On July 23, 1988, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz beat the New York Mets 6-1 at Shea Stadium in New York. It was Smoltz’s major league debut, and the first of his 213 major league victories. It was also the debut of Matt Rothenberg, a 7-year-old fan from Brooklyn, who was attending his first big league game.
“I remember the score, I remember that Smoltz pitched for the Braves, and that’s about it,” he says.
Now Rothenberg, who received a master’s degree in library and information science from the School of Communication and Information in 2009, helps baseball and its fans remember pretty much everything. He’s the manager of the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
After that game in 1988, Rothenberg became a devoted and increasingly knowledgeable fan. He played Little League and high school ball, attended games and collected baseball cards. He enrolled at the University of South Carolina and received a degree in sports and entertainment management. While a student, he interned for the Trenton Thunder, then the AA minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox now affiliated with the New York Yankees.
“My long-term goal was to be general manager of some team, somewhere,” he says.
The Somerset Patriots, an independent league team in Bridgewater, New Jersey, hired Rothenberg as a community relations manager in March 2004, and it was there that he decided to change course. “I had organized some reading incentive programs as part of our community outreach, and I met a lot of librarians and archivists,” Rothenberg says.
“One of them was Bob Golon, who was working as a librarian in Somerset County. He later worked as an archivist at Rutgers and wrote a book about a minor league baseball in New Jersey.” (No Minor Accomplishment: The Revival of New Jersey Professional Baseball, Rivergate Books, 2008)Rothenberg was impressed with how much people like Golon knew – and even more impressed with how much they knew about finding things out. Deciding to join their ranks, Rothenberg concentrated on archives and records management. He learned there’s more to Google than typing and more to searching than Google.
Rothenberg makes use of that knowledge every day now in Cooperstown, exploiting the Hall of Fame’s own vast collections and records, and also the many archival nooks and crannies that only a trained archivist would know – newspaper databases; university collections, online and off; public records; genealogical databases’ and private collections.
After receiving his master's degree from Rutgers, Rothenberg landed internships at Sports Illustrated and at the Hall. He worked in special collections for the Rutgers University Libraries after his graduation from SC&I in 2009, and then was hired by the Hall of Fame in March of this year.
At the Hall of Fame, Rothenberg organizes the physical and documentary history of baseball and helps answer questions ranging from the routine to the tangential to the bizarre. My great-grandfather played in the minors for a couple of years; what have you got on him? I met this guy at a bar last night, and he says he played in the big leagues. Did he, or didn’t he?
“During my internship here, a lady from Michigan emailed the Hall saying she was born in the same hospital as a child of Schoolboy Rowe, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers back in the 1930s,” he says. “She had been told that Rowe's baby was fed with her mother's breast milk, She wanted to know what happened to Rowe’s baby.”
Rothenberg established that Rowe wasn’t married and probably wasn’t with the Tigers on the day in question. He suggested the woman consult the county records office. “Every question is important to the person asking it,” he says.
After their debuts in 1988, Matt Rothenberg and John Smoltz took very different paths, but those paths may yet intersect. Smoltz, who pitched for 21 seasons in the majors, won the Cy Young Award in 1996, played on eight All-Star teams and won 15 play-off and World Series games, is eligible for election to the Hall of Fame next year. “So, technically, I made it to the Hall before Smoltz did,” Rothenberg says.