Henning: Cooperstown's aura unlike any other in sports
Cooperstown, New York — Baseball’s mystical and physical worlds merge this weekend at a dreamy place Alan Trammell and Jack Morris together have landed.
By the time you’ve arrived at Cooperstown, it feels as if you’ve indeed reached another realm.
Baseball’s Hall of Fame, where Trammell and Morris will be installed during a Sunday afternoon lawn fest, rests 76 miles west of Albany, 93 miles southeast of Syracuse, and 223 miles northwest of New York City, amid roller-coaster hills and enough trees and greenery to seemingly oxygenate the lower 48’s northeast tier.
Corn and hay fields and farms with old silos still standing are bisected by meandering two-lane roads and by the occasional four-corners hotel that looks as if it might have been built during the days of native star James Fenimore Cooper. The surrounding terrain envelops a four-block downtown and adjoining neighborhoods brimming with trees and homes from the 19th and early 20th century.
It’s more village than city — population, 1,770 — and will remind people from Michigan of perhaps Fenton, or Dundee, or Milford, or Clare, or some stone-walled burg you might find along the lower Great Lakes waterways.
It is, frankly, one crazy-tail place for baseball to have established its Holy Land. But that’s the legend, emphasis on legend, according to those who insist it was here Abner Doubleday founded America’s grand old game.
As years have passed since the first summer induction, in 1939, a steady parade of baseball giants has arrived on the last Sunday in July for a kind of baseball canonization.
It is being repeated Sunday, with the one-time Tigers masters, Trammell and Morris, joining Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, and Trevor Hoffman in having their names, visages, and careers engraved on bronze plaques.
They will stand on stage, offering speeches of eight minutes or so (keep ‘em tight, the Hall of Fame brass has commanded) they have spent six months writing and rehearsing. Beneath and beyond them and the dais will be a sea of wooden chairs lining a lawn that will seem to bleed into the hay and corn and hills, a seamless weave that whether by design or by accident honors baseball’s communion with nature.
The forecast for Sunday is ideal: 75 degrees and sunshine. This will be weather as glorious as the names that for the past 80 inductions have made baseball’s hall of fame transcendent: Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig, Mays, DiMaggio, Aaron, Speaker, Mantle, Wagner, Gehringer, Robinson, Greenberg, Berra, Bench, Feller, Koufax, Clemente — and, yes, from Detroit, an outfielder, Al Kaline, who 38 years ago was the last player, Tigers-certified, to have won Hall of Fame grandeur.
It is, in fact, those names, which have mounted through generations, that make Cooperstown the most regal of all sports halls. It is no slight to football's mecca in Canton, Ohio; or to basketball’s in Springfield, Mass.; or hockey’s in Toronto, to say, with general agreement, that baseball’s museum has status significantly above any other sport’s.
It is incredibly difficult to crack Cooperstown’s chambers. But there they were, Friday, two showcases within the Hall of Fame wings filled with Trammell’s and Morris’ artifacts — a baseball King Tut exhibit — that after Sunday will be joined by their Hall of Fame plaques.
Trammell’s baseball relics were highlighted by a Tigers game jersey, and by his first baseball glove, a present on his ninth birthday in 1967. There was the bat from Game 4 of the 1984 World Series when he slammed two home runs. And there was a Michigan license plate, with the vanity-plate letters “WS MVP” that adorned a Pontiac Trans Am he drove as his prize for being named the ’84 Series MVP.
Morris’ trophy case was centered by two jerseys: a Tigers road shirt, and a red-and-white Twins top that’s a testament to his hometown, St. Paul, Minn., as well as to the championship he won with the Twins in 1991. There is in the Morris museum a baseball from his ’84 no-hitter against the White Sox, and his ’91 World Series award. As with Trammell, there also is a ball glove from his boyhood — a cracked-leather fossil from when he played shortstop and pitched at Highland Park High.
These will be treasures not as important, perhaps not as eternal, as the bronzed names to which they belong. It’s the men, after all, the players, and their sustained excellence, that have made this weekend in Cooperstown one more soulful pilgrimage for baseball’s fans and followers.
Friday afternoon in Cooperstown was straight from baseball’s and Americana’s joint foundry.
On a main street flanked by three-story buildings, some of brick, some of wood-colonial inspiration, there strolled along the sidewalks fans wearing baseball jerseys, families stopping for ice cream, or sole wanderers toting shopping bags loaded with goodies from Cooperstown’s apparent major industry: souvenir shops.
The shops, of course, all have theme names — Shoeless Joe’s, Safe at Home, etc. — but what distinguished the wanderers’ faces and words Friday was a kind of serenity, a noticeable dearth of decibels in voices as they ambled along main street’s walkways.
It was as if they had indeed descended upon a place both hallowed and happy.
Trammell and Morris were tucked away somewhere with the other baseball deities, preparing for a weekend that will seem to them as moments from a different cosmos.
But together, the players, and the people who have come this weekend to commend them to Cooperstown, had to have understood Friday that in life there are times and moments that cannot be overstated.
Getting into this Hall of Fame, after all, is what you might cite as a baseball version of Scripture:
Many are called. Few are chosen.
What: Tigers greats Alan Trammell and Jack Morris will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
When: Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Cooperstown, N.Y.
TV: MLB Network
Notable: Four other players will be inducted with Trammell and Morris: Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome.