It's an ugly little thing that looks more like a fossilized chaw of tobacco than a baseball. The cross seams on one side of it have come apart, revealing some kind of cloth stuffing that resembles dirty yarn. Hard to believe anybody saved the thing in the first place. This is the so-called Doubleday ball, supposedly used by Abner Doubleday and the boys 150 years ago and most certainly used 100 years later to foster the belief that baseball was created in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1839.
We all know by now, of course, that Abner Doubleday was the man whom baseball invented, and not the other way around. Historians tell us that Cooperstown has no better claim to being baseball's birthplace than Brooklyn or Hoboken, N.J., or Murray Hill in Manhattan, to name just a few sites where baseball was played in its earliest days. In 1839, the year Doubleday is alleged to have conceived the game in Cooperstown, he was a first-year cadet at West Point, confined to post.
So how can something so wrong be so right? As the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer—beginning with an old-timers' all-star game on Saturday, June 10 and climaxing with induction ceremonies on July 23—baseball fans should give thanks to the solons of the game who had the bad sense and good taste to make Cooperstown home plate. Maybe the game didn't begin in Cooperstown, but it's nice to think that it began in some small town when some boy named Abner drew a diamond in the dirt. And after the great players have touched 'em all, they can find no warmer greeting than the one they get when they cross the plate there on the shores of Otsego Lake.
"It's something like going to heaven," Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer (Class of '49) said a few years ago of his own induction. He could have been speaking of the village of Cooperstown (pop. 2,300), which is the stuff of picture postcards, or of the state of grace that comes with joining the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Christy Mathewson.
Once you begin to appreciate the Hall of Fame—and even some Hall of Famers still don't—then you should go back and take another look at Cooperstown's Exhibit A, that ugly little Doubleday ball. It's not just stuffed with cloth but also with the dreams of boys and the sweat of men. Pardon the mush, but it's the perfect symbol of a game bursting at the seams with 150 years of history and lore. Out of that homely ball, which is the oldest physical evidence of the game anywhere, have sprung all of the thousands of other artifacts in Cooperstown. And, pardon the anthropomorphism, each one of those relics has a story to tell.
There's the resin bag that Ralph Branca used to get a grip on the ball he threw to Bobby Thomson in 1951. Here are the shoes of Shoeless Joe Jackson. The glove that Brooks Robinson used to make all those plays in the 1970 World Series. Cool Papa Bell's sunglasses, themselves the essence of cool, worn when he starred in the Negro leagues between 1922 and 1950. There's Ruth's 60th home run ball and Roger Maris's 61st home run ball. Maury Wills's 104th stolen base from 1962. The bat with which Ted Williams, in his last at bat, homered. Joe DiMaggio's locker, which the Hall later found out had also been used by Mickey Mantle.
There's Wally Pipp's glove. Orel Hershiser's uniform shirt from the 1988 World Series (hmmm, looks small). The medal that catcher and spy Moe Berg was awarded for his CIA work during World War II. A huge trophy inscribed: PRESENTED TO DENTON T. YOUNG, THE KING OF PITCHERS—call it Cy Young's award. The helmet rack from Connie Mack Stadium. A crown given to "King Carl" Hubbell. Mathewson's checkers set. Jocko Conlan's whisk broom. Ty Cobb's sliding pads. The Babe's bowling ball....
I wonder if my silver bats are here," says Hall of Famer George Kell (Class of '83). On the Saturday night of the annual Hall of Fame induction weekend each summer, the museum is reserved for the Hall of Famers and their families and friends. On this night—July 30, 1988—Kell is looking for the two silver bats he donated to the Hall; one he got for winning the 1943 Inter-State League batting title, the other for winning the 1949 American League batting race by .0002 points (.3429 to .3427) over Ted Williams.
"My, this place brings back memories," says Kell. "I just suddenly recalled the time in 1946 when Connie Mack called me to his room in the Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit to tell me he was trading me to the Tigers for Barney McCosky. 'You're going to be a great one,' Connie told me, 'but I'm trading you because I won't be able to afford to pay your salary.' I was pretty upset at the time—I was only 23—but I guess it turned out O.K. Now, where are those bats?"
