Nothing better than at this coldest, least baseballish hour of the year, than to let the wayback machine work its magic and show us some classic images.
Two of these are screencaps right off MLB Network and they own them and don’t you dare, etc. To the left is, of course, the nonpareil third baseman of the Orioles Brooks Robinson as he stud- what the heck is he wearing?
This is from 1971, when the Orioles experimented, mercifully only briefly, with orange tops and orange pants. Apart from the glow-in-the-dark quality, it meant that Robby’s enormous teammate Boog Powell got to wear both these beauts and the all-red jobs of the 1975 Cleveland Indians. The latter led to Boog’s immortal self-description: “I look like a big red blood clot.” Frank Robinson wore them both too, without any such quality humor, but then again, by Cleveland, Frank was a manager.
Below is a famous image of a famous home run: Chris Chambliss’s 9th Inning job off Mark Littell to win the 1976 ALCS for the Yankees. I was at that game, sat in the seats for most of it, but was actually sitting next to Dick Schaap in the press room as Chris got his slice of immortality. The chaos that ensued has been well documented, but until this aired on MLB Net the other day I had never noticed one detail. Look closely behind Chambliss as he turns first and heads for second:
Do you see him? The guy in the light blue sleeves, reaching down? The guy is stealing first base! Chambliss is perhaps ten feet past the bag and all bedlam is breaking loose, but this guy is already making off with the props. Good grief, he has to have planned it!
The next two shots are entirely my own, and of much more recent vintage. This would be the view from our Fox Sports Net booth above the right field roof at Fenway Park at no less an event than the Home Run Derby at the 1999 All-Star Game. So besides the display of model rocketry by Mark McGwire that night, and the impending All-Century Team event and the Ted Williams lovefest the following evening – look at that sunset!
I said “look at that sunset!”
Well, if this is what grew during yesterday’s serial monsooning, it was worth it.
A spotless day greets the gathered and there is nostalgia at every corner. Since the facility is now 70 years old, for many of us here there is a huge connection not just to baseball’s collective past, and our own histories at games or in front of televisions, but directly to our own childhoods. Countless among those to who I’ve spoken are those who say they first came here as kids. Thus are the memories and emotions not just about Babe Ruth and Jim Rice, or Satchel Paige and Rickey Henderson, but about Mom and Dad, too.
Though I was here three times before I turned fifteen years old, I haven’t been back since 1973. Our first trip was so long ago – 1966 – that I was too young to have interest in the game, let alone the place. All Cooperstown meant for me was getting to see the Cardiff Giant, the great Barnum Hoax of the 19th Century (a long wooden object, not very convincingly painted to look like a mummified human, that they fell for in droves in the 19th Century but literally could not fool a seven-year old 70 years later). By the time we came back in 1968 I was the fully-grown nerd you see today. I remember coming close to hyperventilation upon my arrival, and of my plan to recreate the Hall in my basement by utilizing the postcards they sold depicting every plaque.
The 1973 visit was most memorable because my family basically enjoyed upstate New York while leaving me to walk from our hotel to the Hall each morning after breakfast and go and ensconce myself in the Library. I had been annoyed that there was no catalogue of coaches – everybody else including the umpires had an all-time list – so I decided to make one. The librarians took me seriously, and demanded as payment a copy of my final results. A friend published it in “book” form (I always use the quotations; it might have sold 50 copies) and I believe there’s still a copy in the Library here. The simple joy of research in an endlessly fascinating field, surrounded by like-minded and patient adults, cannot be overstated.
And each day I got to walk to and from that place via these almost rural streets. It seemed to me then a fitting adult life and, as I file this – I’m about to take that walk again.