Induction Eve brings smiles to everyone in Cooperstown

Written by: Bill Francis

Goose Gossage experienced everything baseball had to offer during his 22-year big league playing career.

But more than 25 years after his final game, there’s still nothing that compares to Cooperstown.

“We've missed it, but we're getting our Hall of Fame fix and Cooperstown fix today,” said Gossage, the longtime closer and member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2008. “It was great seeing some of the guys came in last night. I came in early on Monday, and Monday night had dinner with some of the guys and reminisced. And then today a bunch more guys come in. It's great being back.”

It’s down to a mere few hours now, the time when a quartet of the National Pastime’s greatest receive the ultimate career-topping honor: induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame with a with its corresponding bronze plaque signifying their eternal status.

With the 2020 Induction Ceremony canceled due to the pandemic, the Hall of Fame Class of 2020 – Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller – will be inducted at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 8, on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.

The 2021 Induction Ceremony – coming 780 days after the last induction, on July 21, 2019 – will increase the total number of overall inductees to 333.

Jeter, Simmons and Walker will be speaking on a stage with 31 returning Hall of Famers behind them, thousands of baseball fans in front of them and MLB Network and broadcasting the event live to a national audience. Speaking about Miller, the longtime union leader who passed away at the age of 95 on Nov. 27, 2012, will be former Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Don Fehr.

The election of Jeter and Walker were by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in January of 2020, while with the election of Miller and Simmons were by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December 2019.

As anticipation grew, the quaint village of Cooperstown, which has been hosting inductions since 1939, prepared for its latest ever on the calendar, topping the previous ceremony held on Aug. 18, 1975.

Since April 2020, 10 Hall of Famers have passed away, the legendary names include Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Tommy Lasorda, Don Sutton and Hank Aaron.

“The guys that we lost, they just don't get any better than that, from Henry Aaron on down,” Gossage said. “You think these guys are invincible and they're bulletproof, but none of us are. It puts everything, really, in perspective pretty quickly.”

Pitcher John Smoltz, Class of 2015, had a similar perspective about the devastating loss from the Hall of Fame fraternity.

“It's been a rough period for everybody,” Smoltz said. “Anyone who has perished during this time it’s certainly heartbreaking, but the ones that are near and dear, of course, to Cooperstown and this Hall of Fame, it’s going to be a going to be a sad reunion knowing who we lost.”

Despite the sorrow of loss that is inherent after 2020, Smoltz was still thrilled to return for this annual reunion in upstate New York.

“I'm glad we're having it,” he said. “I wish it was under normal circumstances because this place would be absolutely going crazy after a year of not having it. I'm sure it weighed heavily on a lot of people's mind that made the decision, but to be back is still at least the next best thing other than being totally normal.

“This is just one of the coolest places in the world. Lord willing, I can make it every year I can.”

Closer Rollie Fingers, with his famous handlebar moustache still intact, said 2020 was the first year he hadn’t been to Cooperstown for an induction since his Hall of Fame election in 1992.

“It's nice to be back and see the guys,” Fingers said. “Losing the 10 members over the last 18 months wasn't a very good thing to happen. Some of those guys were still pretty young. It was a shame to see all of them go. That’s why it’s so great to be back with the living guys. It's nice to see so many of them came back even with this pandemic.

“I enjoy it every year. It doesn't get any better than this. This is some hallowed ground here, for sure.”

Even non-Hall of Famers like Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the quirky lefty who starred with the Red Sox in the 1970s, could be found on Main Street entertaining fans on Tuesday.

“Magical things happen here. It's a magical place. You come here and you just don't know what's going to happen,” Lee said with an ear-to-ear grin. “Even my aunt, Annabelle Lee, who played in the All-American Girls Baseball League, donated her Peoria Redwings uniform to the Hall of Fame.

“Cooperstown is legend and its mythology. Abner Doubleday, I'm talking to you.”

Sportswriter Jon Paul Morosi, who is in Cooperstown broadcasting for MLB Network, called it an honor anytime he’s visited.

“I grew up in a small town in Michigan, so when I come to this beautiful village it strikes me as a bit of home. And then the history of the game just gets into your soul. You're revived in your love of baseball,” Morosi said. “I love going to major league games, I love big cities, but then when you come to the smaller places like Dyersville, I was there in August, I was in Williamsport, and now I'm in Cooperstown, and when we go to these towns where the game is such a part of the fabric of what these cities and villages and towns represent it gets to the soul of the game for me.

“Actually, I was in university in the Boston area and I covered a lot of college hockey. So whenever I would cover a game at Colgate (University) in Hamilton, I would always drive through Cooperstown. I would always say that the only time that you would ever see Cooperstown is on the way from somewhere to some other place, it's when you're driving from either Albany or Boston to Hamilton. I plan to bring my entire family whenever Lou Whitaker gets in, because that's going happen eventually, I can promise you that.”

Morosi also commented on the four legends being inducted Wednesday, saying “they're all important for different reasons.”

“Derek Jeter, you could argue, is one of the greatest winners in the history of the game. You played 20 years for the Yankees and you win the five World Series in a very competitive era, and you play, fewer than a half dozen games in your entire career when your team has been eliminated. Think about that. Really, there are so few players, if any players in the game today, whom you would describe as being Jeter-like. He is such a singular player in the game's history,” Morosi said. “As for Larry Walker, I lived very close to Canada, and so I have a greater appreciation for Canadian baseball history, so to see the first Canadian position player inducted, and second overall joining Ferguson Jenkins, is special.

“Ted Simmons, from my home state of Michigan, is a great ambassador for the game. He’s incredibly engaging on numerous topics and just adds such a thoughtful voice and presence to the Hall of Fame,” Morosi added. “Then, of course, Marvin Miller, you look at the game as it is today and so many of the commentaries I think are true, that he's been one of the most impactful people in the history of the game.

“To me the Hall of Fame is growing richer this week with four incredible inductees. It's an important part of being able to tell the story of the Hall through the inductions of these incredible people.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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