COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Leaving Cooperstown is going to be the hardest part. All of those people who came to gaze forlornly and take it all in like a last breath of air have scattered now, leaving behind the Glimmerglass townspeople and the caretakers of baseball history. But oh, how we will remember 2007.
Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn are now Hall of Famers for the rest of their lives. Their plaques now hang in The Gallery of the Museum, for people to view forever. The speeches are over, mercifully so for two legends who agonized over them. What’s left are the memories, and here were some of them:
Ripken walking out of the private reception at the Museum late Saturday night and signing autograph after autograph there on Main Street well into the night, past midnight, like it was a Camden Yards session all over again.
Gwynn proudly watching his daughter Aisha singing the Canadian and American national anthems at the start of the Induction ceremony. “She was really good,” Dad would say after the ceremony. “We were both pacing this morning. She was really nervous. I’m trying to get her to calm down, she’s trying to get me to calm down.”
Looking out on Main Street Saturday afternoon and seeing a sea of people, wall to wall. Hall president Dale Petroskey was among the many who remarked that they never had seen anything like that. It kind of reminded you of Main Street in Disney World on its busiest day — packed in a pleasant and pure way. Happy people.
The records. The Induction crowd was estimated at 75,000 — a 50-percent increase, believe it or not, over the previous record of 50,000 set in 1999 for the enshrinement of Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount. Saturday’s attendance was 14,000 at the Museum, nearly 5,000 more than any day in the 68-year history of the place.
Umbrellas, ponchos, tree cover and not a dampened spirit in sight. Rain was a prevalent theme for the first couple of days. But they somehow managed to get all those legends out on the golf course Saturday morning. People somehow managed to get their autographs and their goodies and their moments of glory. There is this giant tree out back of the museum, near the statues of a pitcher and a catcher standing 90 feet apart, and out of all the people who crowded under there during one cloudburst, a fan said, “Do you think this tree was planted here as a giant umbrella?”
The mellifluous symphony of legends. There were 55 living Hall of Famers gathered all in one place on stage Sunday — including Ripken and Gwynn — and that was a record anywhere, anytime. How magnificent to see each man introduced, with his highlights shown to the masses on the faraway hills over giant screens followed by a camera shot of that man today. It was like watching a philharmonic symphony, with each man his own instrument. There’s Lefty, pulling the string again. There’s Yogi, the percussion. There’s Reggie, the tuba, loud and proud back in his prime. There’s Sparky, the conductor. Ah.
Tony and Cal talking about their families. It’s just a beautiful thing. You think about what quality time had to be sacrificed for those incredible careers, the people at home who helped make it possible. You could kind of see what it meant to the speakers in that moment, and you could sure tell when Ripken lost it. Kind of nice to see him lose it for once — ol’ Mr. Even Keel Ripken Jr. The speeches were truly memorable, and it’s hard to pick out one part. But it’s nice to see that human side of two guys who were so locked in for so long.
Fans’ stories. Out of 75,000 people, there were probably 75,000 great stories. Everyone wanted to tell you theirs, too. At the plaque-hanging event on Sunday night, I asked one Padres fan what he thought of Gwynn’s plaque. He began telling me the story of how he arrived here. A lot of people seemed to be here by virtue of birthday presents from someone close to them. It would have been great to hear every single story, and fortunately there are MLBlogs to share your text, pics and videos if you went to memory mecca in upstate New York.
The Missouri Media Mafia. It was almost like the 1985 I-70 World Series. From Kansas City, longtime Royals radio broadcaster Denny Matthews was given the Ford C. Frick Award. From St. Louis, longtime Cardinals baseball writer Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch was given the J.G. Taylor Spink Award — named for the legendary editor/publisher of The Sporting News during its “Bible of Baseball” heyday. Matthews and Hummel no doubt lost a bit of audience concentration after the order of speakers was changed, because once Ripken was done talking, there was no way they were going to have that crowd’s full attention.
The Red Carpet Parade. Trolleys delivered the returning Hall of Famers to the Museum Saturday night for a private reception inside, and it was just like the Red Carpet event now standard on the day of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. It was another way to let fans get up close to their heroes. Who would you rather see on the red carpet, Tom Cruise or Tom Seaver? Terrific choice.
Even more people everywhere. Aboard the shuttle from Cooperstown High School to the Monday morning ESPN event that gathered Ripken and Gwynn on the same Induction stage, I asked two gentleman what they remember most from The Weekend. “The crowds!” one of them said. “Yeah,” the other said, “it was hard to move. Last year it was about one-fifth of this.” OK, if you’re a collector, then you had to take the bad with the good. In the big picture, it was all good.
The Ripken and Gwynn exhibits. One of the highlights of the Museum tour was the fresh displays of artifacts from the new Hall of Famers’ careers. There was the ball Ripken hit for homer during his 2,131 game, and the bat Gwynn swung during his magical .394 season in 1994. Any discussion of memories from The Weekend would be incomplete without mentioning all of the amazing history that draw people here constantly.
Wonder Woman, an American Gigolo and Tony Manero. It’s all about preserving history here, and some of the attendees on Sunday were Lynda Carter, Richard Gere and John Travolta. People you may have grown up with, just like all those Hall of Famers on stage.
Gwynnduction buttons and Ripken shirts. Stuff. There was lots of stuff. If you were here, then you probably left with a bunch of it. There was no shortage of ways to commemorate this event, and you can visit the Hall of Fame Shop and load up on the kinds of items that people were grabbing by the armfuls in Cooperstown.
How well it all went. Just think: 75,000 people descended on a hamlet of 2,000. It was so smooth. It was so unforgettable. It was the 2007 Hall of Fame Inductions, and they will talk about this one for years and decades to come.