I’ve been in Cooperstown since 1995 and have seen a variety of turnouts for Hall of Fame Weekend, including a throng of 50,000 for Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn and the record turnout of 80,000 for the 2007 induction of Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn. In stark contrast, this year’s turnout will undoubtedly be the lowest of that span; I would expect fewer than 5,000 for the induction of three deceased greats, longtime umpire Hank O’Day, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, and 19th century catcher Deacon White.
Without any live headliners, attendance figures to lag for the upcoming Hall of Fame Weekend, which runs through Sunday. That might dampen the enthusiasm of some, but not this observer. I still love Hall of Fame Weekend. Even though there are only 36 Hall of Famers coming back this year (a drop-off from the 44 who attended last year’s Barry Larkin/Ron Santo induction), there is still significant headlining talent, with Hank Aaron and Rickey Henderson on the docket and Cal Ripken, Jr. scheduled to make his first appearance since his 2007 induction. Ripken will be reading from Lou Gehrig’s plaque, as Gehrig and several Hall of Fame inductees from the 1940s (who never actually had induction ceremonies) will be officially honored on Sunday.
There have been some last-minute cancellations. Luis Aparicio, Tom Seaver, and Doug Harvey, all expected to attend as of last week, have had to cancel their visits to town. Additionally, the Hall of Fame lost two of its longtime members over the winter, as Stan Musial and Earl Weaver died within hours of each other in mid-January.
While the number of Hall of Famers coming to the village has dwindled, a few non-Hall of Famers will be putting in Cooperstown appearances, including Ralph Branca, Pete Rose, and Rusty Staub. If you’re a fan of the 1969 Mets, you’ll also have a chance to see the battery of Jerry Grote and Jerry Koosman (both pictured here), who will be appearing at the same location.
From the ranks of the broadcast media, Bob Costas, Greg Amsinger, and Peter Gammons, all representing the MLB Network, will be in town; Amsinger and Gammons will co-anchor the Sunday induction. Plus, women’s softball star Jennie Finch will be making the trek. So there are still plenty of celebrities who can be seen without having to deal with the long lines and overcrowded scenes that sometimes plague HOF weekend in busy years.
For many fans, the opportunity to meet players and purchase autographs is the number one priority of the weekend. There will plenty of chances, with multiple signings taking place at a number of venues on Main Street and Pioneer street. Here’s a rundown of which players will be signing where during the weekend:
Paterno Brothers (Main Street)
Safe At Home (Main Street)
Tunnicliff Inn (Pioneer Street)
*denotes non-Hall of Famer
One of the highlights of the weekend remains the Awards Presentation, scheduled to begin on Saturday at 4:30 pm at Doubleday Field. The awards program, now in its third year of existence, has become a popular and emotional event that honors the winners of the Spink and Frick awards. The late broadcaster, Tom Cheek, and veteran writer Paul Hagen will be honored this year. In addition, the Hall will also salute Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered the procedure now known as Tommy John surgery. John himself, a 288-game winner over 26 seasons, will also attend the awards presentation.
A personal favorite of mine, the Parade of Legends, will take place on Saturday night after the Awards presentation. The parade begins at 6 pm near the Cooperstown Fire Department and proceeds down Main Street, culminating with the Hall of Famers stepping out of their open-air cars and making their way into the museum for a private party. The parade is one of the best and most spontaneous events of the weekend, so if you’re in town, don’t miss it.
Here is a tip for getting the best vantage point. Since large crowds tend to gather right in front of the museum, where the Hall of Famers step off their cars, you might want to put yourself one block away at the corner of Main and Pioneer streets, in the vicinity of Pioneer Park. (The park features a Chamber of Commerce information booth.) From there, you’re likely to have a much better chance of an unimpeded view of the Hall of Famers.
And that brings us to Sunday, the final day of the weekend. Free and open to the public, the induction ceremony will begin at 1:30 at the Clark Sports Center. (The forecast calls for a 50 per cent chance of scattered thunderstorms, with temperatures in the mid-1970s.) After the ceremony, diehard fans of the game will gather at Tillapaugh’s Funeral Home for the annual meeting of the Society for American Baseball Research. The SABR meeting will start early this year, commencing at 5:00 pm.
So if you’re a fan of baseball, and particularly a fan of the game’s history, there is truly something for you. We’ll do our best to keep you posted throughout the weekend. While others will be talking about steroids, we in Cooperstown will be celebrating the legends of Our Great Game.