Induction Weekend at Cooperstown 2009

       I've always wanted to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame festivities in Cooperstown, New York. Of course, it would have been rational for me to have made my visit to Cooperstown when I lived in New York. But I didn't. Anyway, my brother flew up from Florida and the two of us set off for our first trip to Cooperstown, New York to attend the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend from July 24 to July 27, 2009. Because I had just purchased a new Honda Civic Hybrid (46 mpg), we decided to drive the 14 hours from Evansville, IN to Utica, NY. Utica is about an hour west of Cooperstown and is far enough away not to be subject to the inflated hotel prices that are typical for the Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. For example, some hotel prices in Cooperstown can be as expensive as $500 a night during Induction Weekend. We spent four days (Thursday through Sunday nights) at the Utica Red Roof Inn for less than $100 a night (including all the annoying taxes).

Home
       After we had a set of commemorative baseball caps made up on Wednesday, we drove the 14 hours from Evansville, IN to Utica, NY. It was a simple, but very long drive. We left at 2 AM on Thursday morning, July 23, and arrived at Utica at about 6 PM that evening. My strong recommendation is that you have two good drivers, a few books on CD, stocked ipods, snacks, and caffeinated soft drinks along for the ride. As we sat in the hotel on Thursday night we had no idea what to expect of Cooperstown the next day. We knew we were going to collect the autographs of, and briefly meet, Baseball Hall of Fame players, but we were not sure of how everything would work.
       We decided to get an early start on Friday's business. We were going to get in line to purchase tickets from MAB Celebrity Services outside the Tunicliff Inn early on Friday. We didn't know how early we needed to show up to avoid long lines and we knew nothing about Induction Weekend. We left our hotel at 7 AM or so on Friday morning and quickly drove the hour east on route 90 and then south on Route 28 all the way to the "Red Parking Lot" outside of Cooperstown.

A short note on MAB Celebrity Services
       I'm going to be talking about MAB a lot. They are a company that contracts with sports figures and organizes autograph signing events. Before I go any further, let me say that my experiences with MAB have been positive and I recommend dealing with them for baseball player autographs. I have mailed four fairly complex pieces to MAB in New Jersey in 2008-09 for signings and can report that every one of them came back with the signature exactly where I wanted it, with the right pen, with the right players. The posters/ photos were returned in good condition in a timely fashion. In short, my experience has been very good. MAB is the type of company that makes collecting autographs as a hobby possible if you live in Indiana instead of on the East coast. I have no problem whatsoever with MAB and I will keep you updated on my future transactions with them. I have three pieces in to them now for signings later in 2009.

Arriving at Cooperstown
       Cooperstown is a small, historic, New England town (population about 2,100) with almost no free all-day parking in town. However, just outside of the downtown area are three free all-day parking lots. We arrived at the Red lot (just off Route 28) at 8:15 AM on Friday and walked the few steps to the trolley pick up point inside the lot. The sign on the side of the trolley shelter said that trolley service started at 8:30 AM and that you could buy an all-weekend ticket for just $5. At first, this sounded like a good idea and we waited for the trolley to take us into town. It turns out that the Cooperstown trolleys keep Italian time. A trolley may arrive during the 8 o'clock hour sometime, and it may not- that sort of thing.

Red lot propaganda
Trolley information at the "Red Parking Lot"
Not quite truth in advertising


At about 8:45 AM two locals walked by and told us that downtown was just a short walk, so we walked into town. It took us about 15 minutes to walk from the Red Parking Lot to the middle of downtown Cooperstown. Thereafter we walked back and forth to town from our car at the Red Parking Lot for the rest of the weekend.

