Cheap thrills

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May 14, 2002 // UPDATED 1:20 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Richard Carney
Richard Carney

The best things in Downtown are free...if you don't take things too literally

Whether the economy is booming or receding, the market is a bull or a bear, cash is flush or lean, it is always cool to find something that doesn\'t cost money. Unfortunately, the non-monetary price paid for said free offering is sometimes too high (free tickets to a film -- but Ben Affleck stars; your friends are making dinner -- but your friends have discovered Amway).

Even when something is free, one must always keep two words in the back of one\'s mind -- \'caveat emptor,\' buyer beware.

That said, Downtown, the section of the city most devoted to commerce, and most highly concentrated with the cogs of capitalism, does offer some fine free fare, and with no real catch.

The Central Library's books are free -- provided you return them on time. You can stroll over to the Mall and look in on a WCCO-TV newscast and get a glimpse at some of the newsies whose personal lives supply the fodder that keeps C.J. gainfully employed.

And of course, there are several (but not enough) places to sit and eat an outdoor lunch, scattered street musicians, and ample and varied opportunities to see clusters of people smoking while leaning against building faades. One could easily make a day of free activities.

My favorite free Downtown offering, however, is the baseball museum adjoining \"Dome Souvenirs Plus," 910 S. 3rd St. (across from the Metrodome\'s Gate A).

I am a baseball fan, so naturally a venue officially listed by the Minnesota Historical Society as the \"Baseball Hall of Fame Museum of Minnesota\" would beckon me. Especially when admission is free.

When I enter a museum, I have two primary expectations: First, I will trip across interesting items not normally seen during the course of my day, and second, I will learn something.

The BHFMM does not disappoint on either count, although baseball has little to do with that.

To be fair, there are a few cool baseball items. There is a 7-inch 33-1/3-rpm record with local broadcasting legend Frank Buetel and the pride of Nimrod, Minnesota, Dick Stigman, teaching the art of pitching. (Mr. Stigman threw for the Twins for four seasons in the '60s). There is an old

Twins button with the catchy phrasing, \"second in \'62...all the way in \'63\" (I imagine that must have been set to song by someone), and there is a baseball autographed by many members of the 1969 Seattle Pilots, a team that existed only one year before they were purchased and moved by a badly-coifed, ermine-like Milwaukee car salesman named Bud.

But the baseball stuff really does pale in comparison to the Crump stuff.

Ray Crump is the BHFMM\'s director. I remember Mr. Crump from my childhood because as the Twins\' equipment manager he was always in the annual team picture, which my Dad or Grandpa would procure for me when they were being meted out for free by a gas station, a now defunct savings-and-loan, or maybe a \"Little General\" store.

I knew nothing else about Mr. Crump until my first visit to the BHFMM, when I learned that Mr. Crump has spent a great deal of time having his picture taken with a wide variety of entertainers and celebrities. There is an incredible array of mostly color 8-by-10 photos, some autographed, of Mr. Crump or Mrs. Crump or the whole family Crump posing with the likes of (to name but a few) Roy Acuff, Telly Savalas, Wayne Newton, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Statler Brothers, Calvin Griffith, Ms. \"Knockers Up\" herself, Rusty Warren, and each of the Beatles.

The Beatles photos are [I assume] backstage at their August 21, 1965 Met Stadium concert, and are fascinating just because of the very austere conditions -- foldout metal furniture, concrete block walls -- a far cry from the oft ridiculous backstage demands made by contemporary bands and singers [sic] of the Jennifer Lopez ilk.

Bridging the gap between baseball and celebrities are baseballs signed by celebrities. A visitor can see official league balls signed by Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and Mac Davis (who I hear had great gap power but couldn\'t hit a curve), as well as the executive branch of the U.S. government in the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. (Nixon was also a huge fan of the game, and I played Nixon in a school program in 1969...weird.)

Okay, the baseball purist might have issues here because the name \"Baseball Hall of Fame Museum of Minnesota\" is a bit of a misnomer. But every nuance, from the peeling tin ceiling and the eclectic array of memorabilia, to the Elvis shrine and the snack bar, to the Oliva, Killebrew and Carew mannequins, easily qualifies the BHFMM as one of Downtown\'s finer free attractions.