The Universal Notebook: A Hall of Fame weekend

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If you’re wondering whatever happened to all those baseball cards that your mother tossed out once you left home, there’s a good chance they are for sale in one of the many souvenir and card shops along Main St. in Cooperstown, New York. If you’d been smart enough to hang onto them they’d be worth a pretty penny today.

The reason there are so many souvenir and card shops in Cooperstown, New York, of course, is that the National Baseball Hall of Fame is located there. Two weekends ago, Carolyn and I took a 700-mile round trip drive to Cooperstown so I could cross the Hall of Fame off my rapidly dwindling bucket list.

Edgar Allen BeemThe Hall of Fame was not what either of us expected. Carolyn had been picturing a stadium-sized exposition building surrounded by acres of parking and playing fields. Not sure exactly what I expected, but it was not a three-story brick building on Cooperstown’s main drag that reminded me of a high school, Portland’s Deering High School to be exact.

Somehow, the National Baseball Hall of Fame did not seem quite grand enough to be the pinnacle of a major leaguer’s career, the crowning achievement of a young life of strikeouts, hits, home runs, pennants and World Series rings. Yet if a ballplayer does not eventually have a plaque enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and only about one percent of players ever do, there is something lacking, something missing.

Who’s in and who’s not, of course, is what the Hall of Fame is all about.  Transgressors such as Pete Rose will likely never be inducted despite having more hits (4,256) than anyone who has ever played the game because he admitted to betting on baseball, something millions of Americans now do legally every day.

Players tainted by the use of steroids like Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens wait in purgatory. And poor Curt Schilling, who pitched in World Series for the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox, can’t get into the Hall of Fame because he’s a conservative crackpot, having badmouthed Muslims and trans people.

Schilling is a jerk, but if jerks weren’t allowed in the Hall of Fame, there would be a bunch of empty plaques in that oaken hall, including that of Ty Cobb, one the first players inducted in 1936.

In the courtyard behind the Hall of Fame there is a set of bronze statues depicting Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Johnny Podres and catcher Roy Campanella as they achieve a 2-0 shutout in the seventh game of the 1955 World Series to finally best the New York Yankees.

The favorite moment of my once-in-a-lifetime visit to Cooperstown was watching a bunch of kids play wiffle ball using Campy as their backstop. One lad slammed a high, arcing fly ball that landed on the roof of the building, a Hall of Fame accomplishment for an 11 year old.

1955 was about when I started collecting baseball cards and idolizing ballplayers. That’s the real attraction of the Hall of Fame for fans, it enshrines our youths. We go there to see the players who were heroes when we were kids.

Roy Campanella is in the Hall of Fame. Johnny Podres, a big game pitcher like Curt Schilling, is not. On the other hand, Podres is a member of the National Polish-American Hall of Fame in Queensbury, New York, along with Cooperstown greats like Stan Musial, Bill Mazerowski and Carl Yastrzemski.

Carolyn is half Polish-American. I feel another road trip coming on.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen review column.

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