Legends arrive in Cooperstown to honor the Class of 2023
The Village of Cooperstown with its nearly 2,000 year-round residents will soon increase in size – thanks to a pair of new Hall of Famers but also multiplying with the throngs of baseball-loving fans who want to witness history.
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As the final touches are completed in preparation for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s 2023 Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, the sport’s most esteemed fraternity increases by two with the induction of third baseman Scott Rolen and first baseman Fred McGriff.
In a locale often called the place where your baseball cards come to life, Thursday proved to be the unofficial start of one of the game’s most prestigious annual events. With the bronze plaque unveiling set for Sunday, the lobby of The Otesaga Resort Hotel, looking over picturesque Otsego Lake, was awash with early arrivals, both rookies and veterans.
“It’s my 18th year coming back and wouldn’t miss it for the world. Absolutely,” said Wade Boggs, the third baseman who was inducted in 2005 with five batting titles, a .328 career batting average and 3,010 hits. “I was just having lunch out on the hotel’s veranda and looking at the lake and just so serene and bringing back memories and I can honestly say it never gets old. And I hope it doesn’t because it’s just heaven on earth.
“It’s just so precious. I think back to my day in 2005 we had Stan Musial and Bob Feller and Harmon Killebrew and just a litany of who’s who in baseball. And now I turn around and I’m beginning to be the litany of the older guys. Everybody gets old, and I’m 65, so somebody’s got to be the elder statesman of the class.”
Boggs, like McGriff, was raised in Tampa, Fla.
“He’s our fourth Hall of Famer from Tampa: Al López, myself, Tony La Russa, and then Freddie. The names that come out of Tampa Bay are legendary. It’s a hotbed for baseball, not only any type of organized baseball, but professionally. There are guys that are aren’t in the Hall of Fame that are from Tampa that you know have numbers that are possibly on the precipice of getting in,” Boggs said. “But I was really happy for Freddie. I mean it it’s a long time coming. And we were on the inaugural team in ‘98 for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. So he’s not only a hometown guy that we grew up with, but he was a former teammate. I’m really happy for Freddie.”
Boggs was honored by the Rays earlier this month when he became the second inductee – and first player – added to their newly formed team Hall of Fame. Don Zimmer, who served as a senior adviser, was inducted in April. Outfielder Carl Crawford will be added on Aug. 26.
“I didn’t have a lot of body of work in Tampa, but I was in on the ground floor of something very special and took a lot of pride in that,” Boggs said. “I had 16 years in the big leagues when I went there. And a lot of guys had only a couple days. I always called them the land of the misfits. And that’s what we were, because nobody wanted any of us and we made it happen. We didn’t lose 100 games (they finished 63-99). So I was very proud of that..”
As for Rolen, a fellow third baseman, Boggs admitted to not knowing a lot about him, but “just from what I’ve observed over the years he’s a hard-nosed player, he’s a grinder and played the game the right way. And never was a showman or made it about himself or everything; he was just that blue collar guy and did his own thing.”
According to the tallest member of the Hall of Fame, the 6-foot-10 Randy Johnson, this weekend is always special for him and his family.
“It’s always exciting to come back and obviously interact with Hall of Fame players from different eras,” said The Big Unit. “Today’s just the first day so not a lot of people here yet, but the anticipation that there’ll be quite a few people here. It’s always exciting to come back here.
“I had a brief opportunity to walk with family up Main Street before the craziness and it was a lot of fun. I’m just like a little kid when they come here. I really am.”
And how does a nearly seven-foot-tall Hall of Famer walk on the streets of Cooperstown unrecognized?
“It’s kind of hard to blend in, but I did sign a few autographs. I think the bottom line is just trying to be like them, just see all the shops and take advantage of your opportunity here. I’m no different,” Johnson said.
Johnson, the Class of 2015 Hall of Famer, who plans visiting his Hall of Fame plaque after Saturday night’s parade down Main Street, had memories of his time facing both Rolen and McGriff.
“I actually saw a highlight recently of Scott Rolen hitting a home run off me when he was with St. Louis. And it was his first playoff game (Game 1 of the 2002 NLDS) and it was his first playoff home run off me. So it was a great highlight for him. Not so much for me,” Johnson said. “And I saw Fred McGriff this morning while we were eating and I congratulated him. I haven’t seen Scott yet but I’m sure they’ve both you know, got a busy schedule. This weekend should be a lot of fun for both of them.”
This year, 50 of the 75 living Hall of Famers are scheduled to be in Cooperstown to honor the Class of 2023 at the Induction Ceremony, to be held Sunday, July 23, at 1:30 p.m. at the Clark Sports Center – located one mile south of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The Induction Ceremony will be shown live on MLB Network and MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM.
Induction Weekend officially starts on Friday morning when Turn Two with Ozzie Smith will be held. Smith, the Education Ambassador for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, will welcome fellow Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Larry Walker and Dave Winfield as his guests for this Museum fundraiser as fans get a unique chance to experience on-field moments and stories with Hall of Famers. Turn Two supports the Hall of Fame’s educational programs and internship scholarships.
On Saturday, July 22, the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation will be held at 3 p.m. as a private event – a live simulcast will be shown on a big screen at Doubleday Field. The Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting will be presented to Cubs voice Pat Hughes and John Lowe will be honored with the Baseball Writers’ Association of American Career Excellence Award. Carl Erskine will be honored with the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
Also on Saturday, scheduled to start at 6 p.m., is the 12th edition of Hall of Fame Parade of Legends. Hall of Famers will ride down Main Street in trucks en route to a private reception at the Museum.
On Sunday, July 23, the Induction Ceremony will take place at 1:30 p.m. on the grounds outside of the Clark Sports Center, which is located on lower Susquehanna Avenue.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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