The professionally designed, interactive exhibit opens Friday and continues through Oct. 15. A full schedule of programs is also planned, including a baseball memorabilia appraisal day on Saturday, evening lectures, panel discussions, and children's summer workshops and tours.
Titled ``Baseball's White Elephants: Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics,'' the exhibit spans a period from 1901 to 1954. It attempts to capture the world of baseball at the height of what has been called ``rowdyism, scandal and intemperance.''
At its center was the legendary figure Connie Mack, a man portrayed in the exhibit, as in life, as the paragon of managers.
``We've lost that kind of perfection that a person like Connie Mack brought to the game,'' said William C. Kashatus, the exhibit's curator who is also director of public programs at the society.
Kashatus, a baseball historian and author of the recently published, Connie Mack's '29 Triumph, said he used much of his six years of research to develop the multi-themed exhibit. He calls it the first area exhibit to focus on Mack.
In addition to offering a national baseball time log, the exhibit outlines Mack's two championship dynasties (1910-14 and 1929-31) and the team's final years in Philadelphia before it relocated to Kansas City, Mo.
One strong section of the exhibit, however, focuses on what Kashatus calls Chester County's pipeline of talent. Numerous objects and pictures are dedicated to illustrating how the area's long baseball tradition - dating to the Civil War - helped to build such semi-pro teams as the Brandywines of West Chester and the Parkesburg Iron Co. team.
In explaining the life and career of Chester County Hall of Famer Herb Pennock, the society doesn't shy away from a recent controversy concerning the Kennett Square native's alleged racism. The exhibit includes 1998 newspaper stories and editorials.
``We're going to acknowledge it, but also allow the visitors to make their own judgment,'' Kashatus said of the documents. ``What we're saying on the labels is that there is contradictory evidence and that even now, years after he's gone, he continues to be newsworthy.''
Free to visitors age 13 and younger who wear a baseball jersey, the exhibit ``celebrates everything about baseball,'' Kashatus said.
Some of the photographs are life-size and are displayed to give a sense of action: Players step up to the plate, others are caught in mid-pitch.
A large section of the exhibit is interactive, designed to engage young visitors with baseball trivia games and displays that include a life-size dugout and a row of lockers where visitors can try on a pitcher's uniform.
The excitement and sounds of a ballpark on a summer's day are captured in original documentary footage, which appears on a special video. The same room offers a collection of original paintings by Dick Perez, National Baseball Hall of Fame artist whose studio and home are in Birchrunville.
Perez's painting of Connie Mack, created especially for the show, depicts him in ``a familiar pose,'' Perez said.
``He didn't dress like managers of today,'' Perez said, ``He wore what you would call street clothes. . . . One of the things he always held was a scorecard to position his fielders, so I show him with that.''
There are never-before-displayed objects, many of them lent by Connie Mack's grandson, James A. Nolan 3d of Berwyn, Kashatus said.
They include a row of seats from Shibe Park, the Philadelphia landmark that was demolished in 1976, and the ceramic white elephant Mack kept on his desk there.
One of the many anecdotes explained in the exhibit is the elephant, which served as a reminder of the ridicule that Mack faced in the early years when members of the more established clubs predicted that the Athletics, or ``A's,'' would become the ``White Elephants'' of the American League. According to Kashatus, the term ``White Elephants'' refers to something useless or obsolete.
Remarking on the exhibit's five sections covering a range of themes, Kashatus said, ``You usually need two years of lead time just to do the research for an exhibit.''
``He instilled in [his players] an insatiable desire to play a rough and tumble type of game. That became the rule of Philadelphia baseball,'' Kashatus said. ``Today, everyone thinks that it started with the Phillies, but really it was the A's.''
IF YOU GO * The exhibit ``Baseball's White Elephants: Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics,'' continues through Oct. 15 at the Chester County Historical Society, 225 N. High St. A public parking garage is located opposite on Chestnut Street. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Closed on Sunday. Admission to the exhibit, which includes use of the library and other exhibit areas, is $5 for adults; $4 for students and seniors over 65; and $2.50 for children ages 6 to 17. Children age 13 and under will be admitted free if they wear a baseball jersey or uniform. For information about programs and special events, call 610-692-4800.