Day 4: The Hall of Fame – From the Bird’s Nest
It was an early wake up call Sunday morning. It was time to say goodbye to New York City after two and a half action packed days. There’s so much we saw, and at the same time, so much we didn’t get to see. Our car was at the hotel at 7:30 to take us back to New Jersey, where the plane was waiting. It being a Sunday morning, there wasn’t much traffic and a trip that took forty minutes on Thursday took half that time. We were early for our flight which was fine. Better early than late, right? Our destination today was Cooperstown, New York, site of the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was induction day.
Our pilots showed up as did the rest of the travel party and by nine am we were airborne for a 40 minute or so flight to Binghamton. When we landed there was a mini bus to pick us up that seated ten. Jack was our driver. Chris asked him to stop so anyone who needed to pick up refreshments could do so. I got a twelve pack of Yuengling Light in cans and shared with everyone who wanted one…or two. Chris had a large insulated cooler that was soft sided and had a strap to carry on the shoulder. But with all sorts of beverages and ice, it turned out to be pretty heavy. So, when we got to Cooperstown we went into a general merchandise store. When I came out of the restroom, Mamie pointed at a Radio
Flyer wagon and asked if I could get it down from the top shelf. I managed to do so and asked why she wanted it. “That cooler is heavy,” she said.
She went up front and it appeared to be a good investment for $29.95.
Oh, wait…I missed a number. Make that $129.95.
But we didn’t have to carry the cooler.
The trip from Binghamton to Cooperstown was about an hour and a half. And, for those of you who have never traveled upstate New York, it’s an absolutely beautiful drive. Jack dropped us off on Main Street. Jamie and Mike were going to meet Ron Guidry to get their credential for the ceremony. On induction day as you walk down Main Street, you’ll find former players, some Hall of Famers, some not, signing autographs. I saw some of names and then saw two players sitting outside. And, both of them were players I admired from my youth.
Maury Wills played 14 seasons in the majors, mostly with the Dodgers. His rookie season, 1959, was my first awareness of baseball. In 1962 he won the Most Valuable Player award, stealing a then-record 104 bases. The Dodgers lost a heartbreaking playoff to the Giants that year. But Wills led the Dodgers to three championships. He was a five time all star and won two gold gloves. He also managed the Seattle Mariners for a couple of seasons. Now 81, he was on hand to sign autographs.
Sitting next to him was Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers. In 1967, one of the greatest pennant races in baseball history featured the Tigers, Red Sox, Twins and White Sox all with a chance to win the AL pennant in the final week. I was rooting for the Tigers to win, but they fell one game short. But the following season, the Tigers led wire to wire. McLain won 31 games, a feat that will probably never be seen again. He won both the MVP and Cy Young Award as the Tigers won the World Series (McLain won game six). The following year he won the Cy Young Award again, going 24-9. But he developed arm trouble and was ineffective the rest of his career. He also wound up going to prison after his playing days were over on charges of embezzlement and racketeering. But in a five year period, from 1965-69 he was probably the best pitcher in the American League. He’s 70 years old now and smiled during most of the time I saw him.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are held about a mile from the museum. The ceremony is free to the public, although it does cost if you want a preferred seat. The majority of the people who are there are fans of the teams the inductees played for. It’s estimated as many as 30,000 attend the Cooperstown ceremony. Needless to say, with pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and Manager Bobby Cox, the Braves were well represented (Chris is a huge Braves fan which is why we were there.) In addition, slugger Frank Thomas, manager Tony LaRussa and manager Joe Torre were also inducted. Fans in White Sox, Cardinals and Yankees jerseys were on hand as well. I was impressed with the turnout from the folks in Chicago. They were loud and proud although not as big in number as the Braves fans, naturally.
We got on a 45 degree angle from the stage where we could see the big screen and I brought some pretty good binoculars. The ceremony began with broadcaster Gary Thorne introducing the Hall of Famers who were in attendance. He started with Sandy Koufax, who is probably my only true sports hero. That was a big thrill for me. He looks great at 78 years old. Following those introductions, the new members were enshrined. All had good speeches. Maddux showed a little humor by referencing “methane and a lighter.” (I had to explain that to a couple of people.) Glavine was very polished, Cox, very gracious. Tony LaRussa rambled a bit and said at the beginning that he was out of his comfort zone. Joe Torre was funny. Frank Thomas was full of emotion, his voice trembling throughout.
Once it was over, we got on a shuttle and headed back to Main Street. We ate at a cafe with the same group that had dinner together on Thursday. Ron picked up the tab on this one. We said our goodbyes and he walked us back to our minibus. He said “I hope you all enjoyed your weekend.
We made one stop on the way to the airport and got on the plane a little after 8pm EDT.
There was a little weather south of New York which forced the pilot to divert west, which added a few minutes to the trip. But we made good time the rest of the way and landed in Lafayette around midnight CDT.
The cooler made it back to Lafayette. The wagon did not.