Representatives of the legislatures of North Carolina and Oklahoma have expressed interest in the museum, but only as an adjunct to a sportswriters and broadcasters hall of fame or a Jim Thorpe memorial. Disney World has also investigated, but found that Platt's collection is "too good" for its site in Orlando, Fla. "Their problem isn't getting people," says Platt. "It's moving them. They told me that people wouldn't want to move out of the sports museum once they got inside of it."
Recent developments have evoked some optimism, however. A prominent oral surgeon who visited Platt's collection not long ago came away stunned; he suggested the $70 million federally funded Raystown Dam Project area near Altoona, Pa. as an ideal site and promised to seek federal aid to that end. Two months ago a Pittsburgh city councilman called on the local citizenry to save "this treasure" from leaving their midst.
Such reactions to the magic of Platt's downstairs' extravaganza are not untypical. The former Duquesne baseball player keeps telling people, "You won't believe what you're going to see," and he is pretty much right. If the sheer volume of mementos isn't enough to stagger the imagination, the historical importance and nostalgic charm of many items surely are. At least that seems to be the effect the memorabilia has on Pirate Pitcher Dock Ellis, who says he would like to sit in the Platt rooms prior to each pitching assignment "just to get psyched up bathing in nostalgia."
Space limitations force the collection into jumbled disarray in Platt's basement, but that did not prevent Carl Scheele, chairman of the Smithsonian Institution, from recognizing its value. "It is difficult to convince my people in Washington that such an enormous collection exists in somebody's residence," Scheele says. " President Ford should be made aware of it."
Platt, who describes himself as "just a jock's jock," originally became interested in collecting sports items at the age of four when he was injured in a gas-tank explosion and almost burned to death. Bedridden for nearly two years, he amused himself with the hundreds of baseball and football cards his parents brought home.
Platt's father, an inveterate boxing fan who was in the vending-machine business in Pittsburgh, went 30 years without missing a major heavyweight championship fight. Once, at a baseball game, Platt senior spotted Heavyweight Ezzard Charles and suggested that his son ask for an autograph. With that encouragement, Little Joel was off and collecting. He staked out local hotels where visiting football and baseball teams stayed. Later he made out-of-town forays to obtain athletes' signatures and whatever other mementos they would sacrifice.
Through all of this, the young Platt found time to become an outstanding shortstop. His big-league ambitions were terminated by an arm injury suffered while playing at Duquesne. Long before then, he already had become a major-leaguer in amassing mementos.
When Platt was 16, he made a trip to New York and located the apartments of Mrs. Babe Ruth and Mrs. John McGraw. Boldly he marched to their doors, introduced himself and announced his plans to build a sports museum someday. To Mrs. Ruth he presented a wooden ashtray he had carved to resemble the Babe. She in turn came across with a bat and plaque. Mrs. McGraw furnished a unique autograph—her husband's canceled check made out in 1923 to the Internal Revenue Service for an amount of more than $4,000.
Enough "bonanza trips," of this type, as he calls them, soon followed that Platt became convinced he had a sound formula: encounter the quarry unannounced. "If I call ahead or write that I'm coming, people have a way of avoiding me," Platt says. "If I get them eyeball-to-eyeball and they see the sincerity in what I'm doing, they believe in me."
Seeing Platt's wife Marcia eyeball-to-eyeball also has been the clincher for some gifts, such as those acquired on a journey to the Lewisburg, Pa. home of Mrs. Christy Mathewson. Platt, by himself, was turned away at the door while the pitcher's aged widow was having tea, so when he returned an hour later he brought his wife along. This time Mrs. Mathewson was willing to read Platt's brochure and the story of his accidental burning. It evoked emotional memories of her own son who had died in a fiery crash. The Platts spent the day with Mrs. Mathewson and brought back, among other things, a cherished picture that Christy had autographed for his Bucknell fraternity brothers and a war medal Mrs. Mathewson had taken from her husband's chest as he was being lowered into the grave.