Hall of Famers reflect on the journey to Cooperstown at the start of Hall of Fame Weekend
The eyes of the baseball world will soon be gazing upon the small village at the southern most tip of Otsego Lake in the heart of Leatherstocking Country.
With the start of the 2013 National Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend only hours away on Thursday, Cooperstown prepared for an influx of thousands of fans of the National Pastime. And as the countdown begins for Sunday’s induction that will add three more names to the game’s most exclusive fraternity, those already enshrined often have the opportunity to reflect on what these days mean to them and the sport’s royalty.
The highlight of the weekend comes Sunday afternoon with the induction of the Class of 2013 – umpire Hank O’Day, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and catcher/third baseman Deacon White. Scheduled to attend the ceremony of the trio of deceased legends are 34 of the 62 living Hall of Famers.
Sitting and chatting in the lobby of The Otesaga Resort Hotel early Thursday afternoon were two of the returning Hall of Famers – catcher Johnny Bench and pitcher Gaylord Perry. The contemporaries once battled on the diamond but today were catching up on old times.
“There’s nothing like the drive along the lake just to get here. That’s where it all starts. It begins with the fact that you finally see the lake,” said Bench. “And then it’s who are you going to see in the lobby.
“There’s nothing like sitting out on the porch, making sure you see all of your old friends and the people that are back. It’s a reunion of ours that I just think is the best that I never want to miss.”
Perry concurred, adding that it’s always great to be back.
“I only get to see some of these guys once a year and it’s good to catch up on how they’re doing and how their families are doing. It’s a great four days here.
“I’ve been back almost every year since my own induction and it’s something I look forward to. They tell you far enough ahead of time so you won’t get anything else scheduled. It’s very rewarding to come back.”
Recalling his own induction ceremony in 1991, Perry said, “I remember looking behind me and there was Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, so I remember thinking, ‘Man, I must have done something right because that’s a special group I’m with.’”
When asked about his big day in 1989, Bench immediately talked of the excitement it brought his father.
“Everybody in town met him before the Induction Ceremony even started,” Bench joked. “That was the most special thing about it was his love of the game that he infused in me that brought me to where I was. And here he was sitting there, the proudest person in the world, and I couldn’t have given him a better present.
“I still have the picture of Pee Wee Reese leaning over my shoulder after my speech and telling me how good it was. And here I am with Ted Williams and everyone and they said, ‘You know what? You belong.’ And that was the highest compliment, was those people doing what they did. There’s nothing like it … there really isn’t. And we try and make it as special as we can for our new inductees.”
According to Bench, the only sadness from the weekend comes from wanting to see recently deceased Hall of Famers like Harmon Killebrew, Robin Roberts, Duke Snider, Earl Weaver, Stan Musial and Sparky Anderson walk through the door again.
“There’s always the good and the bad,” Bench said, “and we reach a point in our lives where, unfortunately, I guess we’ve got to get younger friends because life goes too fast.”
Thought this year’s three inductees are deceased, Bench said, “I’m just happy that we’ve got a commitment from so many guys that are coming in and supporting the Hall of Fame.
“And of course you don’t want to miss Saturday with these guys who are honored from the media – the writers and the broadcasters. They deserve their day. And it would be wrong not to be here to represent our feelings towards them because their accomplishments have been fantastic. And they played a part in our life. A lot of them have covered us and they are friends of ours.
“And I really like the Parade of Legends. I think for a lot of people it means a whole lot. This might be a great year to come just because there may not be as many people and they may be able to enjoy themselves and see more than they would have seen in the past.”
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum