MadFriars Road Trip - Baseball Hall of Fame

In the dead of an east coast winter, with spring training still some time off, what better way to feed the baseball addiction than with a visit to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The Hall of Fame may come across Padres fans radar a little more this year, with 2006 being the first year that Padres' icon Tony Gwynn is eligible, and a sure bet to be elected on the first ballot.

Although Dave Winfield is in the Hall of Fame wearing a Padres' hat, Gwynn will be the first player solely identified with San Diego in the Hall, and for some of us this could merit a trip to actually see the ceremony, or at least visit another time to see Gwynn and others plaques.

The following is a quick guide to a tour of the Hall and Cooperstown.

The Hall: The best place to find an in-depth view of the Hall is its website, which is exceptional. You can also find information on what the museum specifically has on the Padres.

Adam Jordan, the Public Relations Manager for the Hall elaborated on the Padres memorabilia that is in the museum.

"We have the uniforms, spikes and ball from Trevor Hoffman's 400th career save, Brian Giles' bat from the first hit at PETCO Park, the home run ball hit by Rickey Henderson for his 3,000 hit and Tony's Gwynn's bat and uniform from his final season."

Jordan also added that the museum contained other artifacts from the teams history in years past, including a uniform worn by Gaylord Perry, Steve Garvey's cap from the day he set the National League record for consecutive games played, and Nate Colbert's bat from his record 13 RBI night in a doubleheader on August 1, 1972 - all items that have been donated.

It's striking not how many plaques there are, but how few. Over 16,000 people have played major league baseball, but only 261 are enshrined in the Hall, less than one percent. Walking around, even if you are a novice baseball historian, most sports fans will recognize nearly all the names, with only a few that you have to scratch your head on.

What makes the Baseball Hall of Fame a little more special than other sports museums is the way that baseball fans revere the past. No matter how much you enjoy basketball, few, if any, people are curious about how well George Mikan would match up against Shaq. The game, as in football, hockey and nearly every other sport, has simply changed too much from the 1950's for that to be an interesting question.

Baseball is different. The game is more about highly developed skills as opposed to raw athleticism, so the records and statistics in the game are held in a much higher regard when compared over different eras. Nearly all fans are aware of players such as Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth, and what their accomplishments do or do not mean when compared to contemporary players. In baseball, the history of the game is always included in the present.

The names and faces on the plaques also lead you to think about what merits induction, longevity or dominance over a shorter time? Nowhere are two examples of each competing ideology more evident than with two members of the Dodgers that are both in the Hall of Fame, Sandy Koufax and Don Sutton. Koufax only pitched five good seasons, but in each of those seasons was, arguably, the most dominant pitcher in the game. While Sutton only won 20 games once in his career and never was considered the best pitcher in the game for any year he pitched, but also put up 324 wins in a 23-year career before he was done.

The inclusion of Pete Rose in about every part of the museum, with the exception of his own plaque, is rather strange. Rose is included in several displays for the most hits, doubles and numeorus other categories in the Hall - everything except the elusive plaque. Banned "Black Sox" members "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte, are also prominently displayed throughout the museum. The way that the debate has carried on in the media throughout the years over whether or not Rose should be in the Hall, is somewhat misplaced, about 75% of him is already there. You would think the mere mention of his name or the sight of his #14 Red's jersey would cause lightening to strike down the building.

"Pete Rose might not be in the Hall of Fame, but his career is through a number of artifacts, exhibits and displays," added Jordan.

A great walking tour is the timeline of baseball, which has artifacts, newspaper clippings and videos of the five major baseball eras. There are also quite a few interactive computer products, where you can look up any Hall of Famer and most of the time watch an accompanying video.

Getting there: Cooperstown, is out in the middle of nowhere. The closest city of any significant size is Albany, which is 70 miles to the west. There is no commercial air service directly into Cooperstown so everyone makes some sort of drive.

The town: A very charming city, full of bed and breakfast lodgings with seemingly every shop along the main street catering to baseball fans. If you are looking for souvenirs, check out the stores on Main Street, which have a little better prices for souvenirs than the Hall of Fame gift shop. A very easy city to get around in both on foot and with plenty of parking.

You may want to take a look at the Cooperstown Bat Company if you are in the market for a custom made wooden bat:

Accommodations: Nearly everything in the town is a B&B, although there are some chains such as Howard Johnson's and the Holiday Inn just down the road. A big recommendation for the Tunnicliff Inn, which is more of a charming inn than a B&B. Tunnicliff has good, though not inexpensive rates, a nice pub in the basement and is only a few hundred yards from the museum.

Dining: The Doubleday Café is a sports bar featuring a lot of local dishes, along with the standard sports bar fare. Very casual and friendly, including some great chicken wings, a must if you are in upstate New York. There are many other small restaurants, nearly all with a baseball theme, up and down Main Street.

The experience: The best time to visit is in the summer, but that also means larger crowds and higher prices. If the main point of your trip is to come into to Cooperstown for a night, maybe two, the winter actually is a good time to visit. Its cheaper, the crowds are smaller and for sunny San Diegans, its actually a chance to experience something that others endure during these months, winter and cold weather.

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