Baseball Hall of Fame spotlights Savannah Bananas

The unorthodox team is beyond popular much like the Harlem Globetrotters of yore. Younger crowds, in particular, gravitate to the team's antics that bring a whole new dimension to the game



September 15, 2023 - 3:52 PM

Savannah Banana Malachi Mitchell (2) flips in the air as the team cheers before the start of a banana ball game against the Kansas City Monarchs at Legends Field in May of 2022 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The Baseball Hall of Fame is going Bananas.

An exhibit dedicated to the sport’s wackiest team, the Savannah Bananas, will open Friday at the hallowed shrine in Cooperstown, New York.

“I’m blown away,” Bananas owner Jesse Cole told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “As a kid, you look up to all your heroes in the Hall of Fame. To even be considered for a display that shares what we’re doing is really special.”

What started as an idea to exhibit a few Bananas-related items at the Hall of Fame was expanded into a full display and a weekend of activities, capped by a game Saturday at Doubleday Field against their perennial rivals, the Party Animals.

Some 6,500 tickets sold out in minutes, which has become the norm for the barnstorming, Harlem Globetrotters-style team that spawned its own reality series and claims to have a waiting list of more than a million fans.

Josh Rawitch, who is president of the Hall, called the team a “phenomenon” that is helping attract younger, less-traditional crowds with shenanigans such as a player on stilts and outs being counted when a fan catches a foul ball in the stands.

He said the Bananas deserved to be recognized at a museum that also is striving to create a whole new generation of fans for the national pastime.

“I think the game, as it is, is incredibly entertaining,” Rawitch said. “But they’ve added an additional element.”

The Bananas were founded in 2016 as a member of Coastal Plains League, a summer circuit for college players. But Cole always had grander ambitions, eventually starting a professional team alongside the amateur squad so he could fully try out a version of the game he calls “Banana Ball.”

Among the rules: a two-hour time limit on games, no bunting, batters having the option of trying to steal first, no stepping out of the box, no mound visits, and a scoring system that awards a point to the team that puts up the most runs each inning.

But beyond the rules, Cole delivers a barrage of entertainment on almost every pitch, including choreographed dances, bizarre skits and players roaming through the stands mingling with fans.

“Some people who are more traditional may think this isn’t quite baseball. And it is different,” Rawitch said. “At the same time, if you look at the exhibit we have on baseball in the 1800s, you’re talking about playing the game with no glove and underhand pitching. The game continues to evolve, and I think Banana Ball is part of the evolution.”

While Cole doesn’t claim credit for a series of new major league rules that have increased action and cut down the length of games, he was at the cutting edge of the movement to make baseball more exciting.

“If we played role, great,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is get more people involved, get a young audience involved. If we can do that, it’s a victory for everybody.”

The temporary exhibit, which opens with a ribbon cutting Friday and replaces a display commemorating the “Field of Dreams” games, will contain team artifacts such as yellow baseballs, a kilt worn during games, and the pad where Cole wrote down his original ideas for the rules of Banana Ball.