Autograph hunting in
Cooperstown: Saturday, July 25
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
Saturday, July 25, Induction Weekend
a beautiful, busy day
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
Sparky Anderson (HOF 2000) on July 25, 2009
Sparky has written a number of books. Try SPARKY!.
Bruce Sutter (HOF 2006) signs my brother's poster.
Without his trademark Santa Claus beard, I didn't recognize him.
Jim Bunning (HOF 1996)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dennis Eckersley (HOF 2004)
had the largest, most florid signature of any player during
the weekend. Also, the least recognizable as to what
letters he was signing.
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.
The line for Robin Yount
One of the longest of the weekend (I was near the front)
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 with Doc Gooden
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 with Steve Carlton (HOF 1994) "Lefty"
John had a large
poster of stadium seats that various players signed. It
came out great.
Dave Winfield (HOF 2001)
I shook hands with Dave Winfield
and my fingers disappeared inside his huge dinner-plate of a hand.
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.
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.
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.
Oneonta at bat