Kell is looking a bit anxious when he suddenly glances down at a glass case on the second floor. "Here they are!" he exclaims. There they are, all right, long, silver teardrops to match Kell's own. "Changes your life, getting into the Hall of Fame," he says. "For the rest of my life I'll be known as 'Hall of Famer George Kell.' And a hundred years from now, my great-grandchildren will come here and they'll think I was as good as Cobb or Ruth. Let's go down to the gallery now. I want to check to make sure I'm still here."
Kell was there, along with 199 other Hall of Famers. Some are more deserving than others, but once you walk into the Hall of Fame Gallery—the wing that holds the famous bronze plaques—you know you are in a place of worship, and you could never begrudge a man his place there. You might wish that Phil Rizzuto, Richie Ash-burn, Leo Durocher, Roger Maris, Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski, Ron Santo, etc., could be there too, but you wouldn't wish to unscrew Rabbit Maranville's plaque to make room for another, even if Maranville did hit just .258 lifetime. Besides, there's no sense in trying to read the minds of the baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame candidates (in the first election, in 1936, 11 of them left Ruth off their ballots). And there's no benefit in chastising the veterans' committee, which, in trying to undo past injustices, has perhaps relaxed the standards a bit; Jake Beckley may not be a household name, but that's not to say his name doesn't belong here. No, the overwhelming feeling you get in that splendid room is one of gratitude. Thanks, fellas, for filling up the afternoons and evenings of so many, for bringing them to their feet, for the memories.
Actually, the man we should thank for the Hall of Fame, but never do, is a different Abner than Doubleday: Abner Graves, a mining engineer who grew up in Cooperstown and died in a Colorado insane asylum in 1926 at the age of 92. Graves led an eventful life, to say the least. He ran away from home at 14 to join the California gold rush; he rode for the pony express; he became a cattle rancher in Colorado; at 75, he married a 33-year-old woman; and at 90, he shot her dead in the mistaken belief that she was trying to poison him, whereupon he was sent to an asylum.
Nothing else Graves did, though, compared in impact with the letter he wrote in 1905, when he was in his 70's, to Albert G. Spalding. At the time, Spalding, a former pitcher who had made a fortune in sporting goods, was engaged in a public debate with Henry Chadwick, the baseball writer who wrote the first rule book, devised the box score, and is considered the father of scoring. The subject of their debate was the origin of the game, and it was much like the one between creationists and evolutionists: Spalding believed that baseball was truly American and had sprung from his native soil, while the British-born Chadwick maintained that baseball was merely the next step up the ladder from the British game of rounders.
To prove his point, Spalding appointed a blue-ribbon panel to discover the true origin of baseball and named Abraham G. Mills, the third president of the National League, as chairman. The Mills commission did little more than read mail for three years; one of those letters was the one from Graves, who wrote that he remembered that in 1839, or thereabouts, Abner Doubleday had explained the game to a bunch of his friends playing marbles in front of a tailor shop in Cooperstown. The boys had then taken a whirl at playing Doubleday's game, Graves wrote, in Elihu Phinney's cow pasture off Main Street.
Since he had served under Doubleday during the Civil War, Mills seized upon that story, even though he should have realized that in 1839 Graves was 5 years old and Double-day was 20, a bit old for marbles. In other words, Mills was quite willing to overlook the possibility that the substance of Graves's tale was much like the stuff in Phinney's pasture that those boys must have tried not to step in. The commission also ignored the obituary written for the West Point newspaper when Doubleday died in 1893; the Major General was described as "a man who did not care for or go into any outdoor sports." (Recent researchers have surmised that Graves may have confused Doubleday with yet another Abner, Doubleday's cousin Abner Demas, who would have been about 10 at the time. An as-yet-unpublished manuscript—A Legend for the Legendary: The Origin of the Baseball Hall of Fame—by James Vlasich, a history professor at Southern Utah State College, sheds new light on this subject.)
