Induction Day: As we arrived at the Clark Sports Center
about a mile south of Cooperstown proper, two things struck us: it was raining lightly and there was a tent set up over the stage where the induction was obviously going to take place. We found where the tour company had set up our chairs and, after changing seats a couple of times to get a better view of the unlighted stage, we settled in to wait the hour before the festivities were set to begin. That’s me on the right in the picture below.
To set the scene, if I were standing on the stage at the podium, I would be looking out at gently rolling fields of grass ending perhaps a quarter of a mile away in thick forest. In front of the stage a rickety dark green picket fence cordoned off an area, which we rightly assumed were for the families of those who would be on stage and other former ballplayers and dignitaries and their retinue. You can see part of the green fence in the picture above. We found out later that we could have paid $200 extra to sit in the VIP area. I would gladly have paid it to sit closer, had we been given the option. But I digress.
Back to me pretending to stand on the stage looking out: to my right was a large TV screen which wasn’t anywhere near big enough to enable those who were near the aforementioned forest to see, but it would help those of us who were in the middle of the pack.
To the left along the road were vendors selling food and souvenirs, as well as a long row of portapotties lined up like fat blue soldiers. Shuttle busses arrived every few minutes behind the portapotties delivering more people and paraphernalia.
New arrivals came out to the field and set up their chairs higgledy piggledy on either side and behind the fenced in area. There were aisles whitewashed into the grass, but they were observed more in their breach than anything else. Over the next hour, those assembled were alternately getting wet when the heavens drizzled and hot when the sun came out, steaming them in their rain gear. The whole thing looked like a cross between an active bee hive and a homeless encampment. See slide show at: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/photogallery/year_2009/month_07/day_26/cf6074528.html.
Induction Ceremony begins Amid Sprinkles: Finally, the festivities began and we were welcomed by the President of the Hall of Fame, Jeff Idelson, who proceeded to introduce the 51 Hall of Famers (of the 65 still living) seated on chairs on the stage.
Those in attendance included such greats as: Dennis Eckersley, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Henry Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Lou Brock, Johnny Bench, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Senator Jim Bunning, Orlando Cepeda Carl Yastrzemski and Ozzie Smith, who rose as their names were called to standing ovations.
A slight woman with shoulder-length salt-and-pepper curly hair was introduced as Judy Gordon, the daughter of the Veterans’ Committee’s 2009 inductee, the late Joe Gordon who played second base for the Yankees and Cleveland from 1938-1950.
Judy gave a heartfelt speech about her father and what baseball meant to him and his family, declaring with tears flowing that her father refused to have any kind of funeral when he died in 1978, but “We consider Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame as his final resting place, a place he will be honored forever.” By now the sun had come out so it wasn’t rain that adorned the cheeks of many people in the audience.
Power-hitting leftfielder Jim Rice was next introduced to cheers from the many Red Sox fans in attendance.
He talked about his rise in the Red Sox organization where he played his entire career, poked a jab or two at the media with whom he had a testy relationship, and thanked the Baseball Writers Association for voting him in during his last year of eligibility.
Tomorrow: Rickey Steals the Show
Rickey Records: I had forgotten how much I loved Rickey Henderson. I was present when he broke Lou Brock’s previous stolen base record (938 swipes)
and then put the new record completely out of reach by increasing it to 1046, a number that most people in baseball say will never be seen again. But he holds some other records that don’t get as much ink as breaking Lou Brock’s record: he has the most lead off homeruns in history (81) and the most stolen bases in a single season (130). Rickey scored 2,295 runs in his career (the most by any player), and he is in the top five in several other categories.
He truly is the best lead-off hitter of all time and the best player in A’s history. It was a thrill to be present while he experienced the greatest recognitions a player can receive in the sport of baseball–induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 26th and the retirement of his number 24 at the Oakland Coliseum August 1st.
Hall of Fame Trip: I was fortunate to travel with Sports Travel and Tours on their Induction Plus trip last week. We attended A’s games in the new Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Citifield, the new home of the NY Mets. (More on these ballparks in a future post.) But the crown jewel of the adventure was two days in Cooperstown, NY, to watch Rickey Nelson Henley Henderson be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In case you are wondering, he was named after the singer/actor son of Ozzie Nelson.
Four years ago, my husband and I had visited Cooperstown, and found a sleepy historic town
on the edge of beautiful Lake Otsego in upstate New York,
where the sidewalks rolled up when the sun went down. It was blissful then, having the Hall of Fame to ourselves for a few hours,
to tour slowly around the Gallery, reading about each Hall of Famer on the bronze plaques which are displayed along the walls in the order in which each player was inducted into the Hall of Fame. A few years earlier, the Hall had built a large addition, part of which added a rotunda at the end of the Gallery to accommodate new additions to the Hall.
But on this 2009 trip, we arrived in Cooperstown on Friday, July 25th, to overcast skies and hordes of people clogging the streets. No solitude was to be found in the Hall of Fame either, which is as it should be on Induction Weekend. Parents pointed out to their children the plaques of the players the dad or mom had loved when they were young. Others stood reverently in front of the bronze images of Babe Ruth, or Lou Gehrig or Ted Williams.
Rickey’s plaque site in the new rotunda was empty as his bronze wouldn’t be installed until after the induction ceremony the next day.
That same afternoon we went to the Clark Sports Center for the “Connecting Generations” event. It was a lot more fun than I anticipated. Three Hall of Famers
–former A’s manager, Dick Williams, Ryne Sandberg, and Goose Gossage–competed against four families from the audience in a Family-Feud-style baseball trivia contest. The Hall of Famers won by a small margin and the audience learned some things about the greats of the game. Harold Reynolds charmingly emceed the event. I did pretty well answering the questions along with the contestants.
I’ll stop here for today. This is part of a long article which I will give you installments over the next few days. There is just too much to share with you in one post.
Tomorrow: Induction Day. Future posts: Induction Ceremony, Rickey Steals the Show, Rickey’s Number Retired in Oakland.