Dawson gets the call from the Hall

By David Moriah

The 2010 induction weekend of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown was defined almost as much by who wasn’t there as by who was on hand for the annual festivities.

   First, there were all the fans that didn’t make the scenic but often inconvenient trek to central New York for the ceremonies. Attendance this year was estimated at only 10,000, not surprising considering that this year’s class of inductees lacked a big-name star with a popular following, but considerably down from recent years such as 2007 when Cal Ripken Jr.’s induction drew a whopping 75,000 to the tiny village.

   This year slugger Andre Dawson entered the elite fraternity wearing a Montreal Expos cap on his official plaque, former manager Whitey Herzog was honored primarily for his work at the helm of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Doug Harvey represented the “men in blue” as only the ninth umpire to enter the Hall of Fame. Three worthy men, to be sure, but none with the star power needed to generate busloads of fans cheering their enshrinement.

   The low turnout of fans was a disappointment for Cooperstown merchants, but for fans it made for easier parking and a more relaxed atmosphere at a weekend that is often defined by crowded streets and long lines for autographs, restaurants and admission to the Hall of Fame museum. Regular attendees of induction weekends, and there is a small army of such regulars, appreciate these “off years” as much as they enjoy the big ones.

   The other story of who wasn’t there involved Hall of Fame members. Although the turnout of 47 current members, plus the three new inductees, was respectable, there were several prominent faces missing on the stage, faces usually seen at the annual event. 

   Understandably, Yogi Berra was home recovering from a fall taken the week before, which also knocked him out of a recent Yankees Old-Timers Day. No such obvious reason explained the absence of reliable attendees Sandy Koufax, Brooks Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Duke Snider and the aforementioned Ripken. 

   A few other absences merit mention.  This was the first induction since the recent death of Philadelphia Phillies great Robin Roberts, a Hall of Fame board member and perennial attendee. Also missing this year, and an old reliable save for the last few years, was Stan Musial.  Though his memorabilia-focused website
www.StanTheManInc.com is going strong, it’s hard to know if The Man himself is as he approaches his 90th birthday.  Musial’s rendition on harmonica of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was a staple at previous inductions, and Cooperstown regulars hope Musial can rally for one or two more rounds of the baseball anthem in coming years.
  
The most prominent MIA who’s not in the Hall of Fame this year was baseball’s hit king, Pete Rose. For almost every one of the past 15 years, Rose could be found signing autographs just down Main Street from the Hall of Fame, but this year he took a pass. The word from his promoters was that he “had a conflict,” but you have to wonder if his long exclusion from official baseball immortality is taking its toll on Rose’s legendary enthusiasm. 

   One other absence of note was that of Willie Mays from the always-busy Main Street autograph marketplace, despite Mays being in town.  Along with many other Hall of Famers who appear at card shops and autograph sessions, Mays has become a fixture in recent years, signing for prices that far exceeded anyone else in town. This year Mays opted out, perhaps because he has come to the end of the line of fans willing to pay upwards of $300-$400 for an autograph that all too often comes with a surly attitude.

   Curiously, although Mays was not signing for others, he was quite assertive in getting others to sign for him. Eagle-eyed observers of the stage at the induction ceremony spotted Mays hitting up Hall of Famers seated around him for autographs on a baseball he pulled from his pocket, hustling autographs even during speeches and the official program. 

   Mays was only the most prominent among scores of autograph seekers during the weekend, as collecting autographs in Cooperstown during induction weekend is like harvest season at an apple orchard. It’s a Cooperstown cliché that this is the one time during the year when more Hall of Famers are in one place than any other day. With a whopping 37 Hall of Famers, along with a dozen or so lesser stars, signing at paid autograph sessions running from Thursday through Monday, there was seldom more than a few minutes wait for your turn to come.

   This year afforded opportunities to purchase autographs from some of the toughest signers in the Hall of Fame, including Frank Robinson, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Dave Winfield and Reggie Jackson. On the other hand, you could forget about inking Henry Aaron as the popular slugger continued his practice of avoiding autograph shows while in Cooperstown. (For a complete list of Hall of Famers who signed at some point during the weekend, see sidebar.)

   A special treat this year was that all three new inductees signed in town at least once, and prices for each was at the low end of the spectrum for Hall of Famers. Andre Dawson’s price on flats or ballS was lowest at $39, Doug Harvey’s price point was $45 and Herzog checked in at $49. 

   Overall, autograph prices for Hall of Famers held steady or even declined somewhat vs. recent years, perhaps reflecting the sluggish national economy.  Some representative prices for flats or balls included Gaylord Perry at $25, Fergie Jenkins $30, Jim Palmer $39, Dick Williams $40, Steve Carlton $45, Paul Molitor $59, Bob Gibson $65, Rod Carew $75, Lou Brock $79, Dave Winfield $79, Reggie Jackson $89, and Eddie Murray $99.

