Hallowed halls connecting generations.
It is one thing to walk through the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It is quite another to work there and something even more incredible to become president.
Josh Rawitch understands the weight of his new position and the Cooperstown legacy, and that is the first step to success. After all, there have been only eight presidents in the Hall’s 82-year history.
Rawitch, 44, has spent 27 years in baseball and has earned a reputation of someone who respects the game, and more importantly respects people. He will officially become president of the Hall of Fame on Sept. 9.
“One of the things that Jane Forbes Clark and I talked about is making sure that we continue to stay relevant for the next generation,’’ Rawitch told OSDB.
Clark is the highly respected Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Her leadership has been pivotal to the Hall’s success.
“While I’m still going to have to learn a ton about what has been tried and what things they already have planned,’’ said Rawitch, who grew up in Los Angeles playing baseball and basketball, “it’s obviously going to require a lot of listening, I think when I walked around there last week with my son and just saw it through an 11-year-old baseball fan’s eyes, it’s making sure all the things we do continue to make this the same experience for people that I had the first time I went, the experience my dad had the first time he went.’’
That is such a good point, the basis of appreciating all the Hall has to offer. Rawitch first visited the Hall with his father in 2001. Bob Rawitch is 76.
“We both loved it,’’ Josh Rawitch said. “One of the missions of the Hall is connecting generations, so going with him and seeing it with him, it’s kind of what you hear people always say. My dad talked about Willie Mays and Maury Wills and all the people he grew up watching, and I’m talking about Steve Sax and Orel Hershiser and the people I grew up watching. It’s almost like the same experience you are having, you are just seeing it through a different lens.’’
Baseball through the generations, America’s Pastime at its best. Rawitch and his wife Erin, they met when both were students at Indiana University, have two children, Emily, 13 and Braden, 11.
Visiting the Hall with his son, Rawitch was able to peer through that specific lens of appreciation and wonder.
“That was really cool to see my son run over and he wants to make a baseball card of himself and he is talking about Vlad (Guerrero) Jr. and (Fernando) Tatis,’’ Rawitch said. “It’s amazing how the game just keeps rolling on and new generations love it.’’
Keeping new generations plugged into the history of game is why the Hall is the best sports museum. Having visited the Hall of Fame at least 20 times, I’ve always felt one of the true gifts of the place is that it allows you to be a kid again. It’s a portal through time. When I covered the Yankees I often talked with Ichiro Suzuki about the Hall. He is a huge fan and would sometimes just make the four-hour drive from New York to Cooperstown on his own to quietly check everything out. His Yankees teammate Derek Jeter will be inducted Sept. 8 in an outdoor ceremony at the Clark Sports Center along with Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller.
It won’t be long before Ichiro gets his official invite into the Plaque Gallery.
That Hall of Fame vibe, it’s a real thing.
“When I was there for my interview,’’ explained Rawitch, who has been the Arizona Diamondbacks senior vice president of content and communications the past six years, “I overheard the guy behind the counter in the gift shop saying he had grown up in town, went to college, moved back and was now helping run the store. I said, ‘This must be a pretty special place to work?’
“He said, ‘You just can’t believe the amount of people I see walk in and their knees buckle because they’ve been wanting to be here for their whole life and they are actually here.’ ’’
What a telling and truthful comment.
All that, and you can walk to work.
And on those chilly Cooperstown mornings you can stop at Stagecoach Coffee on Pioneer Street, one of my favorite coffee spots in the country, to get a fresh cup to warm up. The restaurant and arts scene are surprisingly strong in the Cooperstown area.
Then when you enter the front doors of the Hall at 25 Main Street, you get an immediate rush of baseball energy, no matter the time of year.
During the spring and summer you often see visiting youth teams who play tournaments in the area. They make the stop, usually in full uniform at the Hall of Fame. It’s a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.
“The plan is to find a place to buy in the village, and truly have our kids walk or ride their bikes to school and immerse ourselves in the whole community there,’’ Rawitch said of living in idyllic Cooperstown.
The Hall of Fame is much more than a brick and mortar building filled with baseball artifacts. Just being in the hamlet of Cooperstown creates a feeling of baseball magic. The love of the game permeates the community and during Hall of Fame weekend, where baseball legends roam the Halls of Cooperstown after enjoying breakfast at the Otesaga Hotel, it is as if you’ve traveled back to a simpler time.
You are 11 years old again, and your baseball cards have come to life.
In 2019 I remember having a conversation on the veranda of the Otesaga with Cal Ripken Jr. as he moved one of the stately white rocking chairs that you can sit in to overlook Lake Otsego just so he could break down into a batting stance to demonstrate a hitting point to me.
“It’s truly the most special place you can be,’’ Rawitch said of the Hall. He has past president Jeff Idelson, who is the interim president, to help ease the transition and guide him along.
