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Here's the Pitch: Hall of Fame Turns 50 This Year

April 09, 1989|JAY BERMAN | Berman is a free-lance writer living in Manhattan Beach

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — A huge, festive party unlike any this colonial village had ever witnessed brought thousands of visitors here not quite 50 years ago, on June 12, 1939.

Among the guests present were Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Connie Mack and Walter Johnson, all major stars from another era.

The occasion was the opening of baseball's Hall of Fame and, secondarily, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the sport. Ruth and the others were among 11 former players who attended the first induction ceremonies.

A commemorative postage stamp was issued by a special act of Congress, marking the first time an American stamp had ever honored a sport.

There will be another major event here June 10, when the Hall of Fame celebrates its 50th anniversary. Ruth, Cobb, Mack and Johnson are long gone, of course, but many other former greats have been invited, and many will take part that day in an old-timers game at Doubleday Field adjacent to the Hall of Fame.

Historic Baseball Films

Weekend festivities will include a parade and the issuance of another stamp, this one honoring Lou Gehrig, longtime Yankees teammate of Ruth and a member of the Hall of Fame for 50 years.

Hall officials have been preparing for the anniversary in several ways. They have added a wing as well as a 200-seat theater at which historical baseball films will be shown. Another exhibit scheduled to open in June will focus on baseball as it is played around the world.

A brochure, "50 Good Reasons to Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame On Our 50th Anniversary," has been prepared by Hall of Fame officials. Among the 50 reasons, all pertaining to displays being featured this year, are:

--The bat used by Roberto Clemente when he got his 3,000th base hit;

--A scorecard from the first World Series, played in 1903;

--The first Brooklyn Dodgers uniform worn by Jackie Robinson;

--The bat Ruth used to hit his 60th home run in 1927, a single-season record that stood for more than three decades.

The brochure is free and is available by writing to the Hall of Fame, P.O. Box 590, Cooperstown, N.Y. 13326.

Attendance Records

For those who can't be here in June, all of Cooperstown's tourist attractions--the Hall of Fame, the Fenimore House and the Farmers' Museum--are open all year.

Crowds can be considerable at what is officially called the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The hall set attendance records for every month last year, drawing more than 300,000 for the 12 months and breaking the record set in 1987. That's one reason why the new wing--the second to be constructed--was added.

The first exhibit a guest is likely to see is a magnificent life-size statue of Ruth, carved by Rhode Island sculptor Armand LaMontagne from a block of wood.

Not surprisingly, Ruth remains the single most popular figure at the museum. His mementos fill a third-floor room. His Yankee Stadium locker, along with his uniform, trophies, photos, and bats are there for everyone to see.

The Hall of Fame is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, as are the Farmers' Museum and Fenimore House.

The Farmers' Museum, a mile north of the town center, is a re-creation of American farm life as it was in the mid-19th Century. The museum of several restored buildings includes a general store, schoolhouse, print shop, blacksmith's barn and drugstore.

Craftsmen spin flax into linen cloth, set type in the print shop and show visitors how a village "smithy" turned red-hot iron into horseshoes and wagon wheels. Original tools and household implements of the time also are on display.

Cooper Mementos

Across the street is Fenimore House, named for 19th-Century author James Fenimore Cooper, for whose father Cooperstown is named. Fenimore House contains mementos from the life of Cooper, best known for "Last of the Mohicans," as well as more than 250 pieces of folk art.

According to baseball legend, the town's connection to the game was established in 1839 when Abner Doubleday, then a military academy student but later a Civil War general, laid out the first field and drew up a set of rules.

In truth, an engineer named Alexander Cartwright did more to promote the game as it exists today than did Doubleday, but a federal commission ruled in 1908 that Doubleday had devised the game in Cooperstown.

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Cooperstown is about a five-hour drive from New York City. It is 70 miles west of Albany and 30 miles south of the New York Thruway.

The Hall of Fame is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 1 through Oct. 31, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year. Admission is $5. Call (607) 547-9988.

Although Cooperstown is a village of just 2,300 residents, it has ample accommodations, from B&Bs and motels to luxurious inns and resorts.

A good budget choice is the Lake Front Motel at 10 Fair St., just a three-block walk from the Hall of Fame. Most rooms are under $40. The Inn at Cooperstown, 16 Chestnut St., was built in 1874 and offers a country inn atmosphere with rates in the $65-to-$75 range.

Bed and breakfast homes have been springing up in record numbers in recent years. Cooperstown has at least 20 that are open all year, though most have only three or four rooms. They range from $40 to more than $100 per night.

Would-be visitors can request an excellent brochure, the "Ostego County Travel Guide," by writing the Otsego County Tourism Bureau, 197 Main St., Cooperstown, N.Y. 13326.

Nobody comes to Cooperstown looking for classic restaurants, but the Hickory Grove Inn and Red Sleigh, both on New York 80 about six miles north of town, offer American and European dinners in the $15-to-$20 price range.

There are several other restaurants in town, but none has more color than the aptly named Short Stop, just down the block from the Hall of Fame at 65 Main St. It has been around nearly two decades longer than the hall and is filled with pictures of former players, many of whom come back each summer for the induction of more of the game's greats.

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