It’s a 3-story building in a small village some 200 miles north of New York City. Even with a GPS, you make so many turns on county roads, you may wonder if your GPS is throwing curve balls. Since 1939, it’s been a destination for the best baseball players, managers, writers, broadcasters and generations of star-struck fans. It’s The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. To a lifetime fan, all you need to say is “Cooperstown.” If a blind person can be wide-eyed, I was on March 25 and 26, the only days I’ve spent in Cooperstown in a life devoted to baseball.
My brother told me a couple of months ago to mark my calendar for a weekend in Cooperstown. While I was a broadcaster, I lived too far away for a visit to be practical. However, I met Jeff Idelson while I was broadcasting for Charleston. Idelson was then the president of the Hall of Fame. He later sent me a gift of the 1934 and 1941 All-Star games and game 4 of the 1941 World Series for my collection. I stayed in touch with him through the years, and contacted him when my brother said we were making the trip. He saw to it I would never forget my visit.
Following breakfast at the Doubleday Café, we entered baseball’s holy ground. Because of cold and snow, Doubleday Field was off limits. This was the site of the annual Hall of Fame game from 1939 until 2007 when in-season exhibition games were removed as part of an agreement with the players’ union. As we entered, I was able to touch bronze statues of Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, 3 men whose courage dealing with adversity made them stand out among the 300+ members of the Hall. The Cardinals have a bronze statue of Stan Musial and the Mets recently unveiled one of Tom Seaver. I didn’t know about the 3 statues which are called “the unofficial greeters.” Jeff Idelson arranged for Joe Doerr, the Hall’s special experiences coordinator to give us the guided tour. He had prepared a number of special pieces. We put on gloves to protect the artifacts. I got to touch one of Ichiro Suzuki’s bats and a pair of Phil Rizzuto’s cleats. Having held a Babe Ruth bat 30 years ago, I marveled at how much smaller and thinner Ichiro’s bat was. His bats were light, thin and very effective registering 1258 hits in Japanese baseball and 3,089 in the major leagues. While his bat is there, Ichiro isn’t a Hall of Famer due to the rule that a player has to be retired for 5 years before his name is put on the ballot. 2025 should be his year.
Before spending 40 years broadcasting for the Yankees, Phil Rizzuto had been dubbed “The Scooter” for his quickness on the field. I told our guide about doing a Phil Rizzuto impression when playing wiffleball with the kids on my lawn. I couldn’t do it anymore after my voice changed. My joke has been that Phil’s famous voice never changed. While several broadcasters said “Holy Cow”, Phil and Harry Caray were the two best known for saying that. Phil said he used the expression so he could avoid swearing. Before you get to where the players’ plaques are, there is a life-sized statue of a cow wearing Scooter’s #10 with gloves on top where the cow’s horns would be. You just can’t look at that without saying “Holy Cow.”
All the plaques have raised letters, so if you ever used an Optacon, you may touch and may recognize some of the raised letters. I touched Joe DiMaggio’s plaque and that of Reggie Jackson. My brother told a story of going to a Yankee game where Early Wynn was the opposing pitcher. Wynn is a Hall of Famer now.
We visited a small theater and saw a 15-minute movie about the greats of the game. In the Babe Ruth room, recordings of his voice play on a continuous loop. One is a recording of Babe with his wife Clair, a recording I had never heard.
Considering the part baseball on radio has always played in my life, my favorite part was the broadcasters’ wing. Every year since 1978, a broadcaster has been given the Ford C. Frick award for excellence in broadcasting. You don’t have to sit out 5 years to get that award. This year it will be the Cubs’ Pat Hughes claiming the prize on July 22. Between the Twins, Brewers and Cubs, he’s been behind a microphone since I was a college sophomore in 1983. He answered a fan letter I wrote him following his eulogy to Phillies’ broadcastter Harry Kalas. The Hall of Fame runs a continuous loop of Frick winners’ famous moments. The earliest recording they use is Bob Elson doing the 1937 All-Star game, the game where a foul ball broke Dizzy Dean’s toe and indirectly made a broadcaster of him. The tape loop includes an honor role of the game’s broadcasters-Mel Allen, Red Barber, Chuck Thompson, Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson, Jack Buck and others to the present day. As a collector with over 1700 games to my name, it was a marvelous experience hearing the best moments by the best broadcasters as selected by the Hall of Fame. I heard my idol, Bob Murphy giving the lineup for the first ever Mets’ game in 1962. Their recording was pristine especially considering it was made when John F. Kennedy was president.
On our departure, my brother got me a Hall of Fame jacket and a coffee mug with raised lettering around the edge so I’ll remember where I got it. If you’re a baseball fan, Cooperstown is where to go.0