Editorial: All Hail the Hall


All Hail the Hall

After an excruciating two-year Covid hiatus, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is at last back on track with its traditional mid-summer Induction Weekend. While the Weekend brings in a healthy number of past Hall of Famers as well as, this year, three living inductees, and their families, fans and friends, it also welcomes tens of thousands of baseball fans and all of their families who, when not milling about waiting to catch a glimpse of their baseball heroes strolling about town or on the tee-boxes and greens of Leatherstocking, spend their well-saved dollars on Main Street and beyond. This is a good thing for our tourist-starved Village which, to its credit, not only welcomes these multitudes with open arms, eager cash registers, tempting restaurants and comfortable beds, but also sweeps up every street and sidewalk after them within minutes of their departure.

The first Induction Ceremony, back then a mere one-day affair, honored Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson, among others. It took place on Monday, June 12, 1939, on Main Street just outside the newly constructed Hall of Fame, which itself was dedicated that day. The crowds were enormous, with fifteen thousand fans swarming around every baseball great and half a million special stamps to commemorate the 100th birthday of baseball, so claimed by the Federal Government. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” capped the event.

The Hall of Fame came into existence because of an ancient baseball — dingy, brown, spherical, with its insides peeping out — that had been found in an attic in nearby Fly Creek. The thing was rumored to have been owned by Abner Doubleday, and Stephen C. Clark, Sr., who had heard about it from Walter Littell, the editor of The Freeman’s Journal at the time, snapped it up for $5. It was the major draw in a New York State Historical Association exhibition in the Village Hall, which is why Clark, prompted by a letter from W.T. Sampson Smith, Sr. suggesting the creation of a national baseball shrine, quickly decided Cooperstown needed a Baseball Hall of Fame and museum, which could preserve that little ball along with any artifact of baseball history and culture that was batted its way.

The Hall also needed that Induction which, by Clark’s reasoning, would bring the much-needed tourists and visitors to the Village. Cooperstown was continuing to suffer from the grueling effects of the Great Depression, and the earlier demise of the once critical hops industry, which together had dealt a near death-blow to the local economy. Tourism was the answer.

It still is. This weekend, predicted to be comfortably warm and sunny, will be a new beginning. Three living baseball players: Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva and David Ortiz, will enter the hallowed grounds of the Hall of Fame; four legends: Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñosa and Buck O’Neil will be here in spirit and family. A multitude of fans will return and the Village economy will hit an overdrive that even has local lawns earning money.

Behind it all is the prescience and persistence of the Clark family, which for 150 years and five generations has worked tirelessly to ensure that Cooperstown can continue to have the underpinning of an active and vibrant economy.

Cooperstown and its Hall of Fame are now synonymous, and we all get a tinge of pride when national broadcasters refer to inductions, when a great player gets that special call, as “he is going to Cooperstown!” The mission of the Hall of Fame includes the words “Preserving history. Honoring Excellence. Connecting generations.” What, for Cooperstown, could be more appropriate than that?

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