The Village of Cooperstown

At the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony last Sunday, they announced that some 50,000 people had descended on Cooperstown for the party to honor Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. Cooperstown, in case you weren’t aware, has a listed population of 1,834, so suffice it to say that things were pretty tight.

If you want to go to the Hall of Fame to visit the museum and check out the plaques and such, I don’t think I’d recommend going on Induction Weekend. Even though my folks and I had come in as part of a trip sponsored by the Hall and therefore got to avoid the long lines to go inside, it was still too packed to really enjoy poring over the artifacts and enjoy the exhibits. I’d been to the Hall and Museum back in 2009, so I spent most of my Museum time trying to catch up on a few things that I had missed and the new exhibits that were out there.

Ultimately, the Hall of Fame is not everything I want it to be. There’s far too much talk for my liking about celebrating the character of the ballplayers who played the game. I’m not sure how they can say all of that with a straight face when you’ve got Ty Cobb in there who was by all reports an absolute demon on the field, sliding into bases like Chase Utley did in last year’s NLDS; Cap Anson, who is often credited with playing a large role in the Gentlemen’s Agreement that segregated the top levels of white baseball until Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson; and even more recent players like Roberto Alomar who recently got in on his second ballot in 2011, despite his spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck during and argument in 1996.

I think the Hall is missing something. For example, there are several Ichiro artifacts around the museum, including jerseys and Amy Franz’s “Ichi-Meter” sign from 2004 when he collected 262 hits in a season to break the record set by George Sisler in 1922, but there wasn’t much to explain the cultural significance of him as the first Japanese-born position player in MLB. The omission of that story is nearly criminal in my opinion, because without that, Ichiro is just another player. The Hall does a poor job advocating for why the players and executives enshrined there are important. I like to think I know baseball pretty well, but I couldn’t tell you what makes Paul Waner compelling.

I digress. I was there for Griffey, as were some tens of thousands of other Mariners fans, and with the Hall of Fame and Museum being pretty well backed up, I took to Main Street to check out some of the other attractions in town like the “Heroes of Baseball” Wax Museum. Much less crowded, and certainly worth our while, it was a good hour-plus of entertainment as we walked by recreations of certain scenes and culturally important players like Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson before winding up in front of a wax statue of Griffey in the follow-through of his swing.

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Even if you’re not going to visit the Hall itself, there’s plenty to do in Cooperstown for Induction Weekend. If you’re an autograph seeker, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to stand in line and have a retired player sign for you. Cooperstown shops also have plenty of gear for each team and its Hall of Famers if you want a memento. In one of the newer traditions, they have a parade on the Saturday night before the ceremony where the previous inductees who are in town each ride in on the back of a Ford truck and wave to the crowd and accept the cheers of fans. Everyone had their phones and/or cameras out, myself included, so I’ll share some of my favorite shots:

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Rickey Henderson

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Frank Thomas

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Pedro Martinez

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Ken Griffey Jr.

For the folks who didn’t line up for autographs, this is the closest proximity you’ll probably get to these guys, and it was fun seeing them soak up the spotlight and entertain a little – especially those more-recent inductees whose on-field exploits are more fresh in the memories of the attendees. I mean, it’s a great accomplishment that Jim Palmer got a Pitcher Win in World Series games in three separate decades and won three Cy Young Awards, but his career ended in 1984 and I just can’t speak to his career like I can to Randy Johnson.

I’m not a big autograph seeker; there are few players who I would just want to have sign for the sake of signing, but I did get one. As I walked down Main Street on Sunday, heading to lunch before the ceremony, I happened upon a card table where Dolly Niemiec sat. Dolly played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, featured in the film “A League of Their Own.” This was one autograph I couldn’t pass up, and it struck me as somehow more historic than chasing after Hall of Fame ballplayers. She was gracious enough to take a picture with me, which was one of the cooler moments I had in town.

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On a crowded weekend, it felt good to just keep soaking up experiences and avoid long lines. There’s enough to keep you busy for a day in town even if you don’t spend much time in the Museum, but if you want to go for the Hall itself, you’re going to need a couple of days at the least. I’d suggest going up for the ceremony, visiting New York City, and then coming back a few days later once things have calmed down a little bit. You won’t be the first to see the plaque that way, but I think it would be a much more pleasurable experience.

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