Prepping for Hall of Fame weekend 2011

I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow Hall of Fame weekend. Whether or not a given year’s inductees are particularly interesting—and I happen to like this year’s group of Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and GM Pat Gillick—the weekend provides a showcase for our great game by bringing together many of the living greats, some of the very goods, and a few of the movers and shakers in today’s game.

If you’re a baseball fan who appreciates history and enjoys today’s game, then Hall of Fame weekend is an event that must be taken in at least one in a lifetime. I’ve been fortunate to experience it every year dating back to 1995, but every weekend provides a new wrinkle, if only because the cast of characters always changes.

A major part of the weekend involves the various signings that take place in and around Main Street, right in the center of the village. The signings not only give fans a chance to purchase autographs of their favorite retired stars, but also provides fans some much-wanted face time with the men who have played the game. Most of the ex-players are willing to talk a little bit, answer a question or two, before the line needs to keep moving.

A total of 48 Hall of Famers are expected to attend the weekend festivities, with most committed to at least one signing in town.
As of Wednesday night, these are the four dozen Hall of Famers scheduled to be in Cooperstown:

Luis Aparicio, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Lou Brock, Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, Andre Dawson, Bobby Doerr, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Doug Harvey, Rickey Henderson, Whitey Herzog, Reggie Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, Sandy Koufax, Tommy Lasorda, Juan Marichal, Bill Mazeroski, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Eddie Murray, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Jim Rice, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Red Schoendienst, Tom Seaver, Ozzie Smith, Don Sutton, Earl Weaver, Billy Williams, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount.

The Hall of Fame list originally included 51 names, but Dick Williams, who was eagerly planning to attend, passed away unexpectedly two weeks ago. And just within the last day, Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt have decided to drop out (for unknown reasons), bringing the total to just under the magic mark of 50.

Most of the Hall of Famers will be signing at one of the three major autograph locales: The Tunnicliff Inn, located on Pioneer Street; CVS, located on Main Street; and T.J’s Place, also located on Main Street.

To the best of my knowledge, a few of the Hall of Famers are not currently committed to public signings, though that could change. Right now, the non-signers include Ernie Banks, George Brett, Bobby Doerr, Sandy Koufax, Tommy Lasorda, Phil Niekro, Brooks Robinson, and Ozzie Smith.

To me, just as interesting as the Hall of Famers is the presence of other retired players, ranging from journeymen to very good players. The non-Hall of Fame players who will be in town include:

Sandy Alomar, Sr. (the father of inductee Roberto Alomar), Jesse Barfield, Paul Blair, Ralph Branca, Bert Campaneris, Tito Fuentes (a colorful character to say the least), Dwight Gooden, Ron Guidry, Howard Johnson, Jim Kaat, Bill Madlock, Dale Murphy, Jim Perry (Gaylord‘s older brother), Pete Rose, Art Shamsky, and Ernie Whitt.

Barfield and Campaneris (a frequent visitor to Cooperstown) are scheduled to sign at the Cooperstown Bat Company. Blair, Fuentes, Guidry, Madlock, and Shamsky will be appearing at T.J.‘s. Howard Johnson and Murphy are booked at two locations, the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum and Safe at Home Ballpark Collectibles.

Branca will be at the Tunnicliff, Gooden and Jim Perry at CVS, and Rose (everyone’s favorite) will appear exclusively at Safe at Home. The elder Alomar, Kaat, and Whitt are not currently scheduled to sign, but will attend Sunday afternoon’s induction ceremony.

(One footnote: Jose Canseco was originally on the CVS list but has canceled because of his ongoing comeback in independent minor league ball.)

Other baseball celebrities will be in town, too, including a likely future inductee. That would be former Braves and Blue Jays manager Bobby Cox, who has a longstanding connection to 2011 inductee Pat Gillick. Former White Sox general manager Roland Hemond will be in town to receive the prestigious Buck O‘Neil Award for lifetime contributions to the game. And then there’s former manager and general manager Dallas Green, who guided the Phillies to the 1980 world championship.

Fans of present day baseball might be intrigued to learn that five current general managers are listed as guests for the induction ceremony. They include Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski, Rays GM Andrew Friedman, Reds GM Walt Jocketty, Brewers GM Doug Melvin, and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.

Some of these executives have connections to the inductees (for example, Amaro worked for Gillick in Philly), but there might also be opportunities to discuss possible trades. (The Otesaga Hotel has some nice conference rooms that would be perfect for trade talk. My house is also available.) After all, the trade deadline takes place the following Sunday, a week after the induction.

So there figures to be something for everyone in Cooperstown over the next few days. The weekend officially starts on Thursday, and we’ll be there with updates along the way. So come along for the ride in the Cooperstown Time Machine known as Hall of Fame weekend.

Bruce Markusen has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.
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