Hall of Famers Love Returning to Cooperstown


COOPERSTOWN–They are different people from different backgrounds and they played in different eras, but each year the majority of living Hall of Famers return to this upstate New York community of about 2,300 people that so reveres them. Cooperstown has been described as a timeless, never-changing place and there is a lot of truth in that.

On induction weekend every Hall of Famer is treated specially and for the most part every one of them appreciates the praise that comes his way. Being chosen as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame means you are a very rare player. Of the 297 members, only 207 are players. The rest are managers, executives, umpires and the like.

That’s 207 players out of the approximately 17,000 who have appeared in the majors since 1876 when the National League was founded, the old American Association when it was considered a major league in the 19th century, and the founding of the American League in 1901.

“It’s a joy to come back,” said former Chicago Cub outfielder Billy Williams, who smacked 426 home runs in his career as part of the credentials that got him enshrined.

Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven was busy being nervous in 2011 when he had to give his induction speech. This year he was back as just one of the guys, played golf, and kept busy having a good time as one of the 45 out of 65 living Hall of Famers who shared the weekend with new inductees Barry Larkin and the late Ron Santo.

“I really enyoy the fraternity the Hall has put together,” Blyleven said as he was about to tee off at the Leatherstocking Golf Course at the Otesega Hotel.

It took Blyleven years to gain election and he is sensitive to those other players who seem to have first-rate credentials,  but have still not been selected.

“There are still a lot of guys who should be here and aren’t here,” he said.

Carlton Fisk, one of the game’s greatest catchers during his long career with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, said it took a long time for him to feel as if he really belonged with legends of the sport and sometimes he still pinches himself to make sure it’s real that he is a member of the Hall.

“Oh yeah, every year I wonder if they’ll let me come back,” Fisk said. “You never consider yourself to be an icon. By the time the weekend’s over you feel you belong.”

Cooperstown is not located on an interstate. It is not located within an hour of a major city. It has been called idyllic more often than Willie Mays has been referred to as the Say-Hey Kid. Former Kansas City Royals star third baseman George Brett moaned about how challenging it can be to get to Coopertown, but then praised the community for its constancy.

“A special part of it is the location,” Brett said.

Relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, who excelled for the Oakland A’s and other teams, was inducted in 1992 and implied that it almost feels like a time warp for Hall of Famers each time they visit.

“It seems like yesterday,” Fingers said of being inducted 20 years ago. “This town doesn’t change. I love coming here.”