“Turmoil everywhere! Fake news! The White House is in utter chaos!”
I get tired every time I hear these lines or read them in the paper. But in the hamlet of Cooperstown (population 2,000), life cannot be more idyllic. Surrounded by the Catskill Mountains and nestled along the southern end of Lake Otsego in upstate New York, the only noises are the birds, tourists and occasional trout jumping out of the water.
Till “Induction Weekend,” that is!
My wife, Carolyn; my mom, LaFon; and I drove to Cooperstown to be a part of history. Except for about 100 miles, I drove the whole 4,000 miles to and from. Tiring!
Cooperstown was home to James Fenimore Cooper, author of “The Last of the Mohicans,” and the museum dedicated to him and his legacy is impressive. But it’s not as impressive as the other museum in town. The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Museum occupies a sizeable chunk of property downtown with Doubleday Field (after Abner Doubleday, father of baseball) nearby. Down the road is the Clark Sports Complex, site of the annual induction ceremony.
Of the 19,000 who have played in the big league, only 255 players (220 MLB and 35 Negro League players) are in the Hall of Fame. There are also 64 umpires, managers, coaches or executives making 319 HOF members. Five were honored this year: former baseball commissioner Bud Selig; former Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz; Montreal Expos left fielder Tim Raines; Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell; and Texas Rangers catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
Walking down the street, this quiet burg was suddenly bustling with a weekend population of over 27,000 tourists, along with 54 of the game’s greats, including Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Goose Gossage and Pete Rose.
This was Carolyn’s and my second visit to Cooperstown for induction weekend. We first attended in 2008, when we met The Goose, Yogi Berra, Harmon Killebrew and George “Shotgun” Shuba, all of whom, except for Gossage, have since passed away.
For the 2017 induction weekend, the crowd of attendees were largely from Texas. Reid Ryan shook hands with me as he walked down the street to meet his dad, Nolan. Johnny Bench took selfies of himself in the crowd. I think I made it into one of them!
Sunday service at Cooperstown Church of Christ the week before induction was attended by seven members. But there were about 40 worshipers on Induction Day. I sat next to the wife of Leon Day, a legendary pitcher in the Negro Leagues inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995. She sponsored all members of that congregation with guest passes and priority seating at the ceremony.
Notably missing from festivities was the air of political urgency from “the swamp.” Those who engaged in political discourse eventually turned the conversation to team and league issues. At that point, probably the individual who was most unpopular was not President Trump but Bud Selig! (In the 2016 general election, Trump prevailed with 53.4 percent to Mrs. Clinton’s 40 percent in Otsego County, in which Cooperstown is county seat.) Mr. Selig was clearly not the fans’ pick for Hall of Fame honors.
When Bagwell’s turn came, the roar from the massive group of attendees from Houston was deafening, chanting “Baggy! Baggy!” His speech was emotional, heartfelt and well received. Not to be outdone, Puerto Ricans gave equally rousing approval for Pudge! He impressed me when he first played in Arlington Stadium where I saw and met him. Now that excitement and faith has paid off.
At the museum, we encountered a security officer named “Robert” — a New Jersey native with a thick (by our standard anyway) “Joy-zee” accent. When asked how things were in Cooperstown, he said town feelings were much better. With gas prices down, people want to visit and spend their money. Confidence is high!
This was the seventh largest attendance since the Hall of Fame opened in 1939 amidst the Great Depression when baseball loomed as a pleasant national distraction. The 2007 induction — the last before the 2008 election of Barack Obama — was the largest of all time with 82,000 attendees. Three other inductions saw large crowds, but not like 2007.
We had tickets to the Yankees game the next day and Robert advised me to get the “dirty water” hot dogs from street vendors instead of from the concessions inside Yankee Stadium. (“Dirty water” is the term used to describe the water that is not changed between services in the cart. The dogs soak in the old water and gain flavor!)
Alas, we were late getting to The Bronx and the street vendors were closed so I had to get one from the concession stand anyway. Next time I’ll get one in dirty water! But at least I can now say that I have had a hot dog in Yankee Stadium!