Former Dodgers PR chief Josh Rawitch finds ‘perfect place’ as Hall of Fame president
Jeff Idelson loves the music and art from the San Francisco psychedelic ‘60s scene so much that he’s helping launch a museum on the era in the Haight-Ashbury district.
Josh Rawitch loves the Dave Matthews Band so much that he’s been to nearly 60 of the group’s concerts and has tickets to two more this month in upstate New York.
The two men have spent a lot of time together recently discussing a labor of love they share, but the topic hasn’t been the Grateful Dead’s place among jam bands. Rawitch is taking over as president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Thursday, the day after Idelson, the current interim president, presides over his last induction ceremony.
“In a lot of ways, I’m handing over the keys to the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory of baseball,” Idelson said. “Everybody who comes to Cooperstown is realizing their wildest dreams. It’s very compelling and brings such joy to people.”
Joy beyond his wildest dreams is an apt description of what landing the gig means to Rawitch, a longtime communications and public relations executive with the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks who grew up in Northridge and played baseball at Chatsworth High.
“Walking around Cooperstown, you can’t help but feel the history,” Rawitch said. “I see the look of excitement and awe on people’s faces, and I can’t believe I’m in this position.”
He uprooted his family of four from Scottsdale, Ariz., and last month took a leisurely trek to the quaint village on the southern tip of Otsego Lake, stopping to take in Major League Baseball’s Field of Dreams game in Iowa and visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The journey was documented daily by Rawitch via posts to his 1,674 Facebook friends.
All part of preparing for a job that puts him in charge of a museum that celebrates the history of the national pastime and has nearly 100 full-time employees, a vast library that is the foremost repository of baseball information, and a Hall of Fame registry of 333 inductees, 72 of whom are alive.
“Josh is remarkably popular in the sport and does not have a single enemy,” said Derrick Hall, president of the Diamondbacks and Rawitch’s boss the last 10 years. “He is a tremendous ambassador and studies and embraces the rich history of our sport. The Hall of Fame is the perfect place for him.”
It’s a position Rawitch, 45, didn’t expect because when Idelson, 57, decided to step down in 2019, Angels communications executive of nearly 40 years Tim Mead was chosen by the Hall of Fame Board of Directors to succeed him. Mead, 63, held the job for two years before resigning in April because the bicoastal commute required to spend sufficient time with his family in Southern California became intolerable during the pandemic.
It’s been a rough period for the highly respected Mead. The Hall of Fame and Museum was closed for 103 days in 2020 and the induction ceremony was canceled because of the pandemic. And he is one of several parties being sued by the family of the late Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who died of an opioid overdose in July 2019. Eric Kay, the Angels public relations employee charged with supplying the drugs to Skaggs, reported to Mead.
Mead is thrilled that Rawitch — who considers Mead a mentor — is taking the job, and he has only fond memories of his time at the helm.
“You stand in the plaque gallery by yourself, you love the game and look around and exist in the present, and it’s an indescribable experience,” Mead said. “Fortunately, I was able to do it.”
Now it is Rawitch’s turn. He and his wife, Erin, their 13-year-old daughter Emily and 11-year-old son Braden already are taken by the charming one-stoplight town named after the family of author James Fenimore Cooper nestled between the Adirondacks and the Catskills.
Braden will play with his travel team from Arizona next summer in one of the 13 weeklong tournaments for 12-year-olds at Cooperstown Dreams Park. Nearly 20,000 players and their families descend upon Cooperstown each summer, streaming through the Hall of Fame Museum and filling hotels and restaurants.
Keeping the museum engaging for new generations of baseball fans was a priority for Idelson and Jane Forbes Clark, granddaughter of Hall of Fame founder Stephen Clark and chairman of the board of directors since 2000. Rawitch plans to continue the effort.
“As I walked around the Hall with Braden, I realized that in a lot of ways he’s the perfect test case,” Rawitch said. “He loves baseball, and he loves history. Naturally, he gravitates to the touch screens and the area where he can make his own baseball card. Jane and I haven’t talked too many specifics yet, but we talked about making sure the Hall stays relevant with young people.”
Induction week draws a markedly older crowd. More than half of the living Hall of Famers are expected to attend Wednesday when Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late players union chief Marvin Miller are officially welcomed into the exclusive club.
Visitors not only experience the museum but can rub elbows with Hall of Famers from Ricky Henderson and Ken Griffey Jr. to Robin Yount and Cal Ripken Jr. to Rod Carew and Rollie Fingers.
Rawitch will shadow Idelson and Clark. Staging the induction ceremony is an entirely different task than other essential elements of the job such as collecting artifacts for the museum every time a statistical milestone is reached, a no-hitter is pitched or a championship won.
“We have a leg up on other museums because of our living assets, the 70-plus living Hall of Famers,” Idelson said. “It starts with Jane and how she puts on the induction ceremony and the way we treat the living Hall of Famers so they want to come back.”
Discarded by the Milwaukee Brewers, Oaks Christian High product Phil Bickford has carved out a prominent role in the Dodgers’ bullpen.
When the ceremony is over, Idelson will trade in his tie for tie-dye, head to San Francisco and dive headlong into two projects he’s passionate about: expanding the Haight Street Art Center into a full-fledged counterculture museum and growing the Grassroots Baseball project he co-founded with photographer Jean Fruth.
A last bit of advice for his successor?
“Imagine an hourglass and you are in the middle,” Idelson said. “You’ve got the Board and Hall of Fame members above you and the staff with you or below you. And you are in the middle, managing it all.”
Rawitch can mull that over while driving from his new home to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for Dave Matthews Band concerts Sept. 17-18. No doubt he’ll make time to conduct research relevant to his new gig at the primary tourist destination in that town: the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
“Museums borrow good ideas from other museums,” he said, laughing. “I’m learning as much as I can as fast as I can.”
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