August 18, 2019

Talk about a Gathering!

January 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

We’ve all seen the photo. It’s the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Opening Day in 1939. Naturally, “The Sultan of Swat” sits in the center. Nine men, who may or may not have been Ruth’s equals but were without question baseball immortality, surround “The Babe.”

A Great Day in Cooperstown“ begins with this photo. My, oh my, what you will find when author Jim Reisler brings the photo to life.

Read this book because:

1. You might as well have been at the Hall’s dedication day in June 1939. That’s how close Reisler takes you to the festivities.

In the weeks before the grand celebration, weeds overtook the two-policeman town, but there were none to be found by the time Connie Mack departed the rumbling “Centennial Special” train. The Cooperstown crowd clamored to catch a glimpse of the legends of which they had heard plenty but never once seen. Sure enough, there was the stocky Honus Wagner; “Big Train” was indeed an appropriate moniker for the spindly Walter Johnson; George Sisler joined Eddie Collins and his double-breasted fancy suit, complete with appropriate shoes. Wait a minute, where’s Ty? Where’s Ty Cobb?

Whereas today’s ceremonies are choreographed to the minute, the event chairmen either contented themselves or didn’t know better than to let this one develop. Inauguration day proved to be a de facto holiday with schools and businesses shuttering early that morning. The 10 larger-than-life figures popped in businesses and would sit for spells when a story came to mind. A procession of a few hundred folks followed the honored guests to the nearby dais.

2. Reisler lets you in on what was going on in the hamlet of Cooperstown and in the nation at the time of the Hall’s birth, as well as what baseball’s Mecca has become nowadays.

In 1939, every young boy wanted to be like Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig or The Babe. Why? Because that’s who newspapers and the radio trumpeted. Baseball stars were not relegated to the sports page. They often took up the better part of the paper. Families revolved their schedules around when Red Barber, Mel Allen or Ty Tyson would be on the radio.

Cooperstown itself was a farming village back then. Today it bears only meticulously preserved resemblances to its roots. Four hundred thousand visitors each year have a way of changing things.

3. Together in one place, the stories of the game’s legends immerse you in the lore of giants.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis received his name for the Civil War battlefield where his father served. Connie Mack could give you his side of just about any story from the dawn of baseball. After his playing days, Honus Wagner appeared at as many town gatherings as he could. He was ever-present at anything even loosely connected with the grand ole’ game. Walter Johnson stacked up well against George Washington when he repeated the former general’s famed silver dollar throw across the Rappahannock River. Actually, Johnson surpassed Washington’s throw, but he demurred about besting the President. Ty Cobb arrived late to the 1939 festivities on purpose. Cobb refused to be photographed with Landis on grounds that Landis never absolved him of allegations of fixing games 13 years earlier. When Cobb did make his appearance, he soon started needling Ruth about golf. Ever the competitor, golf and investments consumed Cobb in retirement.

At a time when little publicity existed, June 12, 1939, proved to be a date unlike any other in a place that would become like none other.

Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. During the 2009 season, Miller served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.

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