Newport Sports Museum ends its run

John Hamilton expressed remorse and disappointment, yet pride during an interview Tuesday afternoon in his Newport Beach office. It's what happens when he announces Newport Sports Museum has closed its doors after 18 years and he will begin to sell its prized items.

The founder of the museum, known for its cute scavenger hunt and free admission, cited reasons such as costs, his own health, wanting to spend more time with his family and a recent break-in to shutting down the place.

"It's been very, very gratifying, but it's also been very, very expensive," Hamilton said. "It's been a pleasure for me. I've gotten a lot of help over the years, but not enough. I'm tired of asking my friends for money. Also, I'm 18 years older than when I started. I've had some health issues. It's prevented me from having our two primary fundraisers."

Hamilton, the 72-year-old who lives in Newport Beach, said he knew it was time to close the museum's doors after a break-in in January. He said he was notified of the crime when he was in the hospital for a knee replacement.

Hamilton said several baseballs were stolen, including roughly half of his baseballs from World Championship teams that dated back to 1940, as well as Mike Witt's perfect-game baseball.

"They didn't know what they are doing," he said of the robbers. "We have it all on film. They didn't take Babe Ruth's last home-run ball … There were a lot of other things they didn't take .. it was only 50 seconds that they were here and they got what they could.

"It's sad. It makes you feel violated."

Hamilton took great pride in the museum's free admission and the impact it had on athletes and at-risk children through mentoring programs.

He said the Legacy Leadership program will continue within the IMPACT Foundation, which is part of the Ronnie Lott Trophy. Hamilton is the chairman of the college football award for the best defensive player in the nation that exemplifies IMPACT (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity).

Hamilton is also on the board of the Foundation for the Undefeated, a national nonprofit that is the home of Irrelevant Week. He said he recently stepped down as chairman of the USC Hall of Fame.

The Legacy Leadership program selects two to four high school football players to be a part of the NFL Hall of Fame week. The program begins with a two-day workshop with renowned coaches.

"In your life you have different phases and it's time for me to go on to another phase," he said.

Hamilton said the first phase of the museum's items sale will be the first week of May.

The first phase includes authentic jerseys of Wayne Gretzky, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Stan Musial and Brooks Robinson.

"I am grateful for all the people who helped me," Hamilton said. "This has been a hard thing. I feel like I've had this dog for 18 years and it sleeps in my bed every night. I love him and I'm looking at him and you know it's time to put him down. It's 60 years of stuff I collected. I knew it was time. But I know a lot of good came from it."

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