Autograph hunting in Cooperstown: Saturday, July 25

       Saturday was going to be another busy day of meeting ballplayers and collecting autographs. The weather was sunny and beautiful on Saturday, definitely shorts weather. We woke up early, quickly assembled ourselves, and arrived at the Red lot around 8:30 AM on Saturday. Saturday is perhaps the most hectic day of the weekend in town. Although the Induction Ceremony crowd on Sunday is bigger, the town seems busier on Saturday.

Cooperstown 1
Saturday, July 25, Induction Weekend
a beautiful, busy day

       The first autograph I was to collect at the Tunicliff on Saturday morning was from legendary manager, Sparky Anderson. The Big Red Machine of the middle 1970's was the most memorable baseball dynasty of my adolescence and the most memorable baseball dynasty in my life up until the Yankees of the late 1990s. Although Sparky was in a good mood, I wouldn't say he presented the appearance of a robust 75 year-old. I'm sure that like any man of that age he has health issues. He's a bit stooped, was mostly quiet, and his autograph was very, very shaky. Nevertheless, it was a privilege to meet the great Sparky and I was grateful that he was still making himself available for autographs. UPDATE: As you may know, Sparky passed away in 2010. This made my meeting him in 2009 both poigniant and special for me. I had mentioned in my original 2009 recollection that he didn’t appear well. It was sad to think that when I met him he had little more than a year to live. We’ll all miss him.

Ray w Sparky Anderson 3
Sparky Anderson (HOF 2000) on July 25, 2009
Sparky has written a number of books. Try SPARKY!.
John w Sutter
Bruce Sutter (HOF 2006) signs my brother's poster.
Without his trademark Santa Claus beard, I didn't recognize him.
RM w Bunning 3
Jim Bunning (HOF 1996)

       Senator Jim Bunning from Kentucky was my next autograph. I didn't know it at the time, but apparently he announced that he was not seeking re-election to the US Senate at some point during the Induction Weekend.

RM w Morgan 2
Joe Morgan (HOF 1990)

       I'm not sure of the order, but I think Joe Morgan was next. Bill James says Joe Morgan was the best second baseman in the history of baseball. This is amazing when you consider that Joe Morgan is a short, thin man. I mean very short, 5' 7” and perhaps 150 pounds. When you meet him today he is not far from his playing shape (maybe even a little lighter). What he accomplished for a man his size (or a man any size) is truly remarkable. I doubt anyone would draft such a short, thin guy nowadays.

RM w Schmidt 1
Mike Schmidt (HOF 1995)

       Mike Schmidt had cancelled his appearance on Friday and was available for only one hour on Saturday. There were a bunch of people who wanted to get his autograph and he was cranking through everyone at high speed. We almost didn't get the picture and he was done and on to the next person.

RM w Gary Carter 2
Gary Carter (HOF 2003)

       Gary Carter was signing at the CVS Pharmacy. This sounds funny if you haven't been to Cooperstown, but there aren't many places of business in the town that can host these types of events. On nice days tables are set up outside of CVS and long lines form down the sidewalk. Gary Carter is a favorite of mine as he was a big factor in the Mets World Series Championship in 1986. He wanted to go into the Hall of Fame as a Met, but was over-ruled by the Hall. Carter was telling someone in line that he had paid his dues as a catcher as he has had both knees replaced.

RM w Eckersley 1
Dennis Eckersley (HOF 2004)

       Dennis Eckersley had the largest, most florid signature of any player during the weekend. Also, the least recognizable as to what letters he was signing.

RM w Robin Yount 1
Robin Yount (HOF 1999)
The gentleman sitting to Robin's right is Ralph Kiner (HOF 1975)

        One of the longest lines of the weekend was the "Yount" line. Robin Yount had not made himself available for autographs since his induction in 1999. When he set up to do autographs this year, he was mobbed.

