By Stuart Nulman – Montreal Times
It was exactly 75 years ago next month, that probably the most hallowed site in professional baseball opened its doors to a large gathering of devoted fans, as well as many of the game’s greatest players who dominated the diamond from the 1890s to the 1930s.
This wasn’t Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. This was the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, the small town in central New York State where the game was alleged to be created by Abner Doubleday in 1839.
“Earning election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame is the top honor for those who have played, managed, umpired or served as executives in our great National Pastime,” writes Jane Forbes Clark, whose grandfather Stephen C. Clark founded the Hall of Fame in 1936, in the introduction to the commemorative book The Hall. “The roster is reserved simply for the best: those who have excelled at the highest level throughout their career and have done so with character, integrity, and sportsmanship … only three hundred individuals have earned a bronze plaque in Cooperstown. There is no honor like it anywhere else in the sports world.”
To mark the 75th anniversary of the opening of the most highly regarded professional sports shrine, the people at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum have utilized their vast encyclopedic knowledge of baseball (not to mention their massive photo archive) to come up with this impressive volume that will certainly have fans appreciate the 300 inductees even more, and spark more discussion and debate amongst their fellow baseball devotees.
While many of the books that deal with the Baseball Hall of Fame focuses on the many artifacts that are displayed in the museum that tell the story of how baseball became the “National Pastime”, The Hall places its emphasis on its raison d’etre: the 300 players, umpires, managers and executives whose achievements on and off the baseball diamond earned them the right to be known as inductees, who bronze plaques are displayed with pride in the museum’s hall of honour, and are viewed upon with awe by visitors of all ages every year as they make that baseball pilgrimage to Cooperstown.
Instead of profiling each inductee according to the year they were elected to the Hall of Fame, The Hall decided to profile them according to the field position they played during their baseball career (behind the plate, infield, outfield, on the mound, and in the dugout), in which each inductee are profiled per chapter by order of the year of their election in two-page mini bios complete with photos and their Hall of Fame plaque. And each profile not only trumpets each inductee’s numbers and achievements that earned them their place in the hall, but also offers some interesting gems of information that you may or not have heard about your favorite baseball legend. For example, Rogers Hornsby, who won seven National League batting titles during the 1920s, admitted that he never went to movies and rarely read, because he didn’t want to strain his eyes that would affect his hitting at the plate; Ted Williams, during his 1966 Hall of Fame induction speech, praised the efforts of many of the great Negro League players, which prompted the Hall of Fame to induct more Negro League veterans as of 1971; St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan Musial got his nickname “The Man” from Brooklyn Dodgers fans for his offensive skills during the back-and-forth pennant race between the two teams during the 1946 season; and Ty Cobb, who was notorious for his dirty on-field tactics that earned him the hatred from his fellow American League players during the early part of the 20th century, preached common sense eating and drinking buttermilk in order for ballplayers to have a long, productive career (which explains his 23 years as a pro baseball player).
And each section is preceded by an essay written by a living Hall of Famer that represents each position (i.e. pitcher Nolan Ryan, catcher Carlton Fisk, left fielder Jim Rice, manager Tommy Lasorda, etc.). Each essay, which reads like a mini-memoir, gives each legend their own personal story of how they developed their respective baseball careers, the people who were their inspirations, their accomplishments, pitfalls and proudest moments, and what being a Hall of Fame inductee mean to them. In a time in pro sports where money, greed and selfishness takes over many of its players, it’s refreshing to read how these Hall of Famers earned their place in Cooperstown in a quite simple, honest, hard working manner, and is quite revealing for many other reasons than to spark controversy or to sell books. For example, first baseman (and 1999 inductee) Orlando Cepeda, while growing up in Puerto Rico, lived in poverty, but his father Perucho Cepeda – who worked as a government civil servant by day – was one of the most popular ballplayers in Puerto Rico during the 1940s and 50s, and enjoyed superstar popularity on the same level as Babe Ruth.
The Hall is something that baseball fans – whether they have made that journey to Cooperstown or not – will treasure for the fitting tribute it bestows upon the 300 legendary individuals who are regarded as the greatest names whoever put on a uniform and displayed their baseball prowess on the field, or contributed greatly to the development of baseball as not only a sport, but as a way of life.
As veteran broadcaster Tom Brokaw eloquently states in the book’s forward: “This is the baseball shrine. It is our national game, attracting presidents for the first pitch, movie stars who shrink in the presence of our stars, ballparks filled with the moneyed and the barely making it; side by side in their loyalty to the home team.
This is the Hall of Fame.
There will be others, in all the major sports and even in business, broadcasting, bowling, door-to-door door sales, whatever a promoter can dream up.
But there’s really only one founding Hall of Fame, and you’ll find it in Cooperstown.”
Stuart Nulman’s “Book Banter” segment is a twice-a-month feature on “The Stuph File Program” with Peter Anthony Holder, which now has almost 150,000 listeners per week. You can either listen or download it at peteranthonyholder.com, Stitcher.com or subscribe to it on iTunes. Plus you can find it at CyberStationUSA.com, KDXradio.com, True Talk Radio, streaming on PCJMedia.com, and over the air at World FM 88.2fm in New Zealand, Media Corp in Singapore and WSTJ, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Stuart can be reached at email@example.com