Rawitch has spent the last 10 years with the Diamondbacks. He worked for the Dodgers for 15 years, rising from marketing intern to VP of Communications and also spent time as a reporter for MLB.com covering the Dodgers. He knows the business inside and out and just as importantly knows how to deal with superstars, icons like the late Tommy Lasorda, who loved coming to the Hall of Fame, to everyone else from players to game day workers to reporters.
All those skills will transferred to the Hall of Fame.
Yes, it is a place of legends but it’s also a place where working men and women come to enjoy the history of the game.
Rawitch has had time to walk the Hall’s halls.
“It’s mind-blowing,’’ he said of the artifacts. “You hear the name Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and it really doesn’t matter that you never saw them play, the history is so storied. We were fortunate enough to take a tour of the archives as well, downstairs and my family was with me and they showed us one of the documents that was the money the Red Sox received from the Yankees for Babe Ruth and my son, who also got the chance to hold Babe Ruth’s bat and Ty Cobb’s glove, when somebody asked him what was the coolest thing he saw, he said, ‘I saw the piece of paper that the money the Yankees spent to get Babe Ruth.’ ’’
There truly is something for everyone and now it’s Rawitch’s job to get the information out to as many platforms as possible and collect new artifacts of the game and welcome new generations of visitors to the Hall.
“There are tens of thousands of incredible items, upstairs, downstairs,’’ Rawitch said, noting the Hall is looking to see how those items can be shared digitally over time.
Rawitch also speaks Spanish, a tremendous benefit in the baseball world of today. Again, it all comes back to respect and he will be able to speak to Hall of Famers like Vlad Guerrero Sr. and Orlando Cepeda in their language. That will help on acquisition trips as well when Rawitch meets with players at ballparks to donate items to the Hall of Fame.
Vlad Jr. just donated his batting gloves and batting helmet after being named MVP of the All-Star Game.
“Ultimately, everyone feels more comfortable speaking in their native language,’’ Rawitch said of his desire to learn to speak Spanish. “It was one of the first pieces of advice I got when I was with the Dodgers. I didn’t realize at the time just how valuable it was going to be but now I find myself, whether it’s current players or media members or broadcasters, you put people at ease when you can let them speak their native language. Some of it will come in handy if it’s quote, unquote, going out to get an item but it is about building relationships.
“You see how global the game has gotten,’’ he said with a smile, “I only wish I spoke Japanese, too. I did learn to say, ‘My name is Josh from the PR department’ in Japanese and the number of times I have said that I watched Japanese media members say, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy speaks Japanese,’ and I say, ‘No I don’t.’ ’’
Here is one thing he discovered dealing with some of the games greatest legends and players. “Ultimately, what I found out being around people like that is as long as you show them the respect that they deserve, in a lot ways they also want to be treated like normal people, a relationship can be built. I think so often when people get around someone who they revere, it can sometimes be awkward because nobody wants to be like fawned over so much. What I’ve tried to do over time is build an actual human relationship with people at that level and at that point hopefully there is a trust that comes. You learn that they are human too and that’s what I try to do without losing the respect for what they accomplished.’’
That is a winning approach and wise words for anyone entering the field and was something that was stressed by the Dodgers and then the Diamondbacks under president and CEO Derrick Hall and owner Ken Kendrick.
“What was cool about the Dodgers was that I started under the O’Malley era as an intern, so I got to see the golden era of ownership,’’ Rawitch said. “I also got the chance to be part of four ownership groups there so I learned a lot about change, and how to deal with change. And coming to the Diamondbacks where Derrick and Ken stressed culture so much, it’s all about treating people right and I think that is one thing that I will bring with me. I’m sure that is already there and Tim Mead and Jeff, my predecessors have stressed that, but just the importance of making people feel their job is important, the core elements of decency and respect.’’
Rawitch has heard from many people to wish him well and thanking him for treating them right. that truly is his reputation and I know from first hand experience through the decades covering Major League Baseball.
“It just comes down to treating people right and being human,’’ Rawitch said.
Two Hall of Fame qualities the Hall stresses.
“You know what’s interesting,’’ Rawitch said. “We had that experience. For Father’s Day, and I had not had the job yet, my wife decided to buy her father a Hall of Fame t-shirt. She ordered online from Arizona but was shipping it to New York and somebody from the store called and said,’ ‘Hey, we just want to make sure we got this right,’ and she said she could never remember anyone calling her and checking just to see if she was sending it to the right spot.’’
For baseball fans, Cooperstown is like a visit home.
In mid-August Josh and his family will arrive in Cooperstown and he will have the opportunity to shadow Idelson for a few weeks. Already, Idelson has offered so much helpful advice on making such a move.
Rawitch will walk those Hallowed Halls, knowing he is never alone.
Every step he takes, baseball history will be walking alongside him.