Cooperstown 3
The quiet walk on Main Street from the "Red" lot
to downtown Cooperstown on Friday morning of Induction Weekend

       Once in town on Friday we took the lay of the land. Cooperstown is a compact hamlet in which most of the 19th-century storefronts are related to, or are converted to, baseball-related shops during the Induction Weekend. Many of the stores host autograph sessions for Hall of Fame players during the weekend and the players appearance times are posted by professionally designed banner, dry-erase board, hand-written note, and any other method imaginable. As we'll discuss later, these posted times announce the intentions of the players and their hosts, but they don't always work out as planned.
       We made our way to the Tunicliff Inn where MAB holds their autograph sessions during the weekend. The Tunicliff was built in 1802 (looks like the second and third floors were added after that date) and is an old, crumbling, historical building with several poorly lit rooms on the main level that are converted into the spaces where the players autograph items. The first order of business on Friday morning was to get on line to purchase tickets for player autographs. The tickets are priced by player and can range from $30 for Bob Feller to $100 or more for Lou Brock, Tony Gwynn, etc. Yes, this can turn into an expensive hobby, but it is much cheaper than collecting '60s Corvettes or antique guitars (two other things I'd like to do, but don't).

Tunicliff 6
The Tunicliff Inn on Induction Weekend 2009
The MAB banner is posted over the lower ground-floor window on the right.

       MAB opens it's outdoor ticket stand by 9 AM. I got in a short line of about 10 people, purchased all my tickets for the Friday signings, and was ready to go. All tickets are numbered and my numbers were all below 15 or so. The player appearance times were all posted on the internet for weeks ahead of time and appearance updates were posted near the ticket stand.
       The way things work with MAB at the Tunicliff is that once a player has shown up the autograph seekers are called by groups of ticket numbers to enter the Tunicliff to get your player autograph. While you are waiting to be called, everyone mills around outside the Tunicliff, chatting and making new friends. For example, you're waiting around when the announcer (via loudspeaker) suddenly calls Tom Seaver ticket numbers 1 through 5. People holding those ticket numbers climb up the crumbling front steps of the Tunicliff, enter the dim room where Seaver is set up behind a table, gets in a small line to await your turn, presents the ticket to a helper, offers the item for signature when your turn is at hand, witnesses the signature, snaps a picture with the player (if you have your camera along), conveys a compliment or comment to the player, accepts a smile in return, and you're done. You proceed out the back door of the Tunicliff the proud owner of the autograph, photo, and the memory. Most of the time there are several players signing at once, so it can get a bit crowded inside the Tunicliff, but never anything too bad.
       

Tunicliff 1
The scene outside the Tunicliff Inn
during Induction Weekend


       I should also mention that there were several serious bouts of rain on Friday. My brother and I had brought our rain gear and were able to protect our projects fairly well. It rained hard for several hours. We ducked under trees at the park and under the MAB canopies outside the Tunicliff. When the rain stopped the sun would peek through, the humidity would come up, and then another bout of rain would be announced by a rumble of thunder.

Wet boys of Cooperstown
Two wet tourists at Cooperstown on Friday, July 24, 2009

       There are signings taking place throughout Cooperstown at places like 7th Inning Stretch, CVS Pharmacy, Safe at Home Ballpark Collectibles, Mickey's, and TJs Place. What you have to do is schedule yourself to be at the various places for the players you want to sign. Luckily, everywhere in Cooperstown is only steps away from everywhere else. For these other places you simply line up whenever you get there and then wait in line until the people ahead of you have finished. This method means that the numbers on your tickets don't mean much for venues other than the MAB/Tunicliff signings. Depending upon when you get to the autograph location, and what player is signing, you could have a bit of a wait (but rarely more than an hour). Ozzie Smith, Al Kaline, Robin Yount, Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were the longest lines. Trying to get where you need to be in order to obtain the autographs you want is part of the fun. Autograph sessions can start at 9:30 AM and go all the way to 5 PM or later.

Autograph hunting on Friday, July 24
       The first autographs I obtained on Friday morning were for Dick Williams and Earl Weaver, two Hall of Fame managers that were part of my adolescence as a Met fan. Dick Williams managed the Oakland A's past the Mets in seven games to win the 1973 World Series and Earl Weaver's mighty Orioles were victimized by the 1969 Miracle Mets in five World Series games. Dick Williams seemed robust and confident at 80 years old and provided a distinctive, bold, easily legible autograph. The diminutive Weaver (79 years old) was sitting next to Williams and I just moved down the table to get his autograph before exiting the Tunicliff's back door. The entire event was about 3 or 4 minutes as the lines for these HOF members was short and I didn't have much to say to either of them. After these few minutes, I was no longer a rookie.

