Deepening our appreciation for Cooperstown
Corcoran's book helps us relive decades of fond Hall of Fame memories
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and, needless to say, a lot has changed in the picturesque little village in upstate New York since the building was formally dedicated in 1939.
"Induction Day at Cooperstown" by Dennis Corcoran, as its title suggests, takes a year-by-year look at the most celebrated day of the baseball calendar. It's a thorough examination of each Induction Day from the beginning through 2010. The who, what, when, where and why is here, and it's an engrossing road map to the growth of the institution.
But there's also plenty of background on the creation of the Hall of Fame and the factoids of its history sprinkled throughout that result in a de facto history of the sports mecca.
Controversy has been a common theme over the years, as Corcoran ably demonstrates. Most has centered on which players should and shouldn't have been enshrined. The voting process, handled since the beginning by the Baseball Writers' Association of America and augmented by various incarnations of a Veterans Committee, has been scrutinized.
Even the location created a furor at first. Cooperstown turned out to be a perfect locale, but the myth that baseball was invented there in 1839 was being debunked even as plans for the project were being finalized, threatening to scuttle the project.
It all started when National League president Ford C. Frick, later the Commissioner, was presented with a proposal in 1935 to play a Major League All-Star Game in Cooperstown as a way of generating publicity for baseball's upcoming centennial celebration. Frick had a grander vision. He suggested a Hall of Fame for baseball's greatest stars that would be part of a museum complex.
From the beginning, there were disputes. Cy Young was not part of the original class of 1936, because the ballot was divided into players from before 1900 and those who performed afterward. Since the 511-game winner's career spanned both eras, voters couldn't decide which one he belonged in. As a result, he was elected on neither ballot.
Cap Anson made it in 1939 even though he had once refused to play an exhibition game because the opposing team had an African-American player and later worked actively to prevent blacks from appearing in the Major Leagues. Many great players, including Joe DiMaggio, did not make it in their first year of eligibility. There have been years when no candidate made the 75 percent threshold. And, of course, there never has been a unanimous selection.
The backbone of this book, however, is the exacting reconstruction of each Induction Day and the asides that make those events come to life, such as these unforgettable moments:
• Former Yankees teammates Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford were both honored in 1974. Recalled Ford: "I went to bed early the night before the ceremony while Mickey took his four boys and my four boys and found a locked room in the Otesaga [hotel] with a pool table. Mickey pushed one of the kids through a window in the room to open the door. They then shot pool all night as Mickey only got about two hours of sleep ... His speech was great."
• When umpire Jocko Conlan was introduced as a returning inductee in 1986, the emcee noted that he was responsible for beer at ballparks being served in disposable cups. It seems that after fans in Brooklyn littered the field with bottles after a call that went against the Dodgers, the concessionaire decided to switch to paper.
• In 1965, the winner of the American Legion Baseball Player of the Year Award was presented during the annual Doubleday Field game. It went to 18-year-old Rollie Fingers who, in 1992, would come back to be inducted after a successful career with the Athletics, Padres and Brewers.
Few baseball fans who have visited Cooperstown have come away without marveling at what a special place it is. This book only deepens that appreciation.