I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and had a hell of a time, even if it could use like 2000% less Yankees stuff.
After a tragically disappointing experience at my hometown’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, I needed to take some time off of Halls of Fame. Fortunately, trips to them don’t really come up that often. My path recently crossed with the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and I was certainly worried it would also disappoint. I compared the Rock and Roll Hall’s collection to that of a really big Hard Rock Cafe… would the Baseball Hall of Fame be like the sports memorabilia page in SkyMall where the best things they have to offer are baseballs autographed by Jeff Francoeur or a photo of Roger Maris signed by Billy Crystal?
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. The Baseball HOFaM is an unequivocal success. It is excellent. It tells a great story, has a jaw-dropping amount of paraphernalia, features solid exhibits — basically, everything you could want in a Hall of Fame. (Except for a set of guidelines to govern the way that sanctimonious reporters vote on inductees.)
Rather than do a straight-up review, I took random low-quality phone pictures of different things that caught my eye and jammed them into this list. So here are 11 random observations from the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
1 | Cooperstown isn’t exactly a sprawling metropolis
I’m not sure what I was expecting from Cooperstown, New York, as a city, but I guess I did envision it as, ya know, a city. There’s a strong emphasis on the “town” in Cooperstown. Like any random small town, there aren’t signs for it — in fact, the sign above is the first and only one you see after 50 miles of winding roads. They may have only one stoplight and, if I were an old west sheriff (and, God willing, one day I will find a way to be), I would definitely have called it a one-horse town.
The main street is made up entirely of sports memorabilia shops and restaurants selling burgers that are both over-priced and -cooked. Not to rip on it fully — it’s charming in a small town way and not every place in this world needs to be a big, happenin’ city — but it was much smaller than I expected.
I have absolutely no idea how it accommodates the influx of people for the induction weekends. People must have to rent out their extra bedrooms and turn their dining rooms into restaurants. “Induction weekend was amazing this year! Ken Griffey Sr. slept on the top bunk of my bunk beds and Ryne Sandberg guessed that the secret ingredient in mom’s Surprise Chicken is crushed up Cheez-Its.”
2 | Baseball and racism, intertwined through eternity
Sometimes baseball’s old timey racism is kitschy…
Sometimes it’s much less so…
Not exactly sure why the Hall of Fame Museum decided to make a replica of a “Colored Entrance”… perhaps just displaying a photo of a real one (or not having one at all) would’ve been a better idea. (Although now Vida Blue, Shawn Green, and the ghost of Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown have a door to walk through when they visit.)
3 | The famous Honus Wagner card is tiny
Anyone who’s ever collected cards knows this Honus Wagner — it’s the most expensive baseball card of all time. I’d never seen one in person before and never realized how incredibly tiny it is. I held up my driver’s license as a comparison. Both to show size perspective, and also to show that both Honus and I wear collared shirts at unusual and somewhat inopportune times.
4 | Well, my face feels slapped
I get accused a lot of being too Cleveland-centric in many lists, so I was reluctant to include this one… but come on. Each of the 30 teams in baseball gets its own display case with memorabilia that represents the franchise. And they dared to stick Jose Mesa’s hat in the Indians case.
I don’t care that it’s from the season when he was good. That hat needs to be cast off into the flames of Mordor before technology exists where it’s possible to clone someone off dried sweat. Until then, this hat is an affront to all that is holy and good in this world.
5 | How they handle PEDs
I want to give them a lot of credit for this sign. I think it’s the absolutely perfect way for the Hall of Fame Museum to handle the steroid era right now. It’s brilliantly worded. And, with the way I took the photo, it accidentally came out looking like scrolling trapezoidal Star Wars exposition text. And that’s cool (in a totally not-at-all-cool way).
6 | Not allowed in the Hall of Fame, but allowed in the museum
They don’t whitewash Pete Rose from the history of baseball down in the museum. There’s no trace of him up in the Hall itself, of course, but down in the museum he gets his due. If I were a betting man, I’d wager a lot of money he’ll be in the Hall within a decade. (And I’d also wager a lot of money on the Cincinnati Reds.)
7 | I can’t believe this gets a slot
Longtime readers will know I loathe the pink hat trend. Not when it’s related to breast cancer awareness, obviously — when it’s tied to “women would never DARE wear anything other than pink, or else it might clash with the color of their vacuum cleaner and dishwasher.” So I can’t believe the pink hat trend got a spot in the museum. You know what didn’t get a spot? The Simpsons Power Plant softball team episode. I searched the entire place for top to bottom looking for a reference to Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness or Steve Sax and his run-in with the law.
8 | I thought it would be bloodier
Curt Schilling’s famous bloody sock is in the museum. If I were him, I don’t know that I would’ve wanted it to be there. Because I can’t be the only one who saw it and thought… that’s really not THAT bloody. In my memory, his ankle was gushing blood in that game. That stain looks like a two bandage job. If it were Curt Schilling’s period, that would be a light- or borderline medium-flow day.
9 | Through the eyes of the Yankees
History is written by the winners. Cooperstown is located in New York and draws a lot of New Yorkers (I learned this because I kept hearing “Hey, I’m walkin’ here” as I meandered through the museum). So, if you visit, get ready to see the history of baseball through a Yankeefied prism.
The display I photographed above made me laugh because it was straight out of the Poochie school. (Whenever Poochie’s not around, everyone should be asking, “Where’s Poochie?”) Every team’s history exists in the context of the Yankees. The Indians and White Sox interrupted their dominance. The Diamondbacks and Marlins and managed to define their franchises by beating them. The Red Sox finally won a World Series by beating them and then… oh, I don’t know… someone other not-so-important National League team.
But… I wanted to resent this more than I ended up resenting it, if that makes sense. I get it, and I’ve come to accept it. The history of baseball is intertwined with the Yankees more than any other franchise. Until someone unseats them as the most dominant team ever (and please, please let it not be the Red Sox) the Yankees are going to be the Poochies of Major League Baseball.
10 | Time to laugh at the White Sox
Of all 30 teams’ displays, only the White Sox display had stuff that had fallen over. And when I saw that photo like that, my first thought was: “You can put it on the flooooooor…. YES!”
11 | Someone’s gotta photograph him
In the Hall itself, everyone takes a photo. It’s like a law. But I didn’t take a photo of any of my personal favorite Hall of Famers (Bob Feller, Three Finger Brown, Koufax obviously) or any of the Ruth/DiMaggio/Mantles of the world. I took what very well may be the first-ever picture of the plaque representing Rick Ferrell — the consensus pick for the least-deserving member of the Hall of Fame. I figured someone should at some point. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier; I have now broken the Rick Ferrell barrier.