COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — A new exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, on the history of baseball cards, is called Shoebox Treasures. After spending a few days in Cooperstown, N.Y., covering the induction ceremonies last weekend, I had a shoebox overflowing with tidbits to treasure. Here are a few scenes and sounds:
WHILE OTHERS DINED inside the stately Otesaga hotel after a rainstorm Friday night, the former Montreal teammates Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero took a table together outdoors, on a veranda overlooking Otsego Lake. Funny to think that, with Lee Smith’s recent induction, the 1997 Expos, who went 78-84, now have three Hall of Fame players. The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the World Series, have none.
RANDY JOHNSON, well known for his mean streak on the mound, was all smiles at an event in the Hall’s plaque gallery on Saturday night. Johnson, an accomplished photographer, said he would soon embark on his fourth photo safari in Africa.
TIM MEAD, who spent 40 years as an Angels executive before becoming president of the Hall this summer, remembered the first time he visited Cooperstown, for an exhibition game at Doubleday Field in 1996. The irrepressible Rex Hudler, a veteran infielder, hit a called-shot home run to right center field.
HAROLD BAINES was so revered in Chicago that the White Sox retired his No. 3 in 1989 — when he was only 30 years old. They had just traded him to the Texas Rangers.
“When it first happened, I was still mad that I got traded,” said Baines, who was brought back to the White Sox twice as a player and again as a coach. “But the older you get, the more you appreciate what people have done for you, and the White Sox have treated me like a son. I’m very grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”
THE OLDEST LIVING HALL OF FAMER, Tommy Lasorda, and the one with the longest active tenure, Sandy Koufax, were both in Cooperstown for the weekend. Lasorda, 91, posed for pictures with fans on Main Street on Sunday morning but did not attend the ceremony at the Clark Sports Center. Koufax, a fellow Dodger, was inducted in 1972. He is 83 and has been a Hall of Famer for roughly 57 percent of his life.
JAYSON STARK OF THE ATHLETIC received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for excellence in baseball writing. Stark was my personal inspiration for becoming a sportswriter and has been a friend for 30 years. I watched his speech at Doubleday Field next to Larry Christenson, a former Phillies pitcher who said he came to Cooperstown just to be there for a writer who had always treated him fairly while exuding boundless passion for the sport.
ONE OF THE HALL OF FAMERS most active in the shrine’s events is Jim Thome, who helped give a clinic on Friday morning (his son was among the eager participants) and escorted Hank Aaron, 85, to his seat at Sunday’s ceremony. Thome, 48, feels a strong pull to help the Hall, as he suggested in his induction speech last summer: “Baseball is beautiful, and I am forever in its service.”
CLASSY MOVE BY EDGAR MARTINEZ to acknowledge the Mariners’ public relations team in his speech. Tim Hevly and his staff worked for years to make the case for Martinez, who hit .312 with a .418 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage. No other player in the expansion era (since 1961) can match all three figures, with a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances.
Martinez also saluted his former manager, Lou Piniella, who was nearly elected to the Hall by the veterans committee last winter. “Missed by one vote,” Piniella said last month, at the Yankees’ old-timers day. “It was disappointing, but it’s out of my control. I felt like my accomplishments were there.”
THE PRESENCE OF BERNIE WILLIAMS, who played jazz guitar at Sunday’s ceremony, reinforced the idea that New York bias in Hall of Fame voting is a myth. Consider all the famous New York players who do not have a plaque at the Hall: David Cone, Keith Hernandez, Ron Guidry, Roger Maris, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Williams. All of them won major awards and/or multiple championships, yet none received votes from even half the writers, with 75 percent required for election.
GREG MADDUX’S RATE STATISTICS were remarkably similar to Roy Halladay’s. Maddux averaged 8.5 hits per nine innings, 1.8 walks per nine and 6.1 strikeouts per nine. Halladay’s averages: 8.7, 1.9 and 6.9. Did Maddux notice the similarities?
“I did,” said Maddux, whose 355 victories are the most of any living pitcher. “I saw a better breaking ball; he probably used his breaking ball a lot better than I did. But he was a good competitor, mentally very strong, and one of those guys — he looked like he wanted to win worse than the other pitcher.”
JEFF IDELSON, who retired as the Hall of Fame president this year, gave a fun speech at a separate awards ceremony on Saturday. He mentioned that Brooks Robinson, as a boy in Little Rock, Ark., had worked a paper route that wound past Bill Dickey’s house. Robinson told Idelson that he always put a little extra zip on his toss to the Dickey home. Idelson has moved on to a new venture, Grassroots Baseball, that will promote the amateur game around the world.
MIKE MUSSINA BECAME the first of Stanford’s 99 major leaguers to make it to the Hall of Fame. Three members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame went to Stanford: John Elway, James Lofton and Ernie Nevers, a fullback for the Chicago Cardinals who also pitched three seasons for the St. Louis Browns.
MARIANO RIVERA WAS NOT the only pitcher on the stage to have worn No. 42 — Mussina also wore it as a rookie for Baltimore in 1991, the year before the Orioles opened Camden Yards, sparking a building boom around the majors. Mussina specifically cited that move in his speech, thanking the Orioles executives for bringing the game to the city’s Inner Harbor. “It remains one of the best ballpark environments in the game,” he said, accurately.
LEE SMITH WAS FAMOUS for napping during games. Here’s how he described his routine: “Man, I could sleep anywhere. I remember the old stadium in Milwaukee, it was tiny, and I could actually sleep right in the middle of the floor. The guys would step over me. They were like, ‘Man, how do you do it?’ I was like, ‘Throw a towel over my face and I’m out.’ The trainer’s job was to make sure I was up in the sixth inning and I had on the right uni.”
Smith had to laugh when he learned that the Cubs now have a room near their clubhouse to give players space to nap, while the team monitors their sleep patterns. “I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” Smith said. “They’ve got to put my name on that door.”
WHEN THE CEREMONY ENDED on Sunday, the Hall’s chairwoman, Jane Forbes Clark, told fans that the next induction ceremony would take place on July 26, 2020. A few Yankees fans responded immediately with a familiar chant for a player sure to be on the stage: “De-rek Je-ter!” clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. “De-rek Je-ter … ”
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