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A visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame

It’s something every baseball fan should do at least once.

Al Yellon

COOPERSTOWN, New York — I am attending a college reunion in upstate New York this weekend (Colgate University) and since Cooperstown is only about 40 miles from campus, I figured, why not? I’ve been to the Hall of Fame three previous times, but being this close I couldn’t resist another trip to the Mecca of baseball.

Make no mistake, the Hall of Fame almost certainly should NOT be in Cooperstown. The idea that baseball was invented there in 1839 by Abner Doubleday is a convenient myth, likely invented to try to make the sport feel like it came out of some pastoral beginnings in small-town America. Which it did, to some extent, but not in Cooperstown and not then. Having said that, despite its out-of-the-way location, Cooperstown really is a beautiful setting for the Hall, especially in summer, when upstate New York is absolutely gorgeous.

And in fact, even though this was a random Thursday in June, the Hall was fairly busy. Not packed, but there were large numbers of families and kids there, including groups of kids, and it was really heartening to see all of them really into the history of the game. It’s been said by some that the game is losing younger fans — not these fans, and that’s a great thing. There were lots of folks wearing Yankees caps (not surprising), but I also saw Mets, Phillies, Braves, Guardians, among others, as well as quite a few other Cubs fans, and also a Black man who just decided to get in his car and drive to Cooperstown with a friend from Detroit just to see the history of the game. Baseball is in better shape than many think, presuming Rob Manfred and his crew don’t ruin it.

Upon entry you’re guided to to a small theater where a 17-minute film is shown before you enter the galleries. You can skip it — and I’m not crazy about these sorts of films and almost did — but if you go, don’t miss it. Quite a number of Hall of Famers, living and deceased, talk about their love for the game (Juan Marichal, Tom Seaver, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Mariano Rivera and Pedro Martinez, just to mention a few) and many magical moments in baseball history are shown, including the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. The film squeezed out a few tears, I’m not afraid to tell you.

The galleries have been improved quite a bit since I was last at the Hall in 2008. For one thing, the lighting is dimmer, helping preserve artifacts. There are large themed exhibits (Negro League baseball is one that’s featured) as well as exhibits by era and by team.

For those who think Pete Rose should be in the Hall (I’m not one of those people, FWIW), he IS in the Hall. There are a lot of things about Rose in the museum, which is the largest part of the Hall of Fame. The Hall doesn’t ignore him, or Barry Bonds, or others who might never get plaques. So if you don’t want to go because those guys don’t have plaques, you’re only cheating yourself. The museum part of the Hall shows you the entire history of the game — good and bad — and doesn’t sugarcoat things. The folks responsible for the exhibits have done a masterful job of that. The staff around the museum is friendly and helpful with questions.

Below are some photos I took, which are largely Cubs-centric, though I have also included some photos of the blanks on which new plaques will be hung this summer after Induction Weekend. Three living inductees signed the blanks — Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and David Ortiz, which is pretty cool.

I visited the “broadcasters’ wing” which is, indeed, a “wing” off the gallery of plaques. While it’s great that these men were honored by the Hall, I can’t help thinking: Why shouldn’t they be full-fledged Hall members? Surely Vin Scully, among others, contributed as much to our love of baseball as many of the players who are Hall inductees.

Before I get to some photos I took in Cooperstown, I wanted to share this photo which sums up baseball for me:

Al Yellon

While I never “gripped a baseball” the way Jim Bouton did in the major leagues, the grip the game has on me (and, presumably, you) undoubtedly feels the same. Seriously, though it’s not easy to get to Cooperstown, if you love baseball, you should absolutely make it a priority to visit there once. After my visit, I went to have lunch at the Brewery Ommegang, a few miles outside Cooperstown, which was also worth the trip. (The beer flight, in particular, was excellent.)

One last personal note: I mentioned I’m in upstate NY this weekend at a college reunion. This particular reunion is for the 70th anniversary of the college radio station I worked at. The station is allowing alumni 30 minutes of air time on the station as part of the festivities. You can listen live here to my show later this morning if you’d like, I’ll be on the air at 11 a.m. CT. (Click on the “Listen Live” button.) There will be Chicago- and Cubs-related content!

Here are photos I took on my visit to the Hall of Fame Thursday: