A Hall of an Opening Day A visit to baseball's treasures at Cooperstown brightens the promise of a season ahead

April 16, 2001
April 16, 2001

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April 16, 2001

A Hall of an Opening Day A visit to baseball's treasures at Cooperstown brightens the promise of a season ahead

Just north of Cooperstown, in the Adirondack Mountains, grew the
white ash that became the bat that hit the ball that won the
pennant for the '51 New York Giants. From the bat's place of
birth (the Adirondack bat factory in Dolgeville, N.Y.) to its
place of eternal repose (the Baseball Hall of Fame) is a distance
of 25 miles. Along the way, of course, the instrument issued the
Shot Heard Round the World. But in baseball, as in life, ash thou
art and to ash thou shalt return.

This is an article from the April 16, 2001 issue Original Layout

With that in mind, I was seized last week by an impulse to carpe
Opening Diem, so I got in a car and drove without pause to
Cooperstown to stare in slack-jawed wonder at every mesmerizing
display. Who can say why? David Conant of Charlestown, N.H., was
seized by a similar impulse. Only, he climbed into the bell tower
atop his hometown's St. Luke's Church and rang the church bell
for four straight minutes, in the middle of the night, exciting
the attention of townsfolk and police, to whom he explained his
spontaneous compulsion: to honor--in the only way that seemed
commensurate--Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, the Charlestown native
who had, earlier that evening, hit the home run that won Game 6
of the 1975 World Series.

With an equal sense of necessity I now sit on a section of dugout
bench from Shibe Park, on the very spot from which Connie Mack,
for 41 years, managed the Philadelphia Athletics. Across the
ages, and across my butt cheeks, I feel an inexplicable
connection to Cornelius McGillicuddy.

Behind an inch of bulletproof Lucite are Harry Caray's
breathtaking black-framed eyeglasses. The lenses appear to have
been cut from the same bulletproof Lucite used in the display
case. Inside the temple piece is embossed, in gold block letters,
the model name: GOLIATH.

These men, of course, were Goliaths. They were potentates. Their
treasures are like those you'd find in Citizen's Kane's crates.
Here is Mel Ott's awe-inspiring ashtray, with its sterling silver
eagle perched astride a sterling silver baseball, a receptacle
more suitable for holy water than cigarette butts. Indeed, here
is a baseball signed--on the sweet spot--by His Holiness, Pope John
baseball was given to the Hall for safekeeping last year by its
owner, George (Sparky) Anderson of Thousand Oaks, Calif. He
brought it to Cooperstown, God bless him, in a Ziploc sandwich

Here is Grantland Rice's Underwood typewriter. In the old
ballparks in Washington and Cincinnati, exiting fans could lean
over a railing and see into the press box and thus read (and
comment on) the stories of baseball writers as those accounts
were being composed. So, after a 1-0 Yankees loss to the
Senators, New York scribe Sid Mercer stared at a blank sheet of
paper for what seemed like an eternity before typing out this
memorable first sentence: "There's a terrible pest looking over
my shoulder."

What brings these ghosts back to life are the everyday objects of
their age--Babe Ruth's camel-hair topcoat, Miller Huggins's
pearl-handled pocketknife, Christy Mathewson's chipped checkers
set. Read a few entries from Ty Cobb's daily diary for January
1946, rendered in impeccable Palmer-method penmanship, and you
feel you know the ornery little cuss. Jan. 1: "Took five calls
from soldiers o'seas. Not collect." Jan 4: "Ordered two cases Old
Forrester." Jan. 6: "Took call from Taylor Spink--bulls---about
some new award." Jan. 20: "Cincinnati--horses---town." Jan. 27:
"Named UPI Player of Half Century. Best thing was I beat out
Ruth." Jan. 30: "Shot 71 at Del Monte. Won 6 presses off
DiMaggio--he can't putt for big money."

Unlike Cobb, though, most of these ghosts appeal--in Lincoln's
phrase--to the better angels of our nature. So I end my tour by
standing, astonished, at Lou Gehrig's locker, lifted intact from
Yankee Stadium. Inside is the trophy teammates presented to him
on Independence Day 1939, the day that Gehrig--one month after
being told of his terminal illness--declared himself the luckiest
man on the face of the earth.

What could one possibly say in response, except the words that
his teammates had inscribed on a silver plate:

Let this be a silent token
Of lasting Friendship's gleam
And all that we've left unspoken

I stare at the stanza for five minutes before departing. Then I
return to my car feeling filled, like Sparky, cum benedictiones.

With blessings.