Nevertheless, on the basis of Graves's letter, written by a man who was soon to be declared certifiably insane, the Mills commission reached the unequivocal conclusion that Doubleday had invented baseball in Cooperstown in 1839. Wrote Mills, "I can well understand how the orderly mind of the embryo West Pointer would devise a scheme for limiting the contestants on each side and allotting them to field positions, each with a certain amount of territory." Not exactly an airtight argument.
Needless to say, Cooperstown embraced the myth wholeheartedly, and in the early 1920s, the town began work building a ballpark on the land that Graves had designated as Doubleday's proving ground. Nothing much else was done until 1934, when Alexander Cleland came on the scene. Cleland was the trusted aide of the richest man in Cooperstown, an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune named Stephen Clark. Cleland wasn't much of a baseball fan, but knowing Cooperstown's claim to fame, he conceived an idea for a baseball museum while riding on a train to New York City. In a 1934 memorandum to Clark, Cleland suggested that a museum could contain such things as "funny old uniforms," as well as baseballs thrown out by presidents, and bats of famous old players.
Then, in 1935, as if by divine providence, the belongings of Abner Graves were discovered in the attic of a farmhouse in Fly Creek, down the road a piece from Cooperstown. In Graves's trunk was the missing link, so to speak, a decrepit baseball that, in the predisposed minds of the city fathers, "proved" old Graves must have been right about baseball and Cooperstown. Clark bought the ball for $5 and put it on display in the Village Club in Cooperstown. With the discovery of the ball—and with the game's dubious centennial in 1939 approaching—Clark and Cleland stepped up their lobbying efforts with the lords of baseball. Cleland suggested the selection of ten all-time all-stars as part of the celebration, and Ford Frick, then president of the National League, hit upon the idea of a permanent Hall of Fame.
Despite Cleland's efforts, Frick would later claim full credit for the whole idea of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Even Frick's concept of a Hall of Fame was borrowed: The term itself had been employed by headline writers for years whenever an athlete did something extraordinary, and New York University had long had a Hall of Fame for Great Americans. But Frick's baseball Hall of Fame captured the public's imagination, and in 1936 the Baseball Writers' Association of America held its first elections for enshrinement in the Hall. Of the many players nominated, only five were named on the necessary 75% of 226 ballots: Ty Cobb (222 votes), Honus Wagner and Ruth (both 215), Mathewson (205) and Walter Johnson (189). What were the 11 guys who left the Babe off their ballots thinking?
Anyway, by the time the centennial rolled around, 26 men had gained admission to the new Hall of Fame. On June 12, 1939, the shrine was officially opened. A special baseball stamp was issued that day in Cooperstown by Postmaster General James A. Farley. Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who had been lukewarm on the project for years, waxed poetic in a speech that day: "Nowhere else than its birthplace could this museum be appropriately situated. To the pioneers who were the moving spirits of the game in its infancy and to the players who have been elected to the Hall of Fame...we pay just tribute." At the conclusion of Landis's speech, the band played Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
Since that opening day fifty years ago, the annual Hall of Fame summer weekend to honor new inductees has gotten more and more publicity, and the village has gotten more and more crowded as fans and now collectors stream into Cooperstown. A record turnout is expected this July 21-24, both because of the 50th anniversary and the popularity of two new inductees, Carl Yastrzemski and Johnny Bench. (Red Schoendienst and umpire Al Barlick will be inducted as well.) Indeed, some 50,000 ticket requests for the Hall of Fame game on July 24 had to be turned down.
But through the years, the Hall of Fame weekend has retained its special charm. Where else but Cooperstown, and when else but that weekend, can you see Lefty Gomez's son jogging with Babe Ruth's grandson? Or walk through the parking lot of the grand Otesaga Hotel and spy Mel Allen sitting in the front seat of his car with the door open, a beer on the dashboard and the Yankee game on the car radio? Or come across Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell walking through the Otesaga lobby after a particularly grueling autograph session with a sign around his chest saying, OUT TO LUNCH? Or listen to David Eisenhower proudly recite to Hall of Famer Johnny Mize the famous poem with the famous verse that ends, "But not your eyes, Mize, not your eyes."
