Inevitably, the 2008 Hall of Fame Induction was destined to provide somewhat of a letdown, since there was no way in Hades that 75,000 fans were going to pour through the Cooperstown gates the way they did last year. The Hall announced that 14,000 fans attended the Sunday ceremony, but the institution historically overestimates the crowds, usually by about 5,000. More realistically, there were about 10,000 fans gathered at the Clark Sports Center to watch the induction of Goose Gossage, Dick Williams, Billy Southworth, Bowie Kuhn, Walter O’Malley, and Barney Dreyfuss.
Still, the lack of fans didn’t detract from an enjoyable weekend. The weather was terrific, emotions ran particularly high at the ceremony, and scores of former big leaguers descended on Cooperstown to make the weekend the festival of baseball that it has become. In addition to the record 54 Hall of Famers who traveled to Cooperstown this past weekend for the induction extravaganza, hordes of other retired players also made their way into our small, upstate village. Hall of Famers aside, here is a list of the former major leaguers and Negro Leaguers (along with some parenthetical remarks) who were spotted in Cooperstown from Thursday through Sunday:
*Dick Allen (White Sox teammate of Gossage, 1972 AL MVP)
*Jim Beattie (Yankee teammate of Goose)
*Paul “Motormouth” Blair (Yankee teammate of Gossage)
*Vida Blue (played for Dick Williams, 1971 AL Cy Young and MVP)
*Ralph Branca (Brooklyn Dodgers alumnus)
*Dave Campbell (former Padres infielder)
*David Cone (current Yankee broadcaster)
*Steve Garvey (played for Dick Williams)
*Dwight “Doc” Gooden
*Jim “Mudcat” Grant (played for Dick Williams)
*Ron Guidry (Yankee teammate of Gossage)
*Pat Kelly (former Yankee second baseman)
*Gene “Stick” Michael (former manager of Gossage; current Yankee executive)
*Graig Nettles (teammate of Gossage)
*Mickey Rivers (teammate of Gossage)
*Pete Rose (argghhh!)
*Joe Rudi (played for Dick Williams)
*Robert “Bob” Scott (Negro Leagues player)
*Bobby Shantz (1952 AL MVP)
*George “Shotgun” Shuba (former Brooklyn Dodger)
*Chuck Tanner (Gossage’s first manager)
*Roy White (Yankee teammate of Gossage)
There were also a number of current and former executives in town, including Yankee GM Brian Cashman, Yankee advisor Arthur Richman, former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley (son of Walter), former White Sox owner Eddie Einhorn, and longtime White Sox executive Roland Hemond, who now works for the Diamondbacks…
Other news and notes from the weekend: At Sunday night’s annual meeting of the Society for American Baseball Research, several historians noted that Ernie Banks did not attend the Friday afternoon dedication of the new Buck O’Neil statue. That seemed a bit odd, considering that Banks played for O’Neil with the Kansas City Monarchs before being brought to the Cubs by O’Neil. Another former Cubs great, Billy Williams, did attend the O’Neil ceremony…
After the SABR meeting on Sunday night, I ran into three members of the “Dick Williams Lunch Bunch.” They’re all residents of Nevada and longtime friends of Williams who meet with him for lunch every Thursday afternoon. Fifteen of the “Lunch Bunchers” attended the Sunday ceremony, replete with special T-shirts and vintage Charlie Finley green-and-gold A’s caps…
Finally, for those thinking of next year’s Hall of Fame induction, expect to see at least two new Hall of Famers on the stage. Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice will very likely be entering Cooperstown next summer. Henderson is a slam dunk choice, while Rice should come in at about 77 or 78 per cent of the vote.
Except for a drop or two of moisture on a humid afternoon, the rains stayed away on Sunday in Cooperstown, allowing Goose Gossage and Dick Williams to take center stage at the Clark Sports Center, site of the Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony. Although the crowd was sparse–a conservative estimate placed the total at about 10,000 fans–the emotion coming from the induction stage made for a memorable afternoon. The best speech of the day might have been turned in by longtime Mariners voice Dave Niehaus, who accepted the Hall’s Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. Sounding smooth and sincere, Niehaus elegantly accepted an award that began three decades ago, when it was first given to the legendary likes of Mel Allen and Red Barber.
I was glad to hear Gossage, who narrowly broke down at several points during his 17-minute speech, take extra measures to credit Chuck Tanner, his first major league manager. Tanner certainly has his critics as a manager–Bill James among them–but on balance has had a distinguished career, achieving success with both the White Sox and the Pirates, including a world championship in 1979. And his “nice guy” persona is no act; he’s one of the sincerely good people in the game.
