catcher is a man standing on the top step of the third-base dugout with a camcorder perched on his shoulder, recording it all for posterity.
Forty-one years later, almost to the day, the Lakewood resident sat with his friend, Bob Hopper, at The Pub in downtown Jamestown. While they each enjoyed a bowl of pasta, the real purpose of Tuesday’s midday reunion was to share with a guest what the tandem had acquired via a 2021 online auction.
And for as much as Peterson’s serendipitous visit to Yankee Stadium four decades ago allowed him to rub elbows with, among others, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford — WKSN radio, by the way, was able to secure him a media credential that day — his latest baseball-related eye-opener may be even more impressive.
The Society for American Baseball Research thinks so.
So does the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.
All because Hopper, a resident of Falls Church, Virginia, happened to come across a collection of audio interviews of baseball players and other notables from the early 1960s, conducted by radio and TV executive Clifford Evans. Hopper shared his discovery with Peterson and they ultimately learned that Evans, working for RKO Radio, traveled to spring training in Florida each year during the early 1960s and had dozens of conversations with baseball players and managers who were preparing for the upcoming season. The recordings included Hall-of-Famers Roberto Clemente, Frankie Frisch, Nellie Fox, Goose Goslin, Al Lopez, Frank Robinson (two separate interviews), Red Ruffing, Duke Snider, Casey Stengel, Bill Terry and Paul Waner.
Other interview subjects included Roger Maris, who spoke to Evans the spring after the former hit 61 home runs; Bill White and Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals; Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen; and managers Danny Murtaugh of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Ralph Houk of the Yankees.
Talk about a jackpot.
Hopper is a picker.
“Somehow,” Peterson said, “he looks throughout the Washington, D.C. area for estate (sales) and he finds stuff and buys stuff.”
That includes items that are in Peterson’s proverbial wheelhouse, including former Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson memorabilia and, of course, gems form America’s pastime.
“There is an auction house, which Bob works with, called ‘McGuire,'” Peterson said. “Bob called me one day and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to send you a link to a McGuire Auction House.’ Within it, was an explanation of a guy named Cliff Evans.”
The rest is history.
By July 2021, Peterson and Hopper found themselves in the middle of an online auction for the reel-to-reel tapes mentioned above. When it was complete, Peterson was the owner of 11 of them.
“I thought, ‘This is cool. … Maybe.’ Nobody had heard the interviews. They were just boxes with four or five names on it.”
Peterson also had to find someone to digitize the reel-to-reel tapes.
Enter Ed Tomassini of Jamestown.
“He digitized it and sent it to me,” Peterson said. “(Then) I edited them out to separate posts (and put them on YouTube channel “ allendale101″). … I bet, in sum total, there were almost 60 separate posts.
“I reached out to SABR and they went nuts, because they have an oral history program. I gave them a thumb-drive and they posted it all separately and got a huge page of the ‘Cliff Evans Collection, digitized by Greg Peterson, a SABR member.’ It’s cool.”
And then, after talking with Hopper, Peterson believed there could be an even “higher calling” for the interviews.
Once Peterson had made the interviews available to SABR, Hopper suggested that they reach out to Cassidy Lent, the librarian at the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I told her I had the original interviews with these people, she took it to committee and I hand-delivered them in May of this year. I just got the bill of sale,” Peterson said. “What’s interesting is that through the whole process, the feedback has been unbelievable. What started as an auction in Falls Church, Virginia, (resulted in) buying a bunch of reel-to-reels, getting (Tomassini) to do the digitization and then, magically, finding a whole SABR page.”
And then it was on to Cooperstown.
“The Hall of Fame can exhibit all of it,” Hopper said. “Even though they’re selling tickets (to the museum), it’s such indirect revenue that it’s (non-commercial use). They can make copies of things and give them as gifts to donors.”
And should that happen, the two men who love baseball can take pride in knowing that they are preserving the game’s history in another unique way.