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Bauman: Cooperstown says it all07/23/2004 10:57 AM ET
By Mike Bauman
OK, baseball wasn't invented in Cooperstown, N.Y. But this is still the ideal place for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
For this Hall, Cooperstown is right out of central casting. It has the appearance of an idyllic spot, not to mention an idyllic baseball spot. It is nestled in the hills and forests of central New York State, at the foot of Otsego Lake. It is a place of great natural beauty. Do not think "Field of Dreams." Think "Friendly Village."
This weekend, this town of a few thousand souls, will be America's destination. It will be the center of the baseball world, as Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley are inducted into the Hall of Fame. Molitor and Eckersley were blessed with great ability, but each had staying power and diligence, the power of perseverance that allowed them to do some of their best work relatively late in their careers. The Hall is their due. And the Cooperstown surroundings become part of the scene, serving as the landscape for the recognition of baseball immortality.
This is small-town America, in the best and traditional sense of the term. This sylvan setting takes you back to a time of baseball's beginnings. Perhaps those beginnings weren't precisely in Cooperstown. But Cooperstown will serve as the proper symbolism.
Rural America. "Town ball." This place fits the bill. Throw in Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Clarence the Angel, and "It's a Wonderful Life." Actually, Bedford Falls seemed larger than this place, but that's all right, too.
Cooperstown is steeped in history. It has a baseball history, and it has a literary history. It was founded in the late 18th century by the father of James Fenimore Cooper. Cooper, of course, wrote "Last of the Mohicans," and those of you familiar with his work might well already know that Lake Otsego is the "Glimmerglass" of his stories.
To the visitor, Cooperstown is exactly what it is supposed to be. It is this picturesque, baseball-rooted place, pleasing to the eye and appealing to the mind. Some residents have periodically complained about the annual invasions of Hall visitors and have suggested that the entire place is losing its original nature, becoming over-commercialized.
Visiting there, rather than residing there, it is difficult to make those measurements. But I, for one, have no automatic problem with something like "Home of the Hall of Fame Burger." You work with what you have, and if you're fortunate enough to have the Hall of Fame, you might as well maximize the opportunity.
At the Clark Sports Center this weekend, Molitor and Eckersley will officially come to Cooperstown. There will be media availabilities and dinners and such prior to that, but the real honor, the centerpiece, the induction, will be Sunday. These are emotional ceremonies, and not just for the inductees.
The Baseball Hall is the most exclusive honor in sports. The recognition of a player with this honor signifies the height of individual baseball achievement. It puts the honoree beyond the range of question and doubt and places him squarely in the company of the truly great.
It is often a humbling experience for the men involved, even though their careers spoke volumes about singular achievement and the will to excel. There was nothing self-effacing about the way they played, and yet, when placed in the company of immortals, many baseball players have a kind of "who, me?" reaction. It is good. It is fitting. None of this can be taken in a way that is smug.
For the observers of the game, in Cooperstown and everywhere else, there is a shared joy in the recognition of the players. For anybody who saw Paul Molitor play or Dennis Eckersley pitch, there is the knowledge, both at the time, and now, officially in retrospect, that you were in the presence of greatness.
It is a privilege to be on hand for these ceremonies. To see and hear and sense what all of this has always meant, still means, and with any luck, will continue to mean for a long, long time.
Seeing this place, seeing the Hall, seeing a player inducted into the Hall, it all underscores the one simple phrase that captures the essence of true greatness in the grand old game:
He's going to Cooperstown.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.