Yount line 2
The line for Robin Yount
One of the longest of the weekend (I was near the front)
       DM walking 2
Denny McClain (The last pitcher to win 30 games in a single season)

       Denny McClain was perhaps one of the most entertaining players of the weekend. On Saturday he was set up outside at a table on the sidewalk and was selling and signing his new book I Told You I Wasn't Perfect. He told a hilarious story about how Rollie Fingers owed him $15,000 in gambling debts on bowling matches. No kidding, who shows up and strolls past McClain while he talking about the debt but Rollie Fingers. Denny shouts out to Rollie as he's climbing up the Tunicliff steps, "Hey, Rollie what about my $15,000?" Rollie responds, "What do you mean, I paid Kenny Holtzman" and he walked inside. Denny then let out with an expletive and everyone on the sidewalk cracked up for minutes thereafter. Overall, Denny was a fun guy.

     John w Gooden 5
John with Doc Gooden

       I remember watching dozens of games pitched by Doc Gooden (remember, I'm an aging Met fan). When Gooden first came up he was scary good, Sandy Koufax good. Gooden had a fastball in the upper 90s and an old-fashioned, monstrous hook curveball that he would throw with control on any pitch count. After his first eight years in the big leagues he was sitting at a won-loss record of 132 - 53 (a jaw dropping 0.714 winning percentage), won the Rookie of the Year Award, won the Cy Young Award, polled 2nd and 4th in the Cy Young balloting in two other years, was a 4-time All Star (including being the youngest All Star in baseball history), struck out more than 200 batters in a year four times, and had an ERA under 3.00. He was definitely polishing a plaque in the Hall of Fame (Bill James even had projected an induction date for him in his 1995 book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame). In 1994 he tested positive for cocaine (twice) and the rest is history. He would only win 62 games over the last eight years of his career. Gooden has told his own story in Heat: My Life on and Off the Diamond.

John w Steve Carlton 2
John with Steve Carlton (HOF 1994) "Lefty"

       John had a large poster of stadium seats that various players signed. It came out great.

RM w Dave WInfield 2
Dave Winfield (HOF 2001)
I shook hands with Dave Winfield
and my fingers disappeared inside his huge dinner-plate of a hand.

       I remember Winfield playing forward for the Minnesota Gophers in the early 1970s. Incredibly, Winfield was drafted by the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Hawks (NBA basketball), Utah Stars (ABA basketball), and the Minnesota Vikings (NFL football). I guess he made the right choice.

RM w Paul Molitor
Paul Molitor (HOF 2004)
Jown w Johnny Bench 1
Johnny Bench (HOF 1989) signs John's poster.
Johnny Bench has a new book, Catch Every Ball: How to Handle Life's Pitches.

The Oneonta Tigers
As Saturday afternoon was winding down I started looking for a public bathroom and was directed to Doubleday Field. Doubleday Field is right behind the row of shopfronts in Cooperstown and is used for special exhibitions by the Hall of Fame and occasionally a minor league game. 

       As we approached the bathrooms at Doubleday FIeld we noticed that there was, in fact, a minor league baseball game underway. The Oneonta Tigers were playing the Tri-City Valley Cats. It was billed as the Hall of Fame Game and it was free admission.
       We arrived about the 3rd or 4th inning and watched for awhile. In the bottom of the 5th inning the Oneonta Tigers loaded up the bases and Rawley Bishop nails a ball to deep left centerfield. The ball is clearly a grand slam home run when all of a sudden the ball hits a tree limb hanging over the fence in left and drops back into play. The spectators in the stands are going crazy yelling "tree!, tree!" but no one seems to notice. The umpires don't make any call, the hitter pulls into 2nd base with a double and 3 RBIs, no one on either team acknowledges anything untoward. Meanwhile the spectators are scratching their heads wondering what they just saw.

Oneota Tigers Game
Oneonta at bat

       We stayed for a few more innings and then made our way back to the hotel for the evening. The Tigers won 7-4.

       If you want to know what we did on Sunday, July 26, click here.