Monday, July 26, 2010
Putting a bow on Hall of Fame WeekendPosted by Bruce Markusen
Unbearable humidity, frequent rain showers and paltry crowds did their best to blindside Hall of Fame Weekend, but this fan still found some good old-fashioned nostalgic contentment in the four-day Cooperstown celebration.
If you love baseball history, then it’s hard to find too much fault with Hall of Fame Weekend. While I’d love to see larger crowds descend on Cooperstown in late July, the people who did come to town had their fair share of opportunities to watch—and occasionally even interact with—a wide range of baseball celebrities. With that sentiment in mind, let’s put a bow on the weekend package with a selection of observations.
—According to my sources, only about 6,000 to 8,000 fans attended the induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center, marking one of the lowest turnouts in years. One observer told me that media and family members seemed to outnumber the general fan base that usually dominates the induction crowd. Those who attended deserve credit for sitting through a long ceremony that lasted about three and a half hours. Andre "The Hawk" Dawson
Dawson received rave reviews for the quality and emotion of his acceptance speech, but it was perhaps a few minutes too long, as was the speech by Whitey Herzog and the taped address by an ailing Doug Harvey (who is battling throat cancer). The lengthy speeches may force the Hall of Fame to enforce or at least encourage a time limit, or perhaps try to break up the ceremony with more musical and video interludes.
—A brief scare hit the ceremony when Sparky Anderson, whose health has been declining recently, felt ill and had to leave the induction stage early. Thankfully, the former Reds and Tigers manager was not hospitalized and was able to return home. The long ceremony and the persistent humidity certainly didn’t help matters for the 76-year-old Anderson, who has been retired from managing for 15 years.
—In addition to the 47 Hall of Famers who attended the ceremony, a number of other retired players also visited Cooperstown over the weekend. It’s long been a pastime of mine to collect the names of players who attend Hall of Fame Weekend, so here’s my best effort at compiling the 2010 list. The notables included center fielder extraordinaire Paul Blair, former Yankee DH Ron Blomberg, Brooklyn Dodgers alumnus Ralph Branca, ex-Cub and Red Sock Bill Buckner, and longtime A’s shortstop Bert Campaneris. Dawson’s guest list included two of his Expo teammates, Tim Raines and Warren Cromartie. (We can only hope that Raines will one day receive his just reward in Cooperstown.)
—A slew of ex-Yankee pitchers came to Cooperstown, including Ron Guidry and Fritz Peterson. Another ex-Yankee, Gene “Stick” Michael, also attended the weekend festivities. Mets fans had an opportunity to acquire the autographs of 1969 alumnus Art Shamsky and 1986 standout Dwight Gooden. A couple of other world championship players, Bill Madlock of the 1979 Pirates and Luis Gonzalez of the 2001 Diamondbacks, also made it into town. (Gonzalez didn’t visit for Hall of Fame Weekend per se, but rather to watch his sons play ball at the nearby Dreams Park.) Former Negro Leagues player Pedro Sierra also took part in a signing on Main Street. And for those who appreciate the colorful characters of the game, former Giants, Padres and Tigers infielder Tito Fuentes, made a rare appearance in Cooperstown.
—One of the best features of the weekend was the new Parade of Legends, which took place down Main Street on Saturday night and led directly to the front steps of the Hall of Fame and Museum. Observers raved about the parade, which enabled a couple of thousand fans to cheer on Hall of Fame greats as they waved from the backs of brand new pickup trucks. Hosted by emcees George Grande (of ESPN fame) and John Horne (from the Hall of Fame staff), the parade ran smoothly with just the right pacing, while allowing fans to interact with several of the retired greats. An instant hit, the parade figures to become a permanent—and essential—part of the weekend.
—On a personal note, Hall of Fame Weekend provided me with an emotional souvenir: the opportunity to chat at length with ex-Yankees Fritz Peterson and Ron Blomberg. Simply put, they’re two of the most accessible and personable players I’ve ever encountered. Peterson told me about his work as a consultant on The Trade, the Ben Affleck-Matt Damon film project currently in development. Affleck will portray Peterson in the film, which will tell the story of the famed wife swap that involved Mike Kekich and came to light in the spring of 1973.
Blomberg answered a question that has long bothered me: I asked Blomberg about the piece of white masking tape that he used to wear on his batting helmet. Blomberg said he simply wore it for luck, adding that he inscribed a Jewish star onto the piece of tape.
This is what I think about, old-time players wearing pieces of masking tape on their helmets. Only Hall of Fame Weekend could satisfy such an obsession.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.