If you’re a fan of the Yankee world championship team of 1978, you had to be heartened by the support that Gossage found in the Clark Sports Center crowd. Former Gossage teammates Jim Beattie, Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles, and Roy White all attended the ceremony, as did current Yankee executives Gene “Stick” Michael and Brian Cashman. In some ways, it was a nice warmup to the upcoming Old-Timers’ Day festivities at Yankee Stadium.
Dick Williams almost became part of those great Yankee teams of the seventies, but instead managed the Angels and Expos after leaving the clutches of Charlie Finley. Williams deserves credit for skillfully working Finley into his speech, as he jokingly mentioned the “friendship” between his former owner and Bowie Kuhn, another member of today’s induction class. I would have liked to have seen a few more of Williams’ former players in the Cooperstown crowd–Joe Rudi was one of the few in attendance–but perhaps that’s only fitting; Williams never set about to win friends, but was far more interested in extracting the best from his players. He certainly did that during his managerial stops in Boston, Oakland, and San Diego.
Earlier in the day, I walked the streets of Cooperstown with friends and family in order to capture some of the local flavor created by the weekend. With all of the Hall of Famers preparing for the ceremony, it was a chance for other retired ballplayers to take center stage on Main Street. As we worked our way through the crowded block between Pioneer and Chestnut Street, we saw Mudcat Grant and former Brooklyn Dodger George “Shotgun” Shuba signing at TJ’s Place. Negro Leagues standout Robert Scott, a frequent visitor to Cooperstown, ended up signing at several locations along the main boulevard. When a few young fans approached Scott and told him they had no money to pay for his autograph, he playfully responded, “Why is it you kids never have any money by the time you get to us? You always seem to run out once you get here.” It was all good-natured, with Scott finding a way to converse with the kids despite their lack of funds.
On Saturday, Mickey Rivers and Bobby Shantz signed at CVS Pharmacy, with both drawing rave reviews. (Shantz was so nervous before his signing that he woke up at three in the morning, walked the streets of Cooperstown, and then rested in his car until it was time to report to the store.) My spies tell me both Mickey and Bobby were especially friendly and accommodating, as they dealt with long lines of signature seekers. Rivers, dressed in a slick red and white sweatsuit and sporting a tooth with a gold star, made new friends out of a number of fans, including my nephew. He was both engaging and funny, willing to pose for photographs, and only too happy to sign autographs in any way they were requested. Though I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Mickey personally because of prior commitments at the Fenimore Art Museum, my friends at CVS did help me secure a 1973 Topps card inscribed with the words, “Mick ‘The Quick’ Rivers #17.”
Friendship, former players, and fond memories of baseball. That, folks, is what Hall of Fame Weekend is all about.
After two picture-perfect days here in Cooperstown, partly cloudy skies are greeting us in the village this morning. There’s a threat of rain in the air. but if recent history is any indication, the afternoon induction ceremony will be free of rain, hail, and any other kind of precipitation. A Hall of Fame ceremony hasn’t been rained out since 1991, when heavy rains forced the Joe Morgan/Jim Palmer induction to be pushed back to Monday, and even then it had to take place at the Cooperstown High School Gym. My hunch is that the ceremony will go off without a hitch, allowing Goose Gossage, Dick Williams, Barney Dreyfuss, Bowie Kuhn, Walter O’Malley and Billy Southworth to take their places in the Hall of Fame.
Most of the focus will be on the speeches of the two living inductees, Gossage and Williams. I know that Goose will acknowledge Chuck Tanner, his first big league manager. I hope he finds a way to work people like Billy Martin and Bob Lemon into the conversation. As for Williams, he’ll always be best remembered for the work he did in leading the A’s to back-to-back world championships in 1972 and ’73. I hope he mentions Campy Campaneris, Joe Rudi, Reggie Jackson, Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Rollie Fingers, all of whom were central figures to Charlie Finley’s dynasty. And yes, for all the headaches that Finley gave him, I hope Williams has a kind word or two for Charlie O, too.
For those who can’t be at the ceremony in person, ESPN will provide the TV coverage. Once again, in its infinite wisdom, ESPN has seen fit to put the ceremony on ESPN Classic, its fourth channel.That’s another slap in the face to baseball, considering that ESPN will be showing bull riding,–yes, bull riding–on its second channel, ESPN 2.
