Induction Weekend by Justin Brooks
The last time I visited Cooperstown, I was an 11 year old kid with eyes as big as the moon, and a desire to see everything that was there in the first 5 minutes. This time, I was a 28 year old kid with eyes as big as the moon, and a desire to see everything that was there in the first 5 minutes. As I lifelong baseball fan, and 17 year veteran of the sport, from little league to semi-pro, to minor league tryouts, you feel as connected to the sport as any H.O.F veteran would in the small town west of Albany. There is something magical about this place. Most of you by now, probably know that Cooperstown was most likely not the original place of “base-ball” as Pittsfield Mass. Located town documents that puts the sport there in the late 1700s. However, it doesn’t feel that way. As you walk the town, and its vintage buildings, you can picture Abner D. and his buddies, organizing a morning game by the Otsego Lake. This place was built to hold plaques of players like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. They are as classy and original as they come. My intention for attending, was more due to the fact, my friend got a hotel in downtown Cooperstown at the last minute (which was unreal, considering 80 miles out, hotels were booked), and my love for the memorabilia enshrined in the Hall. I grew up watching Cal and Tony. Cal breaking 2131, will forever be in my memory, and Tony’s drive for .400 prior to the strike, with be cemented as well. This trip became more about the “game” and less about the “stuff” (Sorry J. Giambi…not your “stuff”).
First off, talk about packed! They stuffed 14,000 people in there on Saturday alone (a record). Even though there were lines for exhibits, it was easy to take the time to look at each one you wish. To be honest, I felt like I was looking through the ’99 Sotheby’s Halper catalog. It’s unreal what the late Barry Halper was able to accomplish, and it was nice to see a room in the Hall named after him. Being a “bat” guy, I loved examining each one closely. I noticed a 1932 Ruth bat that was marked as the “called shot” bat. Obviously, each bat doesn’t show authentication, and to my knowledge this bat wasn’t never “known” or proven to be. It was donated by a gentleman with an unfamiliar name. I saw an early 30’s Hanna Batrite Gehrig bat, donated by Christina Gehrig. It was a block letter with just his name “GEHRIG” being the only thing on the barrel, to go along with the Hanna centerbrand. This one was slightly different than the side-written Gehrig Batrite that sold a couple years back. I couldn’t get a good look at the knob, to see if it was stamped or not. There was a beautiful Ty Cobb bat from the mid-20s donated by Ty Cobb himself, with a tag stick to the know with the date of 1939. Possibly brought with him on his induction day in 1939. The barrel of the bat was riddled with cleat marks above and below the barrel stamp as seen on a lot of his bats. The typical black spiral tape spun down the handle as well. It appeared to have white tape on it as well, as if Cobb ran out of black as he was wrapping. A gorgeous Johnny Evers Spalding bat, donated by family, was encapsulated as well. Interesting “gray” tape was applied – not sure when it was done.
Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson. All jerseys enshrined. It’s amazing the quality some of these shirts are still in. The Cy Young jersey looks about as comfortable as a tuxedo in the Amazon. Yet the Yankee and Cub jerseys look soft and comfortable, even though probably worn 80-150 times each. Many of the Yankee greats had there jerseys actually in there original lockers. You eerily could picture yourself sitting next to Lou Gehrig or Joe D. getting ready for a game.
The town was littered with former Hall of Famers and stars alike. John Travolta and Richard Gere were seen on Induction weekend. Many ESPN analysts and there families were enjoying the weekend like everyone else. Reggie Jackson was doing crowd control on Friday afternoon, as the autograph seekers flooded into the street. Like “Manny being Manny” Yogi was being Yogi, signing away, trying to catch Bob Feller as the most frequent signer of the weekend. The wizard, Ozzie Smith, was about as friendly as you could imagine, taking the time to say Hello, and shake hands to even those not in line to receive a signature of the back-flippin cardinal. Jim Rice was on-hand to hear chants of “08!” “08!” (I was one of them). Most importantly, the fans, all in good mood, trying to soak in a weekend, that won’t be soon forgotten, yet won’t be seen again. There was talk of a record crowd, and with baseball fans, statistics and predictions were as present as ever. With Cal and Tony going in, the next “big class” may have to wait awhile. Clemens and Maddux? McGwire and Palmeiro (hmmm) ?? Griffey and Sosa ??. Either way, the “town” felt this was going to be special for a long time coming.
The Clark Sports Center was about 1 mile away from downtown Cooperstown. Not that long ago, the induction was on the steps of the Hall, when only a few thousand would share the experience. It’s apparent the Clark family saw a need for expansion, and it was well done. 75,000 + walked there way to a record crowd. 50,000 had shown up in 1999 for the Ryan, Brett, Yount. Due to potential impending thunderstorms, they soon announced Gwynn and Ripken would speak first ahead of Rick Hummel and Denny Matthews. After introducing an incredible 51 hall of famers, which included Willie Mays and Frank Robinson, Tony began his heart-warming speech. His genuinely expressed every word, whether to his family or to the fans. Classic of the lifelong .338 hitter. He quoted the late Ted Williams, and praised how hard work got him here today. Cal used his typical Cal-charm that elegantly got the 50,000 Baltimore fans to drive the 480 miles north to the small farming town.
It was hard to put into words what a weekend like this means to a “fan”, but baseball is more than a game…a perspective…a connection. Baseball is 1 generation with the means to sewing to everyone else’s. Cooperstown July 2007 was the needle and thread.