   As usual, several non-Hall of Fame retired players also cashed in at autograph sessions. This year the list included Paul Blair, Ron Blomberg, Tito Fuentes, Dwight Gooden, Ron Guidry, Fritz Peterson, Art Shamsky and Bill Madlock.  It is virtually impossible to provide a complete list of signers as the Cooperstown scene always includes a scattering of “sidewalk sale” tables and shops featuring signings by minor stars, authors of baseball books, Negro League veterans and even women players from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball Association. For anyone willing to part with some cash, the autograph possibilities were almost endless.

   For those collectors with more time than money available to them, there remained several possibilities for obtaining free autographs, though such opportunities have been steadily shrinking over the years. Despite the reduced crowd, there was no relaxation of a security apparatus worthy of a Presidential appearance, which kept Hall of Famers separated from their fans.

   Savvy collectors know the handful of places left where contact can still be made, including spots where the Otesaga Hotel golf course borders public roadway, where Hall of Famers sometimes grant at least a few signatures before moving to the next hole. This year, as is often the case, Paul Molitor, Ozzie Smith and Bill Mazeroski won the prize for most willing and accessible autograph signers.

   A change in the mix of weekend events yielded a plus for the general fan but a minus for autograph collectors. This year a Main Street parade to the Hall of Fame for a “members only” reception took place Saturday evening.  Each Hall of Famer rode slowly down Main Street in open car or truck, a solid plus for fans lining the sidewalk hoping to see Hall of Famers up close and personal. 

   The unintended minus for autograph collectors however, was that the parade changed the members-only reception from an after-dinner event to one happening before dinner.

   The effect on the autograph scene was dramatic. In previous years, well-fed Hall of Famers lingered at the museum into the evening and many signed on their way out. This year, however, there was a rush to dinner after the reception and only Wade Boggs pleased the crowd with a Herculean attempt to sign for as many fans as possible. Other Hall of Famers jumped in waiting cars and sped off to dinner.

   Later that evening, after a formal Hall of Fame dinner at the Otesaga Hotel, a new opportunity emerged for alert collectors.  The Chicago Cubs were hosting a pre-induction party at a local restaurant in honor of Dawson, and a good number of Hall of Famers were in attendance. A small group of patient collectors waited outside, and at first it seemed their wait would be in vain as Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Dave Winfield brushed by without signing.

   Finally, and shockingly, it was Reggie Jackson who rewarded their efforts, though in a style that was pure Reggie.  First saying, “I can sign a few, but I can’t sign 20” to a crowd that was about 20 people strong, Jackson proceeded to take control of the situation.

   “Stand back,” he barked, “I need at least three feet of room.  Have your pens ready.  And don’t rip me off and come back for a second one.”

   There were more commands, some issued with a liberal dose of profanity, but in the end Jackson did sign about 20 autographs, satisfying just about everyone who wanted one.

   Of course, an induction weekend offers more in the realm of collectibles and memorabilia than autographs, not the least of which is the fabulous collection housed in the Hall of Fame’s museum.  Though none of the museum’s donated collection is ever put up for sale, induction ceremonies yield a host of related memorabilia that can be purchased, or in one case is distributed for free. 

   The official induction program was handed out gratis at the Clark Sports Center, site of the induction ceremony, and the program gets better and better every year.  This year’s edition boasted 48 color pages in yearbook-style coverage of the new inductees and other aspects of the Hall of Fame and its members and program.

   Ordinarily, Hall of Fame staff handing out programs at the event strictly enforces a “one only” rule and keeps an eagle eye out for repeat visits of fans seeking extras. This year, with attendance down dramatically, programs were given out two at a time and requests for additional programs were usually accommodated.  Though distributed at no charge, programs quickly appeared on eBay and have been attracting bids in the $6-$10 range.

   Fogerty’s guitar is a hit
   This year’s event also produced a new and unique piece of memorabilia for the Hall of Fame museum’s collection, the result of an invitation to singer-songwriter John Fogerty to perform during the induction ceremonies. Fogerty sang his classic baseball song “Centerfield” (“Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!”) and then announced he would loan his guitar, shaped to resemble a baseball bat, to the museum. Before he left town, Fogerty stopped by the museum to hand it over, and the unusual guitar now resides in a display case in Cooperstown.

   Cooperstown 2010 is in the record books now.  Though it was a low-key event, defined as much by its MIAs as by those on stage and in the crowd, it carried forward the tradition of a great baseball weekend marked by autographs, memorabilia and memories of baseball’s greatest personalities all assembled in one small and special part of the world. 

(The Hall of Fame Special Coverage continues on the next page with a feature on Andre Dawson by Robert Grayson and a Ronnie Joyner original bio-illustration of the newest Hall of Famer. Grayson’s profile of Whitey Herzog will appear in next week’s issue of SCD.) 



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