But let’s not ESPN’s lack of appreciation ruin the day. It’s a supreme day for baseball, a day that the Hall of Fame grows by six, a day that great players and managers will spin stories from bygone eras. The Induction Ceremony is almost hear. It all starts at 1:30 pm Eastern Daylight time. Let’s enjoy it.
To no one’s surprise, MLB and the Hall of Fame emerged from Saturday’s meeting with Save The Fame Game founder Kristian Connolly by reiterating their stance that the Hall of Fame Game is over, essentially dead and buried. During the meeting, MLB president Bob Dupuy pointed out that the game is basically a local attraction, one that matters primarily to the folks of central New York. Connolly responded by pointing out that fans who attend the game come from a far wider geographic base. He also said that the geography of the fan base shouldn’t matter, considering that the game sells out every year, sometimes within a matter of hours or days.
So what’s next in the process? I don’t expect that Connolly will give up just yet, while the Hall of Fame will continue to explore options for replacing the game. The Hall of Fame has a tendency to move slowly on such matters, sometimes at a glacial rate. It would be wise for the institution to move more quickly in this case, in order to quell continuing arguments to sustain the game and to move the focus of the discussion of the new event. My choices continue to be an Old-Timers Game first, and a Futures Game second, with the ideal solution allowing for both to take place. Youth clinics and minor league games are all fine and well, but they simply do not carry enough marquee value to replace a popular and longstanding tradition like the Hall of Fame Game…
I spent part of Saturday afternoon standing in the spacious lobby of the Otesaga Hotel, waiting for a ride that never came. There was definite upside to the lack of transportation, though, since it gave me an opportunity to do some people-watching at the Otesaga. I spotted Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Bob Feller, and Joe Morgan as they made their way through the first floor of the four-star hotel. Along the way, I picked up on some interesting Aaron news. His boyhood home in Mobile, Alabama, is being moved to the ballpark in that same city, as part of an effort to convert it into a museum. In addition, the Hall of Fame will be opening a new Aaron exhibit in April of 2009, fulfilling a dream for the former home run king. He’s long wanted an exhibit in Cooperstown, something similar to the old Babe Ruth Room that used to be featured, and will apparently get his wish within the next year…
Hall of Fame Weekend is not merely about the Hall of Famers. As I scanned the lobby of the Otesaga, I saw Dick Allen, Chuck Tanner, and Roland Hemond make their entrance. They’re all in town for Goose Gossage’s induction. When The Goose made his major league debut for the White Sox in 1972, Allen was his teammate, Tanner his manager, and Hemond a key executive in the Chicago front office. Allen and Tanner have remained particularly close to Gossage over the years. The Goose has always praised Allen for being a good teammate, while crediting Tanner with the fortuitous decision to convert him from starting pitcher to the bullpen…
A walk down Cooperstown’s Main Street also proved fruitful on Saturday. While the crowds are much smaller than the Ripken-Gwynn induction of 2007, there is no shortage of oldtime players to be found signing along the main boulevard. Ron Guidry is in town, presumably to offer support to Gossage during Sunday’s induction. Gentleman Joe Rudi has made the trip from the West Coast; he’s part of the contingent that is here on behalf of Dick Williams. A number of other baseball notables have joined in on the weekend celebration, including former Yankees Jim Beattie and Doc Gooden, oldtime Brooklyn Dodgers Ralph Branca and George Shuba, and former Yankee manager and GM Gene “Stick” Michael. Stick, one of baseball’s best minds, was one of Gossage’s many managers during his six-year tenure in New York. Other celebrities are expected to attend Sunday’s induction ceremony, including Roberto Clemente’s widow Vera, Yankee GM Brian Cashman, and Players’ Association chieftain Donald Fehr. Cashman attended Saturday’s Yankee game in Boston, but is part of the official Yankee welcoming committee that will honor Gossage as he gains official induction to the Hall of Fame on Sunday. Perhaps Cashman will have another deal to announce, coming on the heels of his Friday night steal of Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates.
Perhaps the most interesting item on today’s Hall of Fame Weekend schedule is the 10:00 morning meeting between Save The Fame Game leader Kristian Connolly, MLB president Bob Dupuy, and Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson. I’m still not expecting the Hall of Fame Game will actually be saved, but I applaud Connolly for his grass roots effort and his ability to even engineer a meeting with one of the top executives at MLB. Connolly’s meeting has also produced follow-up pleas from state senators Hilary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, who have signed a letter to MLB, urging the continuance of the game. (The letter may not help, but it can’t hurt.) If nothing else, Connolly has shown that there is still huge support for the game, and that its biggest fans will not let it go without the largest of fights.