There's always a certain poignancy to the weekend too. Even a casual observer could look at Hall of Famer Bill Terry sitting in a chair in the Otesaga lobby last summer and know that he wouldn't be coming back. That same observer could not have guessed, though, that Lefty Gomez, walking arm-in-arm through the lobby with his beautiful wife, former actress June O'Dea, was also attending his last Hall of Fame weekend.
The chance to get a Hall of Famer's signature brings out the autograph hounds, and for a few years in Cooperstown, the whole business got very much out of hand; fans would knock on the Hall of Famers' doors at all hours of the night. In the past few years, security has gotten much tighter and the autograph sessions have become much more efficient. "I know a lot of Hall of Famers were scared away by the autograph hounds," says Robin Roberts (Class of '76), who comes back most every year. "But the weekend is much better run now. Those guys who were scared away should come back now."
Tom Heitz, the head librarian for the Hall of Fame, gets very little sleep on the annual weekend because he's in charge of those autograph seekers who line up on the lawn outside the Otesaga the night before the morning autograph sessions. Says Heitz, a former Marine who is ideally suited to the task of keeping order among the multitudes, "I remember the Monday morning of the '87 weekend, and it all seems worthwhile. Ted Williams walked out of the hotel at 7 a.m. to play golf, and he saw all these fans lined up to have their stuff signed. It must have dawned on him that he would be letting down a lot of people if he did go golfing, so he just stood outside for an hour as the people came down, reverentially, to get his autograph. He was as friendly as could be, and to me, that's what all autograph sessions should be like. Anyway, when he finished signing everybody's stuff, he went to play golf."
In the last decade, Williams—the Thumper, Teddy Ballgame, the Splendid Splinter, the Kid or, simply, 9—has become sort of the patron saint of Coopers-town, which seems only fitting because his first year in the big leagues, 1939, was also the Hall of Fame's rookie year. Signs of Williams can be found everywhere in the museum. A dead ringer for the Splinter, a wooden statue, dominates the area next to the staircase leading to the second floor, where there are many Williams artifacts. But the item that catches the eye is his carefully folded uniform, as pristine as if he had taken it off yesterday, with TED WILLIAMS stitched in the collar.
Williams was enshrined in 1966, along with Casey Stengel. "I guess every player thinks about going into the Hall of Fame," said Williams in his speech at the induction ceremony that summer. "Now that the moment has come for me, I find it difficult to say what is really in my heart, but I know that it is the greatest thrill of my life. I received 280-odd votes from the writers. I know I didn't have 280-odd close friends among the writers. I know they voted for me because they felt in their minds, and some in their hearts, that I rated it, and I want to say to them, 'Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart....' Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel, not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game, and I've been a very lucky guy to have worn a baseball uniform, to have struck out or to hit a tape-measure home run. And I hope that someday the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players who are not here only because they were not given a chance...."
Williams's call for the recognition of the Negro league players was a major contributing factor in the admission of those stars to the Hall of Fame in ensuing years. But in the summers that followed his own admission, Williams chose to stay away from Cooperstown and didn't return until 1980, when he came back to make the induction speech for Tom Yawkey, former owner of the Red Sox. True to form, in his speech that year the ever blunt Williams took time out to chastise the writers for making Duke Snider wait 10 years to enter the Hall. But, also true to form, he was generous in his praise of the other Hall of Famers. When someone snapped a picture of him with Earl Averill that weekend, Williams said, "Two pretty good hitters right here." Averill, whose career was ending just as Williams's was beginning, smiled like a 12-year-old at being included in such company. He died three years later at the age of 81.
At last year's induction ceremonies for Willie Stargell, Williams received the biggest ovation from the crowd, and deservedly so. Even after he was introduced, he was all over the stage, seeing to it that the older Hall of Famers like Bell and Happy Chandler were sitting comfortably. Williams remains active in the affairs of the Hall of Fame even in the off-season, working on the veterans' committee. "Ted's caught the bug," says Edward Stack, the president of the Hall of Fame, "and I think it's wonderful. It's wonderful to have a man of his stature—and I would rank only Ruth above him—care so much about the Hall of Fame." Williams has even offered to contact all the living Hall of Famers, urging them to come to the induction ceremonies for this 50th year. The clearest message he could send would be this: If Ted Williams is willing to brave the crowds, then you can brave them too.
