Friends of Doubleday Past
Rudy: Even 25 Years Ago, Ballfield Was ‘Worn’
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – A lifelong love for everything baseball.
That’s why a small group of men started the Friends of Doubleday in the early 1990s, according to John Rudy, a retired lawyer and now Cooperstown Baseball B&B proprietor, who was present at the creation.
The story of the Friends’ founding began in the summer of 1985 when Rudy, still practicing law in New York City, and 30 other men from all over the country enrolled in a fantasy baseball camp in Cooperstown. This was long before companies like DraftKings came to be, where you could get your fantasy baseball fix from the comfort of your own home. Fantasy baseball camp gave players that exhilarating rush of playing that magnificent old ball game.
“We got our own teams and uniforms. We stayed at The Otesaga. And we all got to play on teams with these former Major League players for three days on Doubleday Field,” he said. “It was incredible.”
Rudy didn’t go to the 1986 camp, but he enrolled in the 1987 one with 50 other guys. That summer, though, things went awry.
“Three weeks before it was to happen, we received a letter from the man who started the camp, Max Shapiro, saying he couldn’t do the camp that summer,” said Rudy. “He had gone bankrupt – and, furthermore, would not be able to return our money.”
The men decided they’d do the camp, anyway.
“We already had our airfare, we found umpires, booked rooms, and we put together teams and games,” Rudy said. “And we had a blast again.”
Three who put together the 1987 camp, Bob Wagner, an ophthalmologist in Florida, Ed Berchich, a coroner in Ohio, and Ralph Lock, a cardiac surgeon, also in Ohio, went on to form “The Legends of Baseball” camps in 1994 modeled after Shapiro’s fantasy camps.
Around that time, the men noticed Doubleday was looking worn.
“We thought it would be good if Doubleday had a tarp,” Rudy said. “We’d pass the hat and collect money for one.”
The field belonged to the Village of Cooperstown, so they spoke with Joe Harris, then manager of the field then.
“Harris asked what people would want in return for buying a tarp,” Rudy said. “Bob told him, they want their names on plaques in Cooperstown. The joke was just not saying where the plaques were placed.”
It worked. Doubleday got a tarp.
The men then noticed Doubleday had structural problems. Ralph Lock and his son, Tom, decided to form a foundation and to collect funds for repairs. Rudy joined, lending his expertise in establishing legal contracts and helping to get Friends’ incorporated and 501(c)3 status quickly.
The Friends’ members had little trouble locating funding sources, but they confronted resistance and recalcitrance from village leaders when they presented funding proposals for Doubleday, Rudy recalls.
“They had legitimate skepticism in the beginning,” Rudy said. “They wanted to know if we were out to take it over from them. We told them, ‘We don’t want anything out of it. We just love baseball.'”
But the village kept throwing obstacles up. First, they would not allow companies to advertise at the field.
“They wouldn’t let Coca-Cola put signs up even when Coca-Cola was ready to give funding for Doubleday,” Rudy said. “So, we couldn’t get funding from them.”
Then, the village set up strict contractual requirements “with protracted times” of approving the Friends’ fulfillment of them.
“It also made it tough because everyone involved lived elsewhere in the country and we all had full-time jobs,” Rudy said. “I would get a phone call from Tom in Ohio asking if I could go to a village trustees’ meeting in the middle of winter that Tuesday night.”
The Friends’ did raise some money from setting up “pavers,” bricks at Doubleday with names of people and organizations who donated funds. Rudy bought two, one with “The Rudys” on it, the other with the name of his Cooperstown’s inn, “Baseball Bed and Breakfast.”
Frustrated, Rudy eventually resigned, and the other members effectively stopped their fundraising efforts.
“It sort of withered on the vine,” Rudy said. “But fortunately, Jeff Katz has reconstituted Friends of Doubleday now. It’s great for the town.”