If the game cannot be saved, the Hall of Fame has to come up with a suitable replacement. A minor league game involving the International League (or any league for that matter) simply won’t cut it. The Hall has to come up with something bigger, something with more cache, like an Old-Timers Game or a Futures Game, or better yet, even both. One of the games could then be attached to Hall of Fame Weekend, which desperately needs a signature event, while the other could be played in early June to coincide with the Hall’s birth date of June 12.
If nothing else, we need something good to come out of the loss of a wonderful institution like the Hall of Fame Game. Perhaps Connolly’s efforts will underscore that desire.
The highlight of Friday’s induction activities occurred at 12:30 in the afternoon, when the Hall of Fame unveiled its new bronze statue of the late Buck O’Neil. Located near the staircase to the left of the main lobby, the statue is a terrific lifelike representation of O’Neil. The statue portrays the Negro Leagues legend wearing a suit, his arms folded near his midsection, while he flashes his trademark smile. Behind the statue, the Hall of Fame has erected an attractive glass backdrop, featuring engraved text and photo images from his career. If Buck were alive today, he’d look at it and say something like, “Beautiful, just beautiful. They made me look better than I am.” Buck, I’d say it looks just like you. Wonderful…
Another high point on Friday involved the youth clinic sponsored by the Hall of Fame. Taking place at historic Doubleday Field, the clinic featured instruction by former big league ace Mudcat Grant and retired second baseman Pat Kelly. Although Mudcat is now in his early seventies and somewhat limited in his physical movements, he captivated the onlooking youngsters with his words of wisdom. Grant will remain busy throughout the weekend, as he signs autographs on Main Street and continues to charm passersby with his storytelling abilities…
Earlier in the day, I ran into one of my favorite baseball writers, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. He informed me that he’s begun work on his latest book project, a comprehensive biography of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. The book will be published by a major player in the publishing industry, Harper Collins. Madden has previously written books on the tumultuous Yankee teams of the 1980s, along with two revealing books he did in tandem with former Yankee coach Don Zimmer.Of all the New York writers, none cares more about the Hall of Fame than Mr. Madden…
Finally, I’d like to correct a mistake from an earlier post. Contrary to what I had written, Hank Aaron is in town for Hall of Fame Weekend. My apologies to Hammerin’ Hank. The eight Hall of Famers not in Cooperstown this weekend are Rod Carew, George Kell, Lee MacPhail, Stan Musial, Nolan Ryan, Duke Snider, Carl Yastrzemski, and Robin Yount.
As I walked into the Otesaga Hotel on Friday afternoon, the first person I noticed was Willie Mays. Sitting in a chair in the front of the lobby, Mays was surrounded by a phalanx of friends and family. I guess when you’re Willie Mays, it’s hard to move five feet in any direction in Cooperstown without drawing some sort of a crowd. Later in the day, I spotted several other Hall of Famers making their way through the Otesaga lobby, including Jim Bunning, Bob Feller, and Bob Gibson. At 89 years of age, Feller is the third oldest Hall of Famer, just behind Bobby Doerr and Lee MacPhail. He’s also sporting a different look these days, with a new crew cut that reminded me of his days in the military during World War II. Gibson’s appearance also surprised me a bit; he appeared to be smiling, an expression not often seen on the master of intimidation…
Making my way around the basement of the Otesaga, I caught a glimpse of Dick Williams, who is now less than 48 hours away from his induction, in the “Abner Doubleday Room.” A fitting name. As I eavesdropped on Williams’ conversation with a member of the media, I heard him talk about today’s ballplayers. He praised them for being bigger, stronger, and better trained than athletes of the past, but complained “that they have no idea how to play the game.” When it comes to the art of baserunning and the ability of outfielders to throw to the right base, I’m in complete agreement with Williams…
Later in the day, I ran into Cincinnati Reds broadcaster George Grande, who peaked in on us as we sat in the “Natty Bumppo Room.” Grande is currently preparing for Sunday’s induction ceremony, where he will continue his longstanding role as emcee. One of the truly nice guys in the game, Grande reminisced with me about the early days at ESPN, when the channel didn’t broadcast 24 hours a day and when SportsCenter anchors had to wear blazers with ESPN logos. We also talked about his former broadcast partner with the Yankees, Bobby Murcer. Just like everyone else in the game, Grande has nothing but kind words for Murcer, who died earlier this month from cancer. Just like Murcer, Grande is one of the good guys who help make our game something special.