On Sunday, July 27th I got a chance to attend the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, featuring Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. I also visited the Hall of Fame museum the Friday before induction day.
When you are within the walls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and museum, you mostly forget about the debates of who should be in, what to do with the steroid guys and all of that. You just get absorbed in the history of the game. If you are lucky enough to go on induction weekend, you feel like you are at a baseball Mardi Gras, though with a much less raucous crowd.
The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is well worth the trip to upstate New York, basically in the middle of nowhere, and I mean that in the best possible sense. Even during a crowded induction weekend, Cooperstown still has a small-town feel. You feel safe and away from hustle and bustle with 48,000 of your closest friends. I even got a chance to meet Homer Osterhoudt, a man who was at the first induction in 1939, worked for the company that built the Hall of Fame and only missed three inductions over the years, when he was serving in the Pacific in World War II.
It’s enough just to see the museum and the town of Cooperstown. Throw in induction weekend, when you never know who you might run into, and it’s the ultimate escape for baseball fans. I ran into Leo Mazzone and shook his hand. It just felt like running into an old acquaintance, no big deal. Sure, to get an autograph during induction weekend, you are going to pay at least $25. But just seeing baseball people hanging out on the streets of a small town is free and priceless.
The museum itself is three floors packed with artifacts from the game’s rich history, then there’s the Hall of Fame gallery with all the plaques of those enshrined. Walking through the museum is a mystical experience. When people tell you they can feel the history in the place, it’s absolutely true. It’s easy to get lost in the memorable events of the past that surround each piece of history on display.
The plaque gallery is like walking through a historic cemetery full of baseball royalty, although many of the enshrined are obviously still alive. I thought about how being inducted must feel a bit like going to your own funeral. At that point, you belong to the ages. You guarantee yourself a spot within a certain pantheon of baseball history unique from all other aspects of baseball history. It’s not like you threw one great game or hit one memorable homerun. You actually made an impact on the game for a good 10-20 years, at least.
To have guys that were playing or managing when you passed through adolescence and into early adulthood inducted, it makes those men more than just ballplayers or managers but larger than life. Back in my teens and throughout my 20s, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were just amazing baseball players. With their induction into the Hall of Fame, they’ve become stately, almost presidential. When you think about how few plaques are hanging in that gallery, it’s simply amazing that the Braves had two first-ballot guys go in in the same season (although Maddux went in without a team affiliation), a manager and will likely have two more guys go in. This really brings home how special that time was for Braves’ fans. To anyone who complains about the fact that the Braves failed to make it through the postseason crapshoot and win more World Series, this really confirms that those Braves teams were, in fact, special.