Museum Moment: Take Me Out to the Ball Games: Spring Ushers in Golf, Baseball Seasons

Mar 24, 2011

By Meredith Miller

With Major League Baseball opening its season next week and golf’s first major, the Masters, beginning April 7, fans of both sports don’t need a groundhog to tell them when spring begins. To some, the anticipation of the warmer weather and extended daylight, as well as games and tournaments, is enough to shake off the final throes of winter. The spring, summer and early fall allow enthusiasts to watch and participate in both beloved pastimes.

The two sports are often mentioned in the same conversation, not only because their seasons run parallel, but because dating back to the 1860s, golf equipment – which included gloves and spikes – was used for baseball too. In fact, the first baseball spikes were modeled after those used for golf. These innovations helped improve the game and players from Little Leaguers to Hall of Famers were able to benefit from them.

Many baseball players find themselves on the golf course when the season is over, or in the case of pitchers, on off-days between starts.

Contemporary baseball players Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers, Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins and Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies were on Golf Magazine’s 2010 list of Top Ten Major League Baseball Players Who Golf.

John Smoltz, the former Atlanta Braves pitcher, tried to qualify for the 2010 U.S. Open but was unsuccessful. Still, Tiger Woods once said that Smoltz is the best golfer he’s seen outside the PGA Tour. Smoltz recently accepted a bid to play in the South Georgia Classic on the Nationwide Tour, starting April 28 in Valdosta, Ga. He is eligible to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as early as 2015, yet he will have to wait until at least 2017 when he turns 50 years old to play on the Champions Tour.

“The Bronx Bombers”

“Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio had a record 56-game hitting streak in 1941. In 1978, Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds came the closest to tying DiMaggio’s record when he hit safely in 44 games. What’s more, after his streak was snapped on July 17, 1941, DiMaggio began another streak that lasted 16 games. In all, he hit safely in an incredible 72 out of 73 games.

“The Yankee Clipper” started playing golf in his mid-30s and was nearly as impressive on the course as on the field. Sam Snead once wrote that, of all the baseball players he played with, “DiMaggio had the most talent for golf. He carried a 9 handicap and could shoot 73… I told him he could be a scratch player if he wanted. He said, ‘No, I’ll just take my nine.’”

DiMaggio often played golf with former major leaguer and manager Lefty O’Doul, who once tried to give him some pointers. DiMaggio’s resulting shot caromed off the side of his club and went into a pond. He proceeded to throw his 9-iron in the air in disgust and had to go retrieve it from a tree. DiMaggio apparently didn’t like getting advice on his golf game.

After he retired from baseball, DiMaggio often participated in charity golf pro-ams and had his own tournament which raised money for the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Fla.

Living up to such a legend as DiMaggio was often difficult for fellow Yankee Mickey Mantle, who succeeded DiMaggio as the team’s centerfielder. Mantle overcame the pressure and went on to chalk up three MVP Awards, a Triple Crown and 536 home runs. Golf provided a welcome respite from the “must-win” mentality that went along with playing for the Yankees.

“Mickey enjoyed playing golf more than he enjoyed playing baseball,” Whitey Ford told Golf Magazine in 2008. “He loved baseball, but in the end it was just a way for him to make money."

Mantle’s home run swing and power were beneficial to his golf game. While on the course with his friend and golf instructor Marshall Smith at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., Mantle drove a ball 358 yards on one hole and followed that up by driving the green on the 354-yard 17th.

In 1980, when baseball’s All-Star Game was in Los Angeles, the regulars at Preston Trail Golf Club in Dallas were watching fellow member Mantle on television as he was introduced to the crowd. During the seventh inning, Mantle walked into the Preston Trail clubhouse. The perplexed group thought they might have been watching a tape-delayed game. Not so, Mantle told them; he had a helicopter waiting outside Dodger Stadium to fly him to Dallas once he fulfilled his All-Star obligations.

Around The Majors…

Every April 15, baseball commemorates the day that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. An avid golfer who often shot in the high 70s and low 80s, Robinson’s notoriety goes beyond sport, for he is known as one of the country’s foremost civil rights leaders. The USGA Museum recently acquired a set of clubs and bag owned by the accomplished sportsman.

Olympic gold medalist and women’s golf legend Babe Zaharias won every major professional championship at least once and captured 13 consecutive amateur tournaments. In addition, she was the first American to win the Ladies British Open Amateur and the first to win both that title and the U.S. Women's Amateur. Zaharias was a record-setting performer in several sports and is recognized as one of the greatest female athletes of the 20th century. Zaharias’ baseball glove is now a part of the collection at the USGA Museum.

In addition, the museum now holds Red Sox great Ted Williams’ set of irons, as well as sets of clubs used by Leo Durocher, Jimmie Foxx and Pee Wee Reese.

To those who have dealt with the cold winter months, golf and baseball are synonymous with warm weather and relaxation, as well as the excitement of competition and the promise of new beginnings for their favorite teams and players.

Meredith Miller is the Library intern for the USGA Museum and a graduate student studying Library and Information Science at Rutgers University. E-mail questions or comments to meredithmiller@usga.org.

“The Yankee Clipper” started playing golf in his mid-30s and was nearly as impressive on the course as on the field. Sam Snead once wrote that, of all the baseball players he played with, “DiMaggio had the most talent for golf. He carried a 9 handicap and could shoot 73… I told him he could be a scratch player if he wanted. He said, ‘No, I’ll just take my nine.’” (USGA Museum)


Mantle’s home run swing and power were beneficial to his golf game. While on the course with his friend and golf instructor Marshall Smith at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., Mantle drove a ball 358 yards on one hole and followed that up by driving the green on the 354-yard 17th. (USGA Museum)