Williams recently talked about his change of heart. "After I was inducted, I guess I just didn't want to be bothered," he said. "I didn't want to have to put up with the press or the public—I was uncomfortable with it all. But that was a mistake, and I realize that now. It's such a wonderful, memorable weekend. Bill Terry, for whom I had great admiration, would chew my ass out for years about coming back to Cooperstown. When Mrs. Yawkey asked me to come back to make the speech for her husband, well, I felt so strongly about Mr. Yawkey that I couldn't refuse. And then, Mrs. Yawkey, who's the first woman ever to serve on the Hall of Fame board of directors, made me promise to come back every year.
"And I have to tell you, I enjoy it more and more every year. If a Hall of Famer is going through a depression period, well, there's no better cure than going up there, where everybody makes you feel like a million dollars. The fun part to me is reminiscing with the older players. Talking with Joe Sewell about the year he struck out three times in 100-something games; he was still mad at the pitcher [Pat Caraway of the White Sox] who struck him out twice in one game. Or listening to Ralph Kiner talk about how much Hank Green berg helped him when they played together in Pittsburgh, and I know that must be so, because Hank was one of the smartest players I knew. I love talking with Warren Spahn or kidding with Bob Lemon. Lem is always riding me because I couldn't hit him, and I tell him that instead of giving me that junk he threw up there, he should have pitched me like a man.
"Even the signings are fun. People tell you how great you are or remind you of something you did once or show you a picture of yourself you've never seen before. I'll tell you how much the weekend means to me: I had a chance to go salmon fishing this summer in one of the best rivers in the world with some of the best fishermen in the world on that same weekend in July, and I'm turning down one of the greatest fishing experiences ever just to be back in Cooperstown.
"But god I'll miss seeing Bill Terry this year. And Lefty Gomez. Anybody who's had the honor of spending even five minutes with that man will know what I mean. To hear Lefty talk, you'd think he never got anybody out—but he's not in the Hall of Fame for nothing.
"I look forward to going through the museum again too. Being something of a hitter, I naturally like to look at bats—Al Simmons's bat, Ty Cobb's bat, Heinie Groh's bottle bat. And I just like looking at the single-stitch baseballs they used in the old days. I'm just sorry it took me so long to realize just how special that place is. It's 100 years of the greatest game ever invented. It revives players and plays that might otherwise be forgotten, and it makes you forget all the bad things about baseball. Like that AL East—what do you think of those awful standings? Anyway, I'm just tremendously honored to be in the Hall of Fame, and nothing will ever keep me away again."
It would be unrealistic to expect every Hall of Famer to feel so strongly about Cooperstown, but some have failed to get the message at all. One, who shall go nameless, once complained that there was no diamond in the ring given to enshrinees. Some, to borrow a phrase from Take Me Out..., don't seem to care if they never get back.
But for the real diehard Hall of Famers, the weekend doesn't end with the induction ceremonies on Sunday; they stick around for the annual Hall of Fame game on Monday at quaint Double-day Field, a perennial sellout at just under 10,000 seats. Over the years the fans have witnessed such highlights as a pair of home runs by the Splendid Splinter himself in the very first such game in 1940; a two-hit shutout of the Indians by Cubs Dick Drott and Moe Drabowsky in 1960; three home runs by Yankee infielder Bernie Allen (1972); and the sight of Dan Quisenberry pitching overhand (1986). One of the finer moments came in 1962, after the game between the Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves was rained out. Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle were walking from Doubleday Field to the gymnasium where they were to change out of their uniforms, when they happened upon a tomato patch and a beer cooler in the backyard of Sam Sapienza's Short Stop Restaurant. "One thing led to another with those guys," Sapienza told Cal Fussman of The Sporting News in 1981, "and pretty soon they started to throw tomatoes at each other. They were really hitting each other too. Whitey Ford was sure throwing strikes that day. They were having more fun than a barrel full of monkeys. Then after the fight, we all drank my cooler full of beer." Mantle, Berra and Ford, of course, returned to Cooperstown in later years under more dignified circumstances. And the Short Stop has survived nicely enough to celebrate its own 50th anniversary this year.
