Call it a bucket list, call it a wish list, call it whatever you prefer, but there are a few events that baseball fans should try to sample during their lifetimes. The short list includes attending a World Series, going to spring training, attending an Opening Day game, and traveling to a SABR Convention. Let’s add one more to the list: participating in at least one Hall of Fame Weekend.
As a resident of Cooperstown, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy every Hall of Fame Weekend since 1995. Not only does the weekend give fans a chance to experience the induction of the newest class, but it also provides ample opportunity to see veteran Hall of Famers, collect memorabilia, acquire autographs, and generally appreciate the game, especially from an historical and nostalgic viewpoint.
For those who might be attending Hall of Fame Weekend for the first time, or simply looking to improve on past experiences, here’s a quick guide on how to maximize enjoyment over an extended July weekend in Cooperstown.
Who can you see?
In recent years, 50 to 55 Hall of Famers have routinely attended the annual induction ceremony. That number is down a bit this year, reduced to 47 because of last-minute cancellations by Yogi Berra and Dick Williams. Berra is still recovering from a bad fall near his New Jersey home last weekend.
In spite of the absences of such popular figures as Berra, Stan Musial and Brooks Robinson, all of whom have health concerns, there are still plenty of Hall of Fame players and managers who will be in town through at least Sunday, and in some cases, till Monday. If you like to watch celebrities, just keep your eyes peeled while you’re walking up and down Main Street and Pioneer Street, especially toward the center of the village. It’s not uncommon to see Bob Feller matter of factly making his way through the crowds. Or you might run into someone like Paul “Motormouth” Blair, who usually has a good word or two for an inquisitive fan. Or you might have a chance to chat with the always affable Bert Randolph Sugar, who can usually be spotted with his plaid pants and trademark cigar.
On Sunday afternoon at 1:30, all the Hall of Famers will be on stage at the Clark Sports Center, where they will gather to officially welcome Andre Dawson, Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey into the Cooperstown rolls. The induction ceremony, as always, is free, but fans wanting a better vantage point should plan to arrive during the morning.
Who will be signing?
A large majority of the returning Hall of Famers will be participating in formal autograph signings at one of four locations: CVS Pharmacy (Main Street), Legends Are Forever (Main Street), T.J’s Place (Main Street), and the Tunnicliff Inn (Pioneer Street). At last look, the following Hall of Famers will be signing, for a variety of fees, at one of the four hot spots: Sparky Anderson, Luis Aparicio, Johnny Bench, Wade Boggs, Lou Brock, Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Gary Carter, Orlando Cepeda, Dennis Eckersley, Bob Feller, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Goose Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Juan Marichal, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Jim Rice, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Tom Seaver, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, Earl Weaver, Dave Winfield and Robin Yount.
The members of the new class of Hall of Famers—Dawson, Harvey and Herzog—are scheduled to sign on either Saturday or Monday.
A number of non-Hall of Famers will also make their presence known at the autograph sessions. The list includes Blair (a three-time Gold Glove center fielder), Ralph Branca (the former Brooklyn Dodgers standout), Ron Blomberg (the game’s first DH), Tito Fuentes (a colorful infielder for the Giants, Padres and A’s), Dwight Gooden (alumnus of the 1986 Mets), Ron Guidry (a 25-game winner in 1978), Bill Madlock (the four-time batting champion), Fritz Peterson (a notable left hander and onetime wife swapper) and Art Shamsky (a member of the 1969 Miracle Mets).
Who won’t be signing?
A few Hall of Famers attending the weekend celebration are not currently listed at any of the announced Cooperstown signings (though that is subject to change). The short list includes Hank Aaron, George Brett, Rickey Henderson, Al Kaline, Tommy Lasorda, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton and Billy Williams. Lasorda, however, will be participating in the “Connecting Generations” trivia contest on Saturday afternoon at the Clark Sports Center.
What’s new this year?
In an effort to beef up the weekend, the Hall of Fame has added a Saturday night parade to the agenda and attached it to the Red Carpet Arrivals that traditionally occur in front of the Hall of Fame and Museum. The Hall of Fame Parade of Legends will begin at 6 p.m. at the intersection of Chestnut and Main streets. Riding old-style trolleys and antique cars east on Main Street, the Hall of Famers will then disembark at the museum, where they will partake in the annual VIP Saturday night soiree. The VIP party is invitation-only.
What’s the best event of the weekend?
The Red Carpet Arrivals have always been terrific, largely because of their spontaneity and the dynamic interaction between fans and Hall of Famers. It remains to be seen how the Legends Parade will affect the Red Carpet Arrivals, which have drawn increasingly large crowds in front of the museum in recent years. If the spontaneity and the impulsive byplay is allowed to continue, the arrivals should remain a real highlight to the weekend.
What should be avoided?
The Otesaga Resort Hotel. Now don’t get me wrong, The Otesaga is a wonderful landmark location, one of my favorite places in Cooperstown. But unless you’re actually staying at the hotel this weekend, you will have almost zero chance of getting in and seeing any of the Hall of Famers up close. The security presence at the hotel is massive; it is like a fortress during Hall of Fame Weekend, almost impenetrable to any intrusion from fan or follower. The days of fans trying to climb the fire escapes and break into Mickey Mantle’s room are long since gone.
So with these thoughts in mind, perhaps you’ll be better armed for the weekend. Just don’t let the hustle and bustle of Hall of Fame Weekend discourage you. You might miss an opportunity to see a baseball celebrity along the way. Just wait five minutes, and you’ll get another one.