Hanging Out in Cooperstown
I’m in Cooperstown for the annual National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions. This is 24 straight years for me. Hard to believe! It has been a long time since I saw Ray Dandridge, Catfish Hunter and Billy Williams make their induction speeches. I remember the tears of joy Dandridge shed that day. It was a magical moment for me to hear his story for the first time, as most in the audience did that day.
My family and I got into town last night after playing the horses in Saratoga. It was a fairly quiet evening except for the crowd around Reggie Jackson. Mr. October signed balls, bats and flats for about 20 minutes before he took off. It was great to see Reggie sign for so long and for free. It was not so great to see 250-pound men force their way in front of my 100-pound daughter. Some people will do anything for an autograph. It comes with the territory, though, and my daughter knows it.
We went back to the room and watched the Mets actually score some runs. Jason Bay was the Mets hero! First running into a gate, face first, to catch a ball for an out and then coming up with a three-run double. Has he turned it around?
I woke up this morning and headed over to Stagecoach Coffee on Pioneer Street with my wife. My wife was already showered and looking her best while I was wearing the Cooperstown T-shirt that I slept in that says “A Drinking Town with a Baseball Problem.” I just wanted some coffee and wasn’t too concerned about how I looked. I was reading my paper and in walks Peter O’Malley, the Dodgers former longtime owner. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy so I approached him while he was reading his paper and drinking a second cup of coffee. I asked for an autograph and he was glad to sign. I sat down and we chatted about his dad and “The Boss.” I must say that Peter O’Malley is a true gentleman. What a warm and modest man. I congratulated him on his dad getting into the Hall a few years ago, a much deserved honor. He said his dad tried to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn but it wasn’t meant to be. And he was correct. He said the next executive getting in will be George Steinbrenner. He said George was no saint but was deserving of the honor. I could not argue with him and we will see George get inducted in two years.
After the O’Malley encounter, my wife and I took a stroll to the golf course. Several Hall of Famers were playing golf. I witnessed two former Expos playing together, Rock Raines and The Hawk. They signed for several autograph seekers and moved on. Raines appeared to be the better golfer. Dawson is the Hall of Famer, though. So The Hawk has the edge–for now.
While walking around town this afternoon, I saw several former players. I approached Jack Clark, the Ripper, and got his autograph. Rickey Henderson was taking pictures with fans. He started to sign autographs and suddenly stopped. It appears he agreed to only sign for a particular establishment in town. A troll-like man said, “Rickey can not sign autographs” and Rickey apologized to others asking for his signature. Several other players were around town signing for cash. Everyone from Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Juan Marichal and Bobby Doerr to lesser players Art Shamsky, Doc Gooden and Tito Fuentes. My favorite, and there almost every year is Bert Sugar. Sugar is in town holding court. A large crowd gathers around as he tells boxing and baseball stories. The colorful character doesn’t disappoint. If you get a chance to chat with him, please do. He is a treat.
In the afternoon on the Saturday before the inductions, it is a tradition for me to head to Cooley’s Stone House Tavern for some wings and beer. The wings there are great. As we ate and drank, A-Rod failed to hit number 600. The crowd around the bar was not too concerned about A-Rod as they were singing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and other tunes that were being played on the juke box.
Now I am back at the room typing this post. The Mets are on and soon 40 or more Hall of Famers will be in a parade outside my window. If you love the game of baseball and appreciate its history, there is no better place to be. Cooperstown is not where baseball began, but for many, it is the spiritual home of the game. I will end this with a quote I overheard a youngster say with excitement in his voice as he passed by me. Simply stated, “Cooperstown is cooler than I thought.” That was the same thought I said to myself some 30 or so years ago.