One Pack. No Turning Back.
My Hall of Fame
Day 38: Cooperstown, NY, 7.26.15
Number of miles driven today: 88
Total miles driven on road trip: 7,676
Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? Dunkin's current run makes me forget how dominant Starbucks is out west.
Starbucks' record (# of days Starbucks was more common): 20-15-2
Dunkin' Donuts' record: 15-20-2
Cheapest gas I saw today: $2.73
Number of states visited overall: 21
Number of red states visited overall (as of 2012 presidential election): 10 (Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)
Number of blue states visited overall: 11 (California, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts)
Favorite baseball artifact in the Hall of Fame: Jesse Orosco's jersey, for most games pitches in a career. Jesse Orosco!
Fun fact I didn't know until visiting the Hall of Fame: The Baltimore Orioles franchise originated in Milwaukee in 1901.
Apparently, baseball fans don't like sushi.
That's the conclusion I drew from walking the streets of downtown Cooperstown during Induction Weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
You might think that the town housing the pearly gates of America's pastime would be some bustling metropolis, but Cooperstown is just a bucolic hamlet of less than 2,000 nestled in the middle of cow and corn country. Come Induction Weekend, humanity converges here, filling the streets and baseball memorabilia shops, which literally comprise half the businesses on Main St.
Weaving my way through the crowd on Induction Eve, multiple vendors on every sidewalk hawked fresh hot dogs and sausages, the official meal of baseball. Outdoor tables offered t-shirts, baseballs, bats, baseball cards, caps, and every other possible form of collectible. Every store and restaurant was jammed, save for one: Mt. Fuji, a sushi and hibachi restaurant where an army of waitstaff played on their smart phones and watched the crowd pass them by.
The stark emptiness of Mt. Fuji stood out to me, as did a couple of other anomalies: an older woman with long grey hair, sitting behind a small table and offering signed copies of her children's book "Police Cat," and a table of ne'er-do-wells we'll call the Hall of Shame, where John Rocker and Lenny Dykstra sat offering autographs for $25.
Rocker and Dykstra are the heels of baseball, men with great talent who self-destructed. Rocker, a former pitcher with the Atlanta Braves, went on a bigoted rant to Sports Illustrated several years ago and has since tripled down on the hate. He sat next to a generically attractive brunette hiding behind opaque sunglasses, slouched in his chair, his bright yellow-green dress shirt halfway unbuttoned. His appearance is well-groomed but his body language says "I'm better than you." A stack of his autobiography and white t-shirts reading "Speak English" sat in front of him.
For the few minutes I was there, he chatted non-stop with Dykstra, whose eyes darted back and forth across the crowd even as he signed an autograph for a paying fan. The ex-Met, Phillie, and convict seemed to still be on the run, as if he was waiting for his parole officer to break through the crowd at any minute.
When I asked Don Carman, one of the players in the wax pack and a former teammate of Dykstra, what he thought of him, he said, "He's on my list."
"What list is that?"
"My list of people I hope to never see again."
Somehow, sadly, Frank Thomas has been seated at Baseball's Most Wanted table. No, not the Big Hurt. The Small Hurt, or as the promoter shouts out "The Original Frank Thomas," a slugger for the Pirates in the 1950s who is now 86 years old. Sharing your name with another baseball player who was better, stronger, and of more recent vintage seems like a terrible curse and leads to countless exchanges such as this:
12-year old boy seeing the sign advertising autographs: "Dad, look, Frank Thomas!!"
Dad: "No son, not that Frank Thomas."
The 12-year-old reaches the table and sees a stooped, blue-eyed man wearing a Mets hat and clutching a clam shell phone.
Several hours before it began, fans started setting out their lawn chairs, five rows deep, behind a steel barricade on Main St., preparing for the parade of Hall of Famers. I took advantage of baseball fans' culinary xenophobia by eating at Mt. Fuji, the first hibachi restaurant I've been to where they don't cook the food in front of you (which made me wonder, as I heard the clatter of knives banging in the kitchen, if the chefs still do tricks back there for each other's amusement).
Parades crack me up. They are the one time in our ever-kinetic 2015 society where we stand still and watch other things move past us. It is an inexplicable anachronism, like the circus. If Ward Cleaver had been cryogenically frozen and then thawed in 2015, he would be appalled and terrified, and would spend all his time at town parades.
Seriously, why are parades so popular? Especially ones like this, which consists of creaky Hall of Famers and their wives standing in the pack of pickup trucks moving 5 mph down Main St. No elaborate floats. No tantalizing costumes. Just Gaylord Perry, scowling like an obese owl, and Robin Yount, who now looks like Jeff Bridges' stunt double in The Big Lebowski.
One by one, the pickup trucks drove baseball's immortals down Main St. in chronological order of their induction. Big cheers for known good guys like Dave Winfield, Cal Ripken, and Andre Dawson. Even guys known for thier scorn, like Eddie Murray and Carlton Fisk, received applause and seemed genuinely appreciative, smiling and waving.
I stood silently and watched fans of all ages cheer wildly. It's rare that I cheer at any sporting events anymore--not because I'm not having a good time, but because it doesn't seem natural. As a kid, I screamed my face off, but now I can enjoy athletes quietly and leave the cheering to the kids, where it seems wholly involuntary.
The hero worship and idolatry of baseball players should be, after all, the realm of kids. I have little interest in someone's autograph unless it connects directly with my own childhood. If Mike Trout was next to me on a plane, I would talk to him as a fellow man, not as an exalted celebrity.
That is the key difference in this book project. The first time I saw these cards, in 1986, I was a boy who considered these players gods. Now, I am interested in who they are as people, not baseball players. And so watching this parade of greatness, I am more amused than awed. All of these Hall of Famers continue to live the lives of deities, revered by fans.
But my Hall of Fame doesn't have Eddie Murray, who growled at me when I was 8 years old in a Philadelphia lobby when I asked for his autograph, or Carlton Fisk, who turned down this project and according to his biographer, did not respond to letters asking for a short interview.
My Hall of Fame has names like Carman, Cocanower, and Templeton. Yeager, Mazzilli, and Mulliniks. Sutcliffe. Cowens. Ready. Hebner.
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