When the annual party has ended and the throngs have departed Cooperstown, the village returns to its rural calm, and the Hall of Fame returns to normal working hours. The museum is open 362 days a year—it's dark on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's—and no matter how many times you visit, you can always find something new inside. The catcher's mitt of the man who coined the term "tools of ignorance," Muddy Ruel. Something from Tinker, something from Evers and something from Chance. The pitching rubber from Allie Reynolds's second no-hitter of the 1951 season, signed by both teams. There's a surprising number of famous "borrowed" tools: Mickey Mantle, for example, used a Loren Babe autograph model bat to hit his 565-foot homer, and Dave McNally hit his World Series grand slam with a Curtell Motton bat. The glove that Tommie Agee used to make those two sensational catches in the third game of the '69 Series was a Johnny Callison model. And it's remarkable how many ordinary players are represented in Cooperstown; on display is the bat that produced a rookie record hitting streak by, yes, Mike Vail.
Altogether, the museum has some 6,000 artifacts on display and many more in storage. Some of the items in storage are as fascinating as those that made the cut. There's a can of red clay from the high school field that Mize played on. Somebody thought to donate the last piece of kindling chopped by Cy Young, complete with Cy's signature. In 1965, Newsday TV sports columnist Stan Isaacs donated the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers' world championship pennant six years after he swiped it from the Dodger press box in L.A. In off-site storage is an entire ticket pagoda from the old Yankee Stadium.
The Doubleday ball, for which Stephen Clark paid $5, is one of the few artifacts that the museum paid for. (A few years ago, the museum paid "blackmail" money to someone who had found some original clay moldings from which the Hall of Fame plaques were made; the moldings should have been destroyed.) Last year, gifts ranged in chronology from Red Murray's 1911 New York Giants World Series uniform—along with his shoes, glove and cap—to the jersey that Hershiser wore in the fifth and final game of the '88 Series. In the current collecting frenzy, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Cooperstown to acquire historical relics. Some modern-day players are quite generous: Immediately after his record 20-strikeout game against the Seattle Mariners in 1986, Roger Clemens of the Red Sox packed off the glove, hat, shoes and ball he used for his final strikeout. Steve Carlton, who will probably be inducted five years hence, has loaned the museum all four of his Cy Young Awards. Other players are distressingly inconsiderate: Though Cooperstown has asked him for something—anything—representative of his unprecedented 40 stolen base-40 home run season last year, Jose Canseco has yet to respond. He is known, however, to have sold one of his uniforms to a collector for $2,500.
How can Cooperstown compete with big-spending collectors? There is some talk of altering the museum's policy of not buying mementos, but that would open up a can of worms the size of Doubleday Field. On the other hand, the Hall does not discourage benefactors who wish to purchase artifacts and then donate or lend them to the museum. And, says curator Ted Spencer, "we also have a secret weapon in acquiring new pieces: Bill Guilfoile." Guilfoile is the associate director of the Hall, in charge of public relations and one of the 10 nicest men in the world. A former p.r. man with the Yankees and Pirates, Guilfoile is in attendance at most of baseball's major events, and he's a hard man to turn down.
After the fifth game of the Series last year, Guilfoile approached Hershiser and politely asked him if he might have some appropriate memento. Hershiser promptly whipped off his uniform shirt soaked with sweat and champagne; Guilfoile put it in a plastic bag and gave it to curator Spencer a few days later. "I opened the bag and out came this awful odor," says Spencer. "I never smelled anything like it." Spencer took the shirt home, washed it and threw it in the dryer. "It went into the dryer a size 44 and came out a size 36," he says. "Actually, that made it much easier to display."
