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Protest gets a pedestal among baseball’s greats


Some of the thousands of people who gathered in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday for the annual induction ceremony into the National Baseball Hall of Fame no doubt visited the attached museum to gaze at items connected to memorable moments or the greats of the game.

But one display, near the center of an exhibit called “Today’s Game,” may have surprised some visitors because of its ties to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Inside a glass case was a white jersey with flowing blue lettering and a blue hat that might seem vaguely familiar to Brooklynites of a certain vintage. The team name, however, was the Tax Dodgers; the hat displayed a 1 percent logo.

The items, which were donated by a satirical street theater group tied to Occupy Wall Street, have been included in the Hall of Fame Museum not because of their political content but because they reflect baseball’s prominent place in the national landscape, said Tom Shieber, senior curator at the museum.

“Baseball is a pervasive part of the American vernacular,” Shieber said. “It’s a language we all speak.”

The idea to form the Tax Dodgers came early this year. A group of Occupy Wall Street activists formed a street theater group to satirize people and companies that use lobbying or loopholes to lower the amount of taxes they pay or to eliminate payments altogether.

The group roamed through Midtown Manhattan on tax day, April 17, swinging baseball bats and singing about economic deception to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” They visited the Eighth Avenue post office where last-minute filers were standing in line, said Gan Golan, a member of the group, and brought a giant cardboard baseball mitt, emblazoned with the word “Mitt,” to a Romney fundraiser at the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

As a result of such appearances, the Tax Dodgers gained a modest following, and a friend of Shieber’s sent him a clip of the group in action. Shieber said he was interested in how the group used baseball imagery to communicate a political message, something that many others had done in the past.

For instance, Shieber said, the museum owned sheet music for patriotic songs written in 1943 that used baseball metaphors to buoy spirits during World War II, and it had a Currier and Ives lithograph from 1860 depicting Abraham Lincoln and other presidential candidates using baseball idioms to analyze their electoral prospects.

Shieber asked the Tax Dodgers if they would donate a uniform, and the group sent one by overnight mail. In July, several members of the team drove to Cooperstown, in uniform and accompanied by two cheerleaders. They arrived to find one of their shirts along with a 1 percent cap and a plaque designed by the museum. Next to it was the bat that the Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton had used on May 8 to hit four home runs in one game.

Golan, 38, an artist and writer who moved from Oakland to Brooklyn when Occupy protests began last fall, said he was pleased with the display and hoped it would help the group’s message reach a wider audience. He added that he had never expected the Tax Dodgers to gain the company of players like Willie Mays and Walter Johnson.

“We’re playing the bad guys, and those guys are heroes,” he said.

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