A Visit to Cooperstown

 hof by you.

I went to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Friday.  We took my father-in-law, Charlie, for his 78th birthday.  Charlie has been a baseball (Red Sox) fan for over 70 years and he hadn’t been to the Hall of Fame before.  Charlie and I and my daughter Sonia went through the whole museum and spent a while in the Hall of Fame itself.

Let me say first of all that like all baseball fans, I love the Hall of Fame.  I am so grateful that there is a shrine to baseball, a place that teaches people about baseball, and that serves as a pilgrimage site for baseball fans.  I wish there was a museum of Broadway in New York, of American film in Los Angeles, of opera in New York, of American architecture in Chicago.  None of these things exist.  But thanks to the Clark family, there is a place that serves as the center of the baseball universe, a place dedicated to honoring an extraordinary sport.  I love going to the Hall to see people who are fans of every team.  I love seeing sacred objects and some well-designed exhibits.  I love Cooperstown, a lovely town on an extremely beautiful lake.  I love Doubleday Field, which looks like and serves as a field of dreams to several sets of teams every day.  Cooperstown is done right.  It’s not where baseball began.  But if it wants to claim to be the spiritual home of baseball, I will honor its claim.  It’s good to have a place that can serve this kind of function.

Every baseball fan who visits the Hall of Fame says how wonderful it is.  You don’t need me to say the usual things.  If you’ll just indulge me, and if you’ll remember that I really do like it, I want to talk about a few things that make a visit to the Hall of Fame a little disappointing, for me at least.

Let me first of all gently whine about the fact that if you go through the exhibits as a Mets fan, you can’t help but wonder why no one seems to think that the Mets have been all that important a part of the history of the sport.  We are a fan base that is used to the strange feeling that we may have dreamt the past 47 years, because what we remember so fondly is noted, marked, recorded, and honored almost nowhere.  There is one little cubbie hole where there is a Tom Seaver cutout, a Tom Seaver jersey, some shoes, a hat, and a glove, and a little picture of Gil Hodges (hey, does anyone remember that Tom Seaver spent almost half of his career in exile from the team that makes such a deal out of him?).  The text of our little window next to the Pirates window says something about us winning the World Championship in 1969.  The Eighties team isn’t represented, although there is a nice little exhibit that suggests that the Cardinals were the dominant National League team of the Eighties.  And there’s an exhibit of the late ‘70s Dodgers teams which weren’t as good as the Mets of the Eighties and yet they get pictures of Garvey, Lopes, Russel, and Cey (big deal!) while Seaver and Hodges the only photographed faces of Mets.  The late ‘90s team is nowhere.  And then we get a little locker at the end like all the other teams.  Now maybe a lot of teams can complain about not being sufficiently represented.  But I guess I feel like whining because this is just another sign of how little our experience has been noted anywhere.

Another thing that bothers me is that the experience of the fan is not represented very well.  There’s an undistinguished opening film about “The Baseball Experience” that doesn’t have much to say about the baseball experience but does have a lot of pretty pictures like a commercial.   And then, the exhibits seem to focus mainly on the achievements of the players who have made it to the Hall, and the teams that have enjoyed particular success winning World Championships.  The most compelling moments of baseball history receive relatively short shrift (which leaves the Mets out in the cold) and there’s nothing about either the general experience of the fan or the unique fan cultures and mythologies of individual teams.  I would have liked to have seen more attention paid to the enormous sociological, historical, and cultural importance of baseball, about the psychological importance of following baseball to millions.  There was a nice “baseball in the movies” exhibit and an exhibit that sort of honored reporters and announcers, but there wasn’t much mention of baseball in literature, art, music, and life.  I guess it makes sense for the Hall of Fame to focus on the way in which baseball has a bunch of heroes.  But baseball is, as they know of course, much more than the heroes.  I was very moved to walk down the nave lined with plaques.  Here is the place.  Here is the belly button of the baseball universe.  There is the one Met.  I stand in front of him and have Sonia take my picture. 

Needless to say, they can’t do everything.  And given space limitations and the limitation of an average fan’s attention span, they do a lot.  But I can’t help but feel, when I leave the Hall, as though I’ve gotten a very incomplete picture.  Perhaps I’ve just been so disappointed lately.  And today, poor David.  Remarkable, young, and wonderful David.  Sometimes I don’t know what to say.  I’m glad Tom Seaver is in the Hall of Fame,  I know that Mike Piazza will be there soon.  I know that David will be in there one day.  I had a nice trip to Cooperstown.  And I hope David is all right. 

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My new book, The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan can be pre-ordered on Amazon for $11.53.  It will be in the warehouses next week and available for shipping very soon after that.   In the meantime, you can read samples and blurbs here.

 

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