By LIBBY CUDMORE • The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta
COOPERSTOWN – The American Legion, especially through American Legion Baseball, and The National Baseball Hall of have had a special relationship for over four decades.
“American Legion Baseball was founded in 1925 to further citizenship through sportsmanship,” said Jeremy Field, director of communication at American Legion’s HQ in Indianapolis. “Every year our player of the year is honored at the Hall of Fame Classic game at Doubleday Field.”
And this week, to celebrate the American Legion’s 100th anniversary, the Hall and Legion will co-host special exhibits and tours Friday-Saturday, March 29-30, focusing on the connection between the military and baseball.
“Seeing that baseball is America’s game and American Legion Baseball is one of our programs and that 77 – soon to be 81 – Hall of Famers got their start in organized baseball playing on American Legion teams, working with Hall seemed to be the right thing to do,” said Gary Schacher, the Legion’s New York State commander.
Founded in 1925, American Legion Baseball gives players the chance to continue playing the game after high school.
The Hall will offer a guided tour of the Plaques of the Gallery and the museum, with a special focus on highlighting artifacts used by the military members, such as “Mo Berg: Big League Spy,” and Ted Williams’ war mementos from Korea, and share stories of artifacts not on display.
“We want to highlight those stories that tie baseball and the military together,” said Jon Shestakofsky, the Hall’s VP/Communications. “American Legion Baseball is part of the fabric of America.”
According to the Hall, a quarter of the 329 members of the National Baseball Hall of Famer have roots in Legion ball, the first of the 81 being Bob Feller, inducted in 1962.
And this year four of the inductees are former American Legion players: Harold Baines, Lee Smith, Mike Nusian, and the late Roy Halladay.
Smith will be on hand to participate in several programs, including a welcome event at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the Plaque Gallery, and a Q&A at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the Grandstand Theater.
“It was an important part of his career growth,” said Shestakofsky.
And when your tour is finished, you can take a few moments to write to an active-duty soldier or veteran through “Operation Gratitude.”
“The celebration at the Hall of Fame was one of the things I wanted to do this year,” said Scacher, who spearheaded the event with the Hall. “I was elected as NY state commander in July to the one-year position. I am the first Iraqi war veteran elected to the post.”
In addition to the celebrations at the Hall of Fame, Schacher said the legion posts in Cooperstown and Richfield Springs will be open to welcome the American Legion family. Legion members can purchase half-price tickets for admission to the Hall and entrance is free for active duty and retired military members.
“This event is part of a long relationship that we’ve had with the Hall of Fame,” said Field.
In Oneonta, the American Legion will commemorate the occasion on Saturday, May 4, with a catered roast beef dinner. Dinner is free for veterans, and past state commander Jim Yarmouth will be speaking about the history of the Legion.