Spencer came to Cooperstown seven years ago—"April 16, 1982, Jim Lonborg's birthday," he says—and knows the museum inside out. When asked his favorite artifact, he doesn't hesitate. "This is a long story," he says, "but bear with me. One day a long time ago, I was sitting in the bleachers in Fenway Park when a Cleveland outfielder, Del Unser, made an error. He was only a few feet away from me at the time, and I could see he was mad at himself. That look on his face made an instant connection with me, and he became my favorite player after that. Even though I'm named after Ted Williams, I've always had an affinity for the regular, working ballplayer. When I moved to Philadelphia, Unser was there playing for the Phillies. In 1979, he hit pinch homers in two consecutive at bats to tie the record. When he came up to pinch-hit a few days later to try to break the record, I had the game on the car radio as I was pulling into my driveway. I rushed into the house, turned on the TV, and there it goes, out of the park. Richie Ashburn, who was broadcasting the game, went crazy, and so did I. I scared my young kids out of their wits.
"So when I got my job here, I immediately went through the museum, and there it was. The bat that Del Unser used to get his third pinch-hit home run in a row. I just about cried. Now you know my favorite thing in the museum."
One of Guilfoile's favorites is the lifelike wax figure of Roberto Clemente on the second floor. "There were two of these made," he says, "and the other one is in Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Roberto was still playing when it first arrived there, and Tony Bartirome, the trainer, took it and put it on the trainer's table. He dimmed the lights and called in our team physician, Dr. Joseph Finegold. Tony told him that Roberto had fainted in the outfield. Dr. Finegold saw Roberto lying there, took his pulse and nearly fainted himself."
Heitz, the librarian, naturally favors the treasures found in archives, correspondence and old newspapers. His latest find is a yearbook for the 1910 Chicago Giants Base Ball Club, a Negro league team in an era about which little is known. In the guide is a profile of hitherto unsung star Joseph (Cyclone) Williams, a pitcher who went 115-31-1 from 1905 to 1909. "If you have ever witnessed the speed of a pebble in a storm you have not even then seen the equal of the speed possessed by this wonderful Texan Giant," says the guide.
Also in Heitz's possession is a letter from The Sporting News, canceling the subscription of one "Abner Doubleday, Main St., Cooperstown, N.Y." And while the Doubleday myth may indeed have been canceled by cruel fact, the notion that baseball began in Cooperstown still survives. Why, just the other day Heitz received a most intriguing letter from Hugh MacDougall, a village trustee. While doing some unrelated research, MacDougall found this item in the June 6, 1816, issue of the Otsego Herald, under the title "Village Ordinances":
Be it ordained, That no person shall play at Ball in Second or West street in this village, under a penalty of one dollar, for each and every offence.
Does this mean that 23 years before Doubleday didn't invent baseball, Cooperstown youths were creating a nuisance playing ball at what is now the corner of Main and Pioneer Streets, right at the flagpole, 50 yards from the steps of the museum? It couldn't have been football or basketball, which had not yet been invented. Why, Cooperstown just might be the right place, after all....
"You know, I've never been to Cooperstown," Johnny Bench said one day earlier this season. "We [the Reds] were supposed to play in the '81 Hall of Fame game, but that was the year of the strike. After that, I figured I should wait until I was actually inducted.
"I'm not sure what I'm going to say up there, but I do know I have a lot of people to thank. My father, first of all, who taught me to play baseball in Binger, Oklahoma. My idol, Mickey Mantle, for showing me what a boy from Oklahoma could do. All my managers in the minors, guys like Pinky May, Dave Bristol, Don Zimmer. My roommate in Buffalo, Steve Boros, and a pitcher there who helped me a lot, Dom Zanni. Deron Johnson, who taught me about the pitchers when I first came up. My teammates on the Reds: Pete, Tony, Joe, Davey. And my manager, Sparky Anderson. I may need the whole afternoon to thank everybody.
"Do you know when I started thinking about the Hall of Fame? It was after my first year in the big leagues. Ted Williams was one of my idols—to me, he and John Wayne are one and the same—and I asked him to sign a ball for me. He took the ball and signed it, 'To a Hall of Famer, for sure.' He knew it, even if I didn't."
That ball would certainly make a nice 50th birthday gift to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.