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Baseball's Hall of Fame is 61 Years Old

Ask any baseball fan about his or her favorite experiences and sure to rank high on the list is a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. For me as a writer and as a fan - the Hall of Fame has provided much satisfaction, enjoyment and research assistance through the years.

It was 61 years ago today, June 12, 1939, that the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was officially dedicated in colorful ceremonies. Contrary to rumor, I wasn't there. But I have read a great deal about that time.

The 100th anniversary of baseball was celebrated in 1939. Four years earlier, plans got underway to mark the baseball centennial with festivities in Cooperstown, the alleged location of baseball's birth. The main idea of the celebration was the establishment of a permanent Hall of Fame to honor the game's giants.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America was given the task and responsibility of selecting greats to be honored. The first election was conducted in January of 1936, when five players were elected: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.

By 1939, there were 25 legends elected to the Hall of Fame. Of those, 11 were still living. Each made the trip to Cooperstown to attend the centennial celebration. For the record the elite 11 were: Connie Mack, Honus Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, Napoleon Lajoie, Walter Johnson, Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth and Cy Young. Ty Cobb missed the ceremonies because he was hung up by travel problems, but he did get to Cooperstown.

Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis presided at the ceremonies and served as Grand Marshall of a motorcade that wended its way through the streets of the upstate New York village.

Landis made a big flourish of purchasing a sheet of first-day centennial stamps from U.S. Postmaster General Jim Farley and then held forth presiding at the dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Always a self-serving showman and a self promoter, Landis was in his glory on that June 12th.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony featured baseball's ruling power structure: Landis, National League President Ford Frick, a former newspaperman who had come up with the idea of a Hall of Fame, American League President William Harridge and William G. Bramham, President of the National Association, the top minor league official.

Located today where it was 61 years ago, on Main Street in the heart of picturesque Cooperstown, New York, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is one of the country's major tourist destinations. It also has bragging rights as the best-known sports shrine in the world.

If you have never been there - go! The little town is a marvel.

Located on the shores of Lake Otsego, Cooperstown features rolling, wooded hills, flower-lined streets, and fresh country air. There are no national chains or franchises. Many of the lodging areas are small "bed & breakfasts". Those in charge have kept the area pristine, primed for the public to have a good time.

The centerpiece of the Museum is the historic Hall of Fame Gallery, where the plaques of all Hall of Famers line oak walls. There are unique paintings and sculptures related to baseball. There are permanent exhibits in The Records Room, No-Hitters, Baseball Around The World, and The Heart of Baseball, which examines the relationships between ball players and the community.

Artifacts galore are on parade: bats - Ruth's from his "called shot" in the '32 Classic; Ted Williams' from his .406 season in 1941; Mickey Mantle's from his 565-foot tape measure homer in Washington; Roberto Clemente's from his 3000th (and last) hit; Hank Aaron's from his 714th home run; and the famous "pine tar bat" of George Brett.

You can also look up Ty Cobb's sliding pads, manager John McGraw's jersey, the locker used by Joe DiMaggio (and later by Mickey Mantle) and Jackie Robinson's warm-up jacket.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has come a long way from its beginnings 61 years ago. It is a shrine, a Mecca, a place that every baseball fan should visit at least once.

Harvey Frommer is the author of the classic "New York City Baseball 1947-1957: The Last Golden Age and of Nolan Ryan's autobiography "Throwing Heat"

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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