Q+A: Jeff Idelson

The National Baseball Hall of Fame president talks Fenway Park, Curt Schilling's bloody sock, and more.

man sitting with baseball bat

(Jeff Idelson photo by Scott M. Lacey)

So you were just walking around with that thing? It’s like Antonio Banderas with the guns in the guitar case. If people only knew …
Well, discretion is important when you’re toting one-of-a-kind treasures around. I would not like to have the case photographed. We’re careful. The first time I did it was in ’98, when I needed to bring Roger Maris’s bat to St. Louis. People see the case and ask, “Oh, is that a pool cue? Are you carrying a gun?” But the bat never leaves you. You sleep with it, you run with it, you eat with it.

You became Hall of Fame president in 2008, after working there for 14 years, but your first job was actually at Fenway.
I spent five years as a vendor. When I had ice cream, the first time I went out to the bleachers on a hot day, our closer, Bill Campbell, goes, “Hey, do you have any ice cream in there?” I was like, “Yeah, they’re $1.25.” He said, “Well, I don’t have any money. How ’bout if I trade you a baseball?” So every once in a while, Campbell would trade baseballs for ice cream.

After college you did some PR for the Sox, but ended up working for the Yankees for five years. How do you justify that?
There is no justification! But it ended up being great, because I found out that I loved the Red Sox, but more than anything, I love the game. The weirdest moment was when we hired Bucky Dent as manager. I ended up working with the guy who was the antagonist in my life. We hired him right before a Red Sox series and I had to introduce him to the Boston media. I almost passed out.

Something that a lot of people might not know is that you are actually a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
I am! I was honored with their “Good Guy Award.” I think people should be good in general, but yeah, it was an honor.

On the website there’s actually an asterisk next to your name. They list all the members, and you have an asterisk.
Really? Because I won the award?

Either that or you’re on steroids.
I don’t have the body.

Speaking of, how is the Hall dealing with the steroids mess?
We’re three entities under one roof. We’re a Hall of Fame, and the players are voted upon by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. We have no control over that. We honor whom they elect. We’re also an education center, so how do we address the topic societally? Head on. We’ve rolled out a program in the past three months, BASE — Being a Superior Example — that teaches kids the value of living a healthy lifestyle. And finally, we are a museum, which chronicles the history of the game. Our job is to present the facts and let people draw their own value judgments.

What are the highlights of the Fenway at 100 exhibit?
It’s got 50 artifacts in it. We’ve got the bat Babe Ruth used in ’18 and ’19 when he won his first two home-run titles, the bloody sock, Pedro’s jersey. But we also talk about the connection with the Jimmy Fund, and the ballpark itself.

And so the bloody sock resurfaces.
It’s funny, after the ’04 series I asked Curt Schilling for his shoes, which he’d written “K ALS” on, because we’ve had two Hall of Famers die from ALS: Lou Gehrig and Catfish Hunter. He said, “Don’t you want the sock?” And I said, “Oh yeah, we’d like the sock, too.”

Of course that was his idea.
And his in-laws drove it to Cooperstown.

And you can confirm that it is in fact bloody?
It is.

What’s your favorite of all those artifacts?
The Fisk bat is poignant because it’s never been seen. I called him in December and asked, “Where’s the bat?” And he goes, “It’s in my house.” I said, “What?” and he said, “Yeah, no one’s ever asked.” If you think about it, until they won in ’04, that was the seminal moment in Red Sox history.

Follow Jason Schwartz on Twitter: @schwartzhub.