Weaver & Williams 1
Earl Weaver (left) and Dick Williams make their way into the Tunicliff Inn
to start their signing sessions
***

       My first player autograph of the day was Eddie Murray ("Steady Eddie" was also a productive Met for two short years). Murray was a strong looking, courteous man who took my book and signed his characteristic back slant.

RM w Eddie Murray 1
Eddie Murray (HOF 2003) signs my book
***

       I took the below slip of paper (or voucher) from a stack near Eddie's elbow:  

     Murray COA

       The above voucher was to be presented at a booth outside the rear of the Tunicliff. At the booth an MAB employee would take your voucher and, for $6, issue you a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) saying that the autograph you just got in-person was authentic. To a person collecting autographs in-person for personal enjoyment, this process is superfluous. I guess if you were to turn around and sell the autograph a customer might consider the COA to be helpful.
       Almost every company in this business is struggling with the issue of the COAs and how to make it a true value-add item. Perhaps a better way to handle these COAs would be to have a person purchase a blank COA sheet before the signing process (like when they purchase their autograph tickets), proceed to get the autograph alongside of a professional witness who affixes his/her signature, stamp, imprint, sticker on the document after he/she witnesses the signature. Of course, the COA should say that the player autograph has been personally witnessed by the person signing the COA. It would also be helpful if the person signing the COA was a respected member of society - like a notary, for example. In some states just about anything can be notarized. Why not notarize? It would cost more, but it would be a better, more meaningful product. It wouldn't keep out the dishonest element, but it might limit it. Just a thought...

       Below are some of the other player autographs I obtained on Friday:

RM w Orlando Cepeda 1
Orlando Cepeda (HOF 1999)
signs my copy of The Baseball Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book.
***
RM w Seaver 1
Tom Seaver (HOF 1992)
Arguably the best pitcher of the 20th century

       As a joke someone presented Seaver with a picture of Reggie Jackson to sign. Reggie was signing not far from Seaver at the same time. Seaver asked Reggie out loud how many times he struck out so he could put it on the picture. Reggie answered back something about how many home runs he hit.
       If you're a Met fan, read Tom Seaver's The Perfect Game: Tom Seaver and the Mets.

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RM w Wade Boggs 1
Wade Boggs (HOF 2005) signs my book.
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RM w Rollie Fingers 2
Roland "Rollie" Fingers (HOF 1992).
Gaylord Perry (HOF 1991) is in the yellow shirt to Rollie's left
***
RM w Reggie 2
Mr. October, Reggie Jackson (HOF 1993)
See Reggie: The Autobiography for more.
***
RM w Gossage 1
Rich "Goose" Gossage (HOF 2008) signs (and add his inscription)

       Although you might request that Goose just sign his name, he is going to give you the bonus of his HOF 2008 inscription whether you like it or not. This wasn't a problem, but was a momentary surprise as he was the only one on my book project to add his HOF inscription. I would also say that Goose Gossage's autograph is perhaps the one that most approximates a work of art.
       See The Goose Is Loose for more on Gossage.

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RM w Carlton Fisk 3
Carlton Fisk (HOF 2000)

       Carlton Fisk took a lot of time examining my book and took note of some of the players who had signed. I think it was interesting to him to think that now he was signing in the same book as Ted Williams (his hero). Fisk also told a funny story about how someone had stopped him on the street and asked him to sign a baseball card. Just as Fisk was about to sign the card he noticed that it was a card of Richie Zisk (not Carlton Fisk). He didn't sign it, but he said looking back that he should have.

***
John w Yogi 1
My brother John with Yogi Berra (HOF 1972)

       Until Mike Piazza came along Yogi Berra was hands-down the best catcher in the history of baseball. Now, at least there is a discussion about the best catcher in baseball. Although Piazza is the best hitting catcher in baseball, Yogi’s superior fielding still put him way ahead in total value as a catcher. Yogi was before my time, but I do remember him as the feisty manager of the 1973 NL Pennant-winning NY Mets.

