Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Life and Baseball

Ronald Gabriel with Babe Ruth, ca. 1948
It is late March. America’s favorite game is about to take center stage once again.   I can almost taste the steamy euphoric bliss of a ballpark hotdog; I can smell the green grass and the red dirt of the colossal coliseums where baseball gods and mere mortals will behold the beginning of another season. Fans everywhere are beginning to feel that uncontainable mass of emotion expanding in their gut; afraid that at any time it will burst out with a sound strangely similar to the shrill shriek of a star-struck teenage girl who has just caught a glimpse of Justin Bieber. As we prepare ourselves for these days of glory it is fitting to pay tribute to one of the greatest and truest fans to ever push through a turnstile; Ron Gabriel. I became familiar with this remarkable man when searching through unprocessed collections in the Archives Center. I identified a collection to process to gain a better understanding of the work that archivists do. I chose the Ronald Gabriel Collection of Baseball Memorabilia, 1912-2009. My job is to re-house the collection and write a finding aid for research purposes. It is my chance to put my name into the history books, or the archives at least. Ron Gabriel (1941-2009) was an insanely devoted Brooklyn Dodgers fan whose life was shaped by the great game of baseball. He was fortunate to have witnessed the Dodgers become one of the most successful franchises in baseball during the 40s and 50s. As a boy he grew up just two miles from Ebbets Field, comparable to the distance I walk to work every morning. When he couldn’t make it to the games he could always listen to the announcer’s voice echoing through the streets and into his window. He wrote letters to ball clubs asking for autographs from players. He was amazingly successful at this, evident in his scrapbook from the collection, which spans 144 pages and easily contains over 1000 signatures, including Mickey Mantle, Bob Feller, Lefty Grove, Stan Musial, and many others. This scrapbook shows, more than anything else, just how deep his love for the game was. Not only did he get autographs from every team in the Major Leagues but he organized them from front to back like a depth chart; infielders, outfielders, and pitchers. He also incorporated baseball cards and pictures cut from magazines to put a face next to the signature. The scrapbook started out as a notebook about half an inch thick and grew to encyclopedic-size. A memorial to young kids everywhere who made baseball a way of life and saw the men on the field as immortal heroes. I was one of these kids. I hit more game-winning home runs in my daydreams than Hank Aaron ever hit his whole career. I begged my dad into letting me play on his little league team even though I wasn’t old enough. I played baseball every year since until finally “retiring” after playing college ball. Baseball has always a vital part of my life and it always will be.

Barney Stein with Jackie Robinson, ca. 1960
Most young baseball fans lose their passion for the game once girls, cars, and rock n’ roll push all other thoughts from their minds. Not so for Gabriel. Just three years after winning the 1955 World Series against the New York Yankees the team moved west to Los Angeles. Gabriel was shocked, angry, and above all felt betrayed when his team was moved 3,000 miles away. Instead of transferring his allegiance across the country he remained loyal to the Dodgers… of Brooklyn. He started the Brooklyn Dodgers Fan Club in 1975 in honor of the 20th anniversary of their Championship season. He also published a newsletter called Dodgers Line Drives which lasted until the day he died. His baseball knowledge expanded far beyond his own team; he was a renowned baseball historian and once acted as the Vice-president of the Society for American Baseball Research and was responsible for starting their Washington DC Metro Chapter. In addition, he was frequently asked to speak about Jackie Robinson as a guest lecturer at George Washington University in a class called Race, Sports, and the American Dream.

Ted Williams trading card, 1957
Ronald Gabriel was honored by the Dodgers when they inducted him into the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame, a tribute not usually bestowed on fans. Ron died in June 2009, in the midst of the baseball season. He will always be remembered by those in the Dodger community not only for his devotion to the team, but for his devotion to people. He became great friends with a number of widows of former ball players and he visited them often. He dedicated huge amounts of time and energy to make sure that other people got recognition while never asking for any in return. I envy Ron Gabriel. He showed that if we are truly passionate about something, hold on to it, and embrace that passion we can be successful and live a life that is full of meaning and happiness.

Josiah Gould, Intern, NMAH Archives Center


  1. A very nice article. I was a very close friend of Ron Gabriel. One very minor correction--Ron died in June, 2009, not July. I received a letter from Rachel Robinson, Jackie's widow, which I read at Ron's funeral.

  2. Thank you very much for the correction. We'll correct it in our records.