It’s been awhile since I’ve taken time to write, primarily because it’s been tough to watch baseball lately. The Red Sox are a dumpster-fire with a depleted lineup and thin pitching staff and there are only so many ways you can say that this season is not living up to the expectations (understatement of the year). While the Red Sox were finding new and innovative ways to be embarrassed, it was the perfect time to visit the center of the baseball universe: Cooperstown, NY. It had been a number of years since I had the privilege of visiting the hallowed halls of the museum and surrounding area and this year seemed like the perfect opportunity to be in town for my first ever induction weekend. With all the hype and anticipation I was prepared to be disappointed, but was in fact blown away with the entire weekend of events and the passion with which the sleepy, quaint town in upstate New York embraces their baseball history and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors.
For those who don’t know, Cooperstown is set on the southern shore of Lake Otsego and has a quintessential New England town main street lined with little shops and restaurants. At 25 Main Street, in the heart of downtown, sits the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum which is located around the corner from where most believe baseball was invented. The 3-story building is jam packed with artifacts and tchotchkes from every era of baseball and everywhere you look, you’ll find a new piece of information with a different artifact. For Red Sox fans, there are tons of artifacts represented, everything from Bill Mueller’s bat when he hit 2 grand slams in a game in 2003 to the cleats Curt Schilling wore in the bloody sock game in 2004 to a bat used by Christian Vazquez in the 2018 World Series (the first bat made by the Cooperstown Bat Company to be used on the highest stage) to the original contract Babe Ruth signed with Boston in 1917, just to name a few. Whether you are knowledgeable in baseball history or just a casual fan, there is something for everyone throughout the winding floors of the museum.
The buzz around town during induction weekend was incredible. The streets were lined with fans wearing jerseys, t-shirts and hats representing almost every single MLB franchise. Former players and hall of famers were signing autographs up and down Main Street (for a price) at the various sports memorabilia shops. As we walked onto Main Street for the first time on Saturday morning, one of the first people we saw was Pete Rose. While obviously not a Hall of Famer thanks to some, let’s just say poor decisions, Rose was taking advantage of the massive crowds to give out autographs and take pictures with fans. Throughout the weekend, former players and Hall of Famers were out and about taking in the atmosphere. There were obviously a ton of Red Sox fans in town to see David Ortiz get inducted into the Hall of Fame and as one might expect, the Dominican community came out in force.
While the weekend as a whole was amazing, the parade of Hall of Famers on Saturday evening was by far the highlight. Watching around 50 Hall of Fame players get paraded down Main Street in the back of pickup trucks was a sight to see. Everyone from 84-year old Juan Marichal to 51-year old Jim Thome had the chance to wave to the tens of thousands of fans waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite players. Some of the players got off the trucks and signed autographs for fans, even on a hot an humid night. Cal Ripken Jr. was a signing superstar, going up and down the rows of fans signing while sweat was dripping off his head and face. Standing across the street from the Hall of Fame where the parade ended gave us the opportunity to chat and engage with Hall of Famers in an experience I will not soon forget. Being a few feet from Ken Griffey Jr, Trevor Hoffman, Pedro Martinez, Cal Ripken Jr, Jim Thome, and others was incredibly special and an experience you just can’t get anywhere else. Watching some of the greatest players of all time take moments to chat and engage with young fans reminded me how unique the sport of baseball is and how taking a step back to appreciate the beauty of the game is important.
The induction ceremony on Sunday was an extraordinary experience filled with cheers for the inductees and boos for Commissioner Rob Manfred. Despite brutal heat and humidity and a threat of torrential thunderstorms, a crowd of 35,000 people were there to witness the induction of 7 new Hall of Famers: Bud Fowler, Minnie Minoso, Buck O’Neil, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, and David Ortiz. While the main reason I travelled to Cooperstown was see Big Papi’s induction, I learned more about the other 6 inductees throughout the weekend and I felt a sense of pride to be there supporting their induction as well. It was a deserving class of men who all had significant impacts of the game of baseball in every era of the game (1800s-today) and for most of them, this honor was a long time coming. A great example of the long wait was Gil Hodges, who had a really strong MLB career and played in 7 championships, winning 2, but is most known for being the manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets championship team. Until recently, managerial accomplishments didn’t factor into a person’s induction into the Hall of Fame and that was a barrier to his entry despite the achievement being worthy of recognition. Now, Hodges has taken his rightful place in Cooperstown.
Another great example is Jim Kaat. A pitcher who appeared in 25 different MLB seasons, Kaat always felt he was a good player, but not to the level of Hall of Fame. His steady and extremely long career ended in 1983, but he was never given proper recognition because there was always an emphasis on the numbers, not the longevity (although his numbers should be enough for him to be inducted). The 3-time all-star won 16 consecutive gold gloves as a pitcher and started 625 games (17th most all time). His 25 seasons in the game were the most ever by a pitcher when he retired, now 3rd behind Nolan Ryan (27) and Tommy John (26). After his playing career was over, Kaat coached and stayed connected to the game, becoming a broadcaster in the late 1990s and still continuing that work today. Kaat was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame through the Golden Era Committee, which looks at players who were not elected in their 15 years of eligibility and has a 16-person voting panel. Many around the game believe this honor is long overdue for someone so influential on the game of baseball. *Some might know Kaat for his recent hot-water when he called Nestor Cortes Jr “Nestor the Molester” on a broadcast in June 2022. He apologized and it was settled, but he received some unwanted headlines leading up to his induction.
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the way the Hall of Fame handled the induction weekend (with the exception of needing more porta-potties at the ceremony). With the threat of weather in the forecast, they sped up the ceremony (despite it still being very long) and handled the crowds well. Regardless of whether you want to join in with the large crowds and pomp-and-circumstance of an induction weekend or just visit the sleepy town on another summer or fall weekend to see the Hall of Fame when it’s much quieter, you’ll be happy you made the trek. Despite the long ride from the Boston area, I’ll be planning my next trip to Cooperstown very soon.