***
RM w Tony Perez 1
Tony Perez (HOF 2000) quickly poses for a picture with me.
Notice the Mets uniform behind Tony, just fate I guess.
***

       Of course, Pete Rose (the only exception to my HOF-only project) was the most talkative person on Friday. Spying that my brother was a Met fan, Pete had several, shall we say,... recommendations for the Mets front office. Pete keeps up with what's happening with every team in baseball. He was one of the few players to look at the other pages of my book and was duly impressed with autographs from Pee Wee Reese and Buck Leonard. Although I'd heard a lot about what my meeting with Pete Rose might be, it was great fun. He took more time with me and my brother than any other player all weekend.
       Even among the other Hall of Famers in town, Pete was a source of interest. While we were getting our autographs Kiana Kim, Pete’s girlfriend, brought in two baseballs that she had shuttled from across the street where Willie Mays (HOF 1979) was signing. Willie wanted the balls autographed by Pete (reason unknown). Kiana gave the balls to Pete and Pete replied, "Oh Buck, Buck Mays wants me to sign some balls? Sure." He signed them and gave them back to Kiana to take to Mays across the street. When I was getting my autograph of Reggie Jackson, Reggie saw the Pete Rose autograph and wanted to know if I got the autograph this weekend at Cooperstown. I said, "Yes." Reggie then asked where Pete was and I told him. Reggie obviously wanted to see Pete. There were other Hall of Famers (Carlton Fisk) who, upon seeing the Rose autograph, wanted to know where Pete was. No other Hall of Famer inquired about any other player that had signed my book, except for Pete Rose. Pete Rose is an event unto himself. Period.
       Pete has written a number of books. Two are worthwhile: Pete Rose: My Story and My Prison Without Bars.

Pete Rose
Pete Rose (gold watch, gold bracelet, ostrich-skin cap?)
signing my brother's poster.
Pete was funny and cordial
***

       Pete had a little different system to handle Certificate of Authenticities. You buy a ticket at the front of the shop for an autograph. The ticket you get is something akin to a movie theater ticket. Once you get in front of Pete, a helper takes your ticket and rips off a stub that you keep. The stub looks like this and serves as your COA.

Pete Rose COA

       Is this system any better than most others? Slightly. The stub is numbered and dated, and you probably wouldn't have one unless you paid for an autograph ticket. However, it could be reproduced a thousand times with little trouble. Even though it is numbered, this could be convincingly doctored or not, as necessary. Of course, a COA is unnecessary if you had the joy of getting it in person.

*

       Being in Cooperstown on Induction Weekend can bring some surprising and unexpected experiences. For example, near the end of the day on Friday I was walking down the street and who comes strolling the opposite way but Phil Niekro (HOF 1997). I pulled a rookie move. I quickly produced a pen and asked him to sign my book right there on the street. This is a no-no, but I didn't know it at the time. If Phil Niekro is seen signing something right on the streets of Cooperstown during Induction Weekend he would be mobbed with autograph seekers like a carcass being mobbed by hungry pirañas. Phil politely told me that he doesn't sign on the street, but shook my hand with a smile while telling me. Later, on Saturday, I saw the pirañas when Ron Darling signed a few items on the streets. They came from everywhere and chased him for blocks.

*

       If you are going to collect autographs from MAB on Saturday, my recommendation is to go ahead and buy tickets for Saturday's players before you leave town on Friday. In fact, if you are in for the weekend, I'd buy all the tickets for the weekend on Friday morning. You get low numbers, you wait in line once, and the tickets are good for any day you are present during the weekend. We bought our tickets for the rest of the weekend before we headed back to the hotel on Friday.
       My brother and I drove back to Utica at the end of the day on Friday, dumped our stuff off at the hotel, and got something to eat at an Italian restaurant nearby. We were so busy that we hadn't had time to eat anything all day, and we didn't care. Would you believe me if I said that we slept well on Friday night?

To continue with what we did on Saturday, July 25, click here.