This corner now provides you with its annual lecture that has added meaning this year: A summer must-do for residents and visitors in New York State is to hightail it down the Thruway to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Especially this year, with the Hall celebrating its 75th anniversary. It’s only about four hours away from Buffalo.
The displays and artifacts are wondrous and the old-time feel of the village itself is simply unmatched. A birthday celebration was held Thursday, with Cal Ripken Jr. and Phil Niekro on hand to greet guests and members and even share in some birthday cake in the Hall’s iconic plaque gallery.
“There is something magical about the place, coming here – especially as a baseball person – to be able to touch and feel and see the history,” Ripken told MLB.com after the ceremony. “It’s almost like it pulls you in. I was able to express how it feels to be a member of the Hall of Fame, but I’m still a fan in many ways.”
A new exhibit entitled “Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend” made its debut Friday, marking the 100th anniversary of Ruth’s big-league debut in 1914. A ribbon was cut to open the 180-square foot presentation, with Ripken, Niekro and Hall officials joined by Ruth’s great-granddaughter.
The annual Induction Weekend will be a huge one this year, with the inductions of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre set for 1:30 p.m. July 27.
And on Aug. 2, the Hall will stage The Cooperstown Concert to celebrate the anniversary. It will be held on the same Clark Sports Center stage where the inductions will be held six days earlier.
The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra will be the house band for the evening, which runs from 8 to 10 p.m. It will include performances by Paul Simon, former Yankees center fielder-turned jazz musician Bernie Williams, gospel star Yolanda Adams and Latin star Juan Luis Guerra. Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully will record the introduction and opening segment of the concert.
To commemorate the 75th, a 624-page anniversary book has been released and aptly titled “The Hall: A Celebration of Baseball’s Greats.” Released by the Hall in conjunction with Little, Brown & Co., it is a spectacular coffee-table tome that belongs in any baseball fan’s library.
The book’s dedication is to the nearly 16 million fans who have visited the Hall since it first opened. There is a chapter on Hall of Famers at each position – with an introductory essay by a member from that position. The list includes Ripken, Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk, Orlando Cepeda, Joe Morgan, George Brett, Jim Rice, Robin Yount, Hank Aaron and Tommy Lasorda.
The foreword is brilliantly composed by longtime NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, who writes in part: “I believe shrines should have bucolic settings and connections to that which they honor. Cooperstown, by its location and size, pays tribute to a game and players who came of age in rural America, largely working-class young men with the right physiology and determination to dominate a game that quickly became our National Pastime.”
Within each section are new bios written on every Hall member, and plenty of full-page pictures of each one – including a spectacular and rare color shot of South Buffalo native Warren Spahn in his trademark high right-leg kick.
Here are some of my favorite essay nuggets:
• From Ryan: “I had this growth spurt during my sophomore year of high school, and all of a sudden it was like I had been struck by a lightning bolt. It was like someone had screwed a new right arm into my shoulder socket, and the baseball started coming out of my hand like a rocket being launched.”
• More Ryan, on his seventh career no-hitter, in 1991 against Toronto at age 44: “That may have been the most dominating game of my career. I had 16 strikeouts that night and just two walks. I recall heading into that game feeling like I was 64 instead of 44. My back, head, Achilles tendon and middle finger on my throwing hand were all ailing that night.”
• From Fisk: “One of the dumbest things a catching coach can ever tell a catcher is that he should block the plate in order to stop a guy from scoring. There’s never been a run scored in the history of the game that’s worth the kind of injury a catcher can suffer in that mismatch. One run is not worth one leg.”
• From Morgan on a 1970-era meeting with Jackie Robinson when the former Dodgers great was broadcasting for NBC: “The night before, I remember going over in my mind all these questions I was going to ask him. But when I actually got to see him, I could barely get any words out of my mouth because I was so nervous, so in awe. … I settled down a little and we had a short discussion but I definitely was awestruck.”
• Aaron on following Robinson’s exploits as he was growing up: “My family and everyone in my neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods were pretty poor. Our house didn’t even have indoor plumbing, electricity or windows at first. We couldn’t really afford to take a daily newspaper, so we depended on word of mouth to find out how Jackie was doing.”
• From Ripken, on the Orioles using him as a pitcher after he went 7-2 with an 0.70 ERA as a high school senior: “I know that’s the direction they were thinking, even though I had a pretty good year at the plate with an above-.400 batting average and 29 RBIs in just 20 games. They saw this tall, lanky kid who could throw the ball hard and they were thinking, ‘Maybe this kid can be the next Jim Palmer.’ ”
• More Ripken, on breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record in 1995: “The streak linked the game all the way back to Lou Gehrig’s days, to a happier time. I’ve always contended, and I still contend, that ultimately the streak wasn’t so much about me as it was about finding something good about baseball once more.”
• Yount on starting his pro career in Newark, N.Y., of the New York-Penn League in 1973: “Growing up near the desert in Southern California, I was used to warm weather but not humidity. I got to experience that for the first time in upstate New York. It’s really a beautiful part of the country. Overall I had a great experience.”
• Lasorda on Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series home run against Oakland: “I swear to God, it was like that scene from ‘The Natural.’ That might as well have been Roy Hobbs hobbling around the bases because that’s what it felt like. I still get emotional just thinking about it.”