East-West Classic a true throwback celebration at Cooperstown

May 26th, 2024
Members of the East Team celebrate after Ryan Howard hits a home run during the 2024 Hall of Fame East-West Classic at Doubleday Field. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – They represented the Monarchs and the Barons. There were Elite Giants and American Giants. Eagles and Crawfords played alongside Clowns and Grays.

Thirty former players, with 53 All-Star selections among them, came together on a perfect Saturday for baseball at a sold-out Doubleday Field for the Hall of Fame East-West Classic. In a true throwback, they donned wool jerseys from Ebbets Field Flannels and to a man -- and woman -- wore the cuffs of their baggy navy-blue pants high, showing off blue stirrups with white stripes.

“It’s cool,” said, wearing a Newark Eagles jersey. “Anytime I got a chance to play in these [Negro League throwbacks] throughout the course of a season, I always looked forward to it and loved it, so I'm happy to get a chance to put it back on again today.”

Mo’ne Davis, who arrived late on Friday night because she had graduate courses at Columbia University all week, sported a Kansas City Monarchs jersey -- an appropriate team for the star of Philadelphia’s Anderson Monarchs in the 2014 Little League World Series. She replaced in center field in the fifth for the West team and caught a line drive by for the third out. In the top of the sixth, she batted against left-hander and struck out swinging.

Mo’ne Davis called it a "huge honor" to participate in the event. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

“It's a huge honor,” she said. “Sometimes, I feel a little nervous, but just being out here to honor the Negro Leagues, honor those that came before me, honor those that have paved the way for me to play the sport, it feels amazing.”

took the mound to start the game with James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” pumping from the stacks of speakers set up around the warning track in foul territory (plus one in left-center). He moved to the music, shuffling his feet and shimmying in front of the pitching rubber. Only then did he begin his warmup pitches.

Jackson’s private dance party summed up a convivial weekend that saw the opening of the new exhibit “Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball” at the Hall of Fame just a quarter-mile away down Main St.

The former players, 14 Hall of Famers and two Negro League legends lined up for the national anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed by Nikko Smith before the game, and almost all of them were on hand on Friday night when the Hall unveiled the exhibit.

Many of the players were as in awe as any fan would be when Hall president Josh Rawitch asked the Hall of Famers to line up for the ribbon cutting in the Grandstand Theater. Seated in the first few rows, the players raised their phones to take pictures of the legends lined up in front of them -- until Rawitch lightly scolded them: “No, no pictures!” he said, chuckling. “You guys come down here, too!”

The Baseball Hall of Famers cutting the ribbon to open the Souls of the Game exhibit

After the ribbon was cut, they and 400 other guests explored the exhibit, taking photos with family beside the displays of players they looked up to -- or their own artifacts.

, who won the pregame home run derby over , got a chance to see his Team USA jersey -- the one he wore when robbing of a home run at Petco Park in the 2017 World Baseball Classic -- behind glass as part of the long history of Black baseball. When asked for his thoughts, he couldn’t put the feeling into words.

“Indescribable,” he said. “One day I’ll give a description for it, but it’s just like …” And he left it at that with a slight shrug.

Prince Fielder and his sons at the Souls of the Game exhibit

On Saturday morning, when the Hall opened to the public, the line stretched down the block. They all entered for free, thanks to the Players Alliance covering admission for all visitors for the day. And many of those patrons specifically asked where the new exhibit was.

When they got to the second floor, they found a line snaking past Babe Ruth’s uniform and Honus Wagner’s locker all the way back to the 19th century as folks lined up to explore the history on display, from Octavius Catto in 1860s Philadelphia to and Granderson in 2010s New York, and all the legendary figures and barnstorming cities in between.

CC Sabathia and his wife Amber at the exhibit

Rowan Ricardo Phillips, an award-winning poet, author, screenwriter and academic, was one of the curatorial consultants the Hall included in the development of the project. The reception by the public moved him.

“The fact that people really want to start and think about the roots of the story, the voices, from the beginning, people we don't often think about -- Bud Fowler, Octavius Catto, those types of players, it really excites me,” he said. “I think what's really wonderful about the exhibit is, we can rethink the story of baseball that we want to tell to ourselves and to our future selves. Instead of thinking, well, let's pick this up from 2020 or 2024 or whatever.”

Though the Doubleday Field scoreboard showed runs, hits and errors, the game wasn’t so much a competition as a celebration. The players laughed and joked with each other from the mound, the batter’s box, the basepaths and the dugouts.

was named player of the game for his go-ahead three-run homer in the fifth inning that gave the East a 5-4 victory in six innings. After he lined a pitch just over the Players Alliance banner in right field, the players streamed from the East bench to home plate like a college team to await the slugger. As Howard scored, he disappeared into a mosaic of jerseys, everyone bouncing to the beat.

“It's always been a fraternity,” Howard said after the game. “The cool part about it is you have your teammates that you play with coming up in the Minor Leagues. And a lot of the guys you play against at each level in the Minor Leagues, so in a sense you're coming up together with them, as well. … And just to have this kind of brotherhood and continue to have it is special.”

, both an honorary team member for the West and an on-field M.C., roamed the outfield at times during play to talk to participants. His coverage will be part of the Hall of Fame East-West Classic all-access show highlighting the weekend’s festivities and the game. It will air on MLB Network Sunday, June 2, at 1 p.m. ET and also be available on demand on MLB.com, MLB.TV, in the MLB App and on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s digital channels.

When third-base umpire Tincie Chapman couldn’t dodge a foul ball, Reynolds jogged over to get her reaction. After reliever caught a wicked comebacker from and threw to first for a double play, Reynolds went out to the mound to ask if he was OK -- and maybe give him a moment to catch his breath. “I caught it, didn’t I?” Hawkins replied, a smile apparent in his voice.

If there’s one word to describe the atmosphere across Cooperstown for the weekend, from the museum to the ballpark, Sabathia hit on it.

“I don’t know what the crowds were before,” he said before the game, looking around at the 5,740 fans filling the stands, “but this is a vibe. This is a vibe.”