Cooperstown

noun  | Coo·pers-town |  \ˈkü-pərz-ˈtau̇n\

: A village in, and the county seat of, Otsego County, New York

: Childhood and adult home of author James Fenimore Cooper (not the town’s founder)

: Home of inventor and painter Samuel F. B. Morse, aka dit-dah-dit-dit-dah

: Civil War general Abner Doubleday‘s hometown

: Oh, and incidentally, the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

There was a time not so very long ago when American males of all ages, sizes, creeds, and races sat around pot-belly stoves in darkened corner stores on dreary, post-holiday Saturday afternoons and lamented the dearth of baseball news.

Landlocked between the World Series, nearly three months in the rearview mirror, and Spring Training, still more than six weeks away, the dead of winter truly was death for the ardent baseball fan, which included just about everyone who ever had a father or ever would be a father.

But starting in 1939, those bleak early days of January were punctuated by one brief respite, a morsel to hold over diamond-hungry men until “pitchers and catchers” reported in February. Because, early in that first full week of the New Year, the baseball Gods that resided on Mount Cooperstown would declare to the world which men that they had voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum — THE Hall of Fame, in case you need disambiguation.

Babe Ruth - Hall of Fame

Who will join Babe Ruth in the Hall of Fame this week?

Who would join Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and, later, Bob Feller and Mickey Mantle, in baseball’s shrine of immortals?

We had only to wait until January to find out. But the gift of the Hall of Fame was not limited to a few thrilling minutes when the announcement was made, and the reminiscences that those privileged names evoked.

No, we could argue for months about who belonged in the Hall, and we did. After the last out of the Series and after the debates about league MVP awards were done, and even after we had poured through the baseball books that Santa or mothers or wives had stuffed in ours stockings, we always had the Hall of Fame to wrangle.

Does Nellie Fox belong in Cooperstown? How about Paul Molitor or Tim Raines?

And how in the Hell could any writer NOT vote for Willie Mays?

The arguments abated only briefly, and mildly, once the voters’ proclamation was made.

See, I TOLD you that Nolan Ryan was a great pitcher.

Maybe, but I knew no one would vote for Steve Garvey.

But most of all, as it is with most issues in baseball, the Cooperstown mantra come the second Wednesday morning in January has always been, “Wait until next year!”.

Of course, the Hall of Fame is not what it used to be.

Football is king in America, and basketball is the global glamor girl of American sports. Kids still play Little League, but even that seems just a quaint warmup for soccer or AP Calculus or one of the million other activities yipping at their heels for attention.

Performance-enhancing drugs, monster salaries, entitled athletes, and non-existent loyalties on both sides of the ledger have blunted the aorta-ripping pain that men feel when their teams lose a game or a pennant or a superstar. What good does it do you to invest in a player or a team when either or both might be gone next season, and when there is better drama on the next channel anyway, right?

I mean, holy crap, I can follow Joe Maddon on Twitter! What does it matter that he’s the skipper of the Chicago Cubs and I bleed (or bled?) Cincinnati Red?

Baseball fanatics are now just fans — and we’re not as many as we used to be. Apparently.

Cooperstown hot stove

Ready for the Cooperstown debates

But you know what?

None of that matters right now.

Right now, it’s early January, and we’re in the hinterland of baseball’s barren free agent market.

The big names are mostly gone, and all we’re waiting for is to find out who the Twins’ fourth-string catcher will be next season, or maybe where the Rockies’ seventh-round mop-up man will start his pro career after season-ending knuckle-hair reconstruction last August.

We’re at the nadir of the baseball calendar, and neither the NFL Wild Card races nor the NBA All-Star voting can lift us.

If you are a dad, or ever had a dad, THIS is the time of year when the names of the past whisper to you from the Hall of Fame ballot sheet, with all of the poetry that only baseball can inspire.

If you’ve ever loved baseball, even a little, this is your week to love it again.

Don’t worry about football and basketball, because they’ll be there waiting for you next weekend.

Focus, for a few exhilarating moments, on the announcement echoing through the halls of Cooperstown and spilling out across the snow-covered plains and frosted forests of America.

Who will get in this year?

There are sure bets and long shots, and maybe there will be surprises on both ends.

Whatever way the voting goes, though, “Cooperstown” will be the word this week, and it will be the Hall of Fame that reminds us how much of life is intertwined with the sport of our fathers.

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