MURRAY, Ky. – Murray State alumnus Curt Hart realizes a dream in June when he becomes a presenter at the 29th Cooperstown Symposium (May 31–June 2) at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Curt Hart has enjoyed a successful career first as a radio broadcaster, professional photographer, teacher and now staff member at the University of Memphis. He has served at UM as instructor, special assistant to the dean of University College and special assistant to the vice provost since 2007. Hart earned undergraduate and master’s degrees from Murray State in communications (1971) and radio-TV communication (1972).
Presenting at the shrine of baseball
At the Cooperstown Symposium, Hart will make a presentation entitled “The Road to Jackie Robinson – Interviews with Negro Leaguers.” Since the late 1970s, Hart has made it a mission of his to spotlight Negro League players before Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Hart’s method was audio recordings with former Negro League legends including Satchel Paige (1978, four years before Paige’s death), Joe B. Scott (2010), Ollie Brantley (2011), Lonnie Harris (2012), Buck O’Neil (2003) and Charlie Pride (2014).
“I felt I had to do this,” Hart said. “These guys were all getting up there in age in their 80s and 90s, and I was thinking, hey, they’re not going to be around forever and they’ve got so much to offer of their experiences. The slogan for the Baseball Hall of Fame is ‘Preserving history, honoring excellence and connecting generations.’ As a person who loves the game, I believe in that. It’s through my Baseball in America class at Memphis that I try to do that. This is a great game, and I want to instill my love for the game in younger generations and those coming up. I want to pass it on as everyone who loves baseball wants to do.”
Each day on Hart’s Facebook page, he faithfully reveals a This Day in Baseball post. The history of the game has been a passion of his, and it was only natural for Hart to develop the curriculum for his Baseball in America course.
For the last 20-plus years, Hart’s love of the baseball has led him annually back to Cooperstown to see the hall of fame inductions. Some of his favorites were Cal Ripken Jr. in 2007, Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn in 1995, Nolan Ryan (1999) and Bob Uecker in 2003.
The one that stands out most to Hart was Ozzie Smith’s speech in 2002.
“Ozzie cut a baseball in half and described the inner core of a baseball and how it’s tightly wrapped and intertwined. Ozzie said this is what the game of baseball is all about. You win as a team and you lose as team. That speech impacted me a lot.”
Baseball connects with most everything
The Cooperstown Symposium is a three-day event featuring some 40 speakers, including keynote speaker Brian Kenny of the MLB Network. The schedule features presentations on several topics, including “A History of Ignoring Competitive Advantage,” “African American History Of Baseball,” “Baseball Racial Politics and Social Justice,” “Baseball on Stage & Screen,” “Women in Baseball,” “Baseball in Social Media,” “We Interrupt This Marriage for Baseball Season,” “Baseball Scorecards as Metaphor for Transmedia Storytelling” and “Symbols Matter-It’s Time for the Cleveland Indians to Retire the Franchise Name and Logo.”
“It sure is a wide range of topics, and it’s amazing to be part of it,” Hart said. “Baseball has more history than any other sport, and I will debate that with anyone. I feel so honored to be part of this symposium, and it’s hard for me to put into words just how special this is to me. It’s a fantastic honor.”
The Hart interviews
Hart still does baseball interviews because he believes in preserving the history of the game.
“I am most proud of the interview I did with Satchel Paige in 1978,” Hart said during a phone interview from his home in Memphis. “I knew I had the tape, but it went missing. Now it was 2013 and I still can’t find it. I finally found it in a five-inch reel-to-reel box. Now think about this. How many reel-to-reel players are there still out there in 2013? Was this reel damaged over the years? Eventually I found a reel-to-reel player in the Memphis library, and it was wired to a digital recorder. When we started the copying process, I was holding my breath. But it played perfectly, and I was ecstatic! It was 20 minutes that I treasure. How many people can say they have a personal interview with the great Satchel Paige?”
Hart’s taped interview with Paige, which was in a box for 35 years, was donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015, and Hart is mighty proud of that.
During the interview with Hart, the subject of today’s crazy shifting baseball defenses and how that would play back in Paige’s day came up. Paige started pitching in the 1920s and made his final big league appearance as a full-time player in 1953 with the St. Louis Browns.
“Here’s what Paige would do,” Hart said. “He’d send his outfielders to the dugout then proceeded to strike out the side! The name of his fastball was Midnight Rider, and Four-day Creeper was the name of his change-up. He was truly one of the best of the best.”
Curt Hart is a baseball guy through and through. One of his favorite interviews was in 1989 when he had a few minutes with St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial. “Stan The Man” played 22 seasons, all with the St. Louis Cardinals (1941-63).
“One of the first questions I asked him, was to find out his view on the state of the game,” Hart said. “This was in the late 1980s, and at that time he liked where baseball was. This was four years before the steroid era started and before we lost an all-star game and a world series in the mid-1990s. If he were alive now, his answers would be vastly different.”
“I’m not going to put words into his mouth,” Hart said. “But let’s face it, over-site and leadership have been problems for big league baseball. I think Stan would still say the competitiveness is still there and he’d still love the Cardinals and he would’ve loved that last World Series between the Cubs and Indians. However, Stan would still say the game can always be improved.”
Baseball gets in your blood
Curt Hart born in Louisville in August 1947 and attended Shepherdsville High School in 1966.
“When I was in high school, I studied music, and I came to Murray State to study music but switched to broadcasting after three years.”
Hart’s friends in the Louisville area were all St. Louis Cardinal fans, and they all played high school baseball. He often went to Cincinnati’s Crosley field to watch the Reds and attended the 1975 World Series when the Reds beat the Red Sox. Like many American boys, he fell in love with baseball and those larger than life giants that played the game. Hart attended Murray State, where he tried out as a walk on.
“It was my senior year in 1971 and I was hitting pretty good, but I never got to play. When I eventually moved east, I played in the Pennsylvania York County Old-Timers League, where you had to be at least 38 years old and be two years removed from any play in organized baseball. That league is still in existence.”
Hart’s love for Murray State
Murray State University and the lakes area are never far from Hart’s thoughts. He’s a world-class bird photographer and regularly makes trips to Land Between the Lakes to photograph eagles.
No matter where his career has taken him — and it has taken him many places in 45 years — Curt Hart always takes Murray State with him in his heart.
“It’s the campus and the people,” Hart said. “One thing that I appreciated most about Murray State was the faculty/student ratio. I had no desire to go to a large university. I love that more than anything else. Dr. Ray Mofield had the biggest impact on me, because he was very experienced in the radio broadcasting field.”
Hart thanks Dr. Dan Lattimore, who encouraged him to develop the Baseball in America class, which is one of the most popular classes at UM. And, now Hart is ready to present at Cooperstown.
“I enjoy coming back to Murray anytime I can, and I love shooting at Land Between the Lakes.”