Every visit to Cooperstown has its special moment

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Jim Henneman

Every trip to Cooperstown, N.Y. – home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – comes with its own guarantee: An experience that will last a lifetime.

No matter how many visits one makes, each leaves its own special niche in the memory bank, one that remains forever vivid.

But no matter how many trips, there will always be one that stands out. That’s just the way it is – there’s always a No. 1. It might be the first time, or the last, or a special one in between, which it was for me.

It took place in 1985, the year the Museum unveiled the statue of Ted Williams sculpted by Armand LaMontagne. By happenstance I was in a party of three privileged to be a private audience in a discussion about all things baseball, hitting and – by the way – a perceived mistake with the statue.

Ted’s son John Henry, then a teenager, had accompanied his dad to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend that year and went on a tour of the building with some members of the staff. Meanwhile, to avoid the throng in the building, Ted was sequestered in the office of Bill Guilfoile, the Hall’s Director of Communications.

To this day I’m not sure why, but when Williams was ushered into the office, I was there visiting with Guilfoile, along with John Steadman, who had given me my first job with the Baltimore News American.

Just the four of us. No tape recorders, no notebooks, just chit-chat – mostly, of course, about hitting. We guessed later it was probably an hour, maybe more. When it was over, it seemed like nine minutes.

I really only had one question for Ted that day (turned out there weren’t many needed) and it had to do with the statue, which clearly showed space between his bottom hand and the knob on the bat.

Ted Williams, a choke-up hitter? I found that hard to believe and asked if it was a mistake. I should have known better.

“OH, NO. NO….NO...NO,” Ted replied in a voice that demanded capital letters whenever he was passionate about something, which was often. “Depending on who was pitching,” he said, toning it down to a teaching lesson while raising his arms and assuming a batting stance, but without a bat, “I was always one-quarter of an inch to one-half-inch up on the bat.”

I’m guessing Bob Feller was a half-inch guy, but Eddie Lopat got only a quarter-of-an-inch.

As amazed as I was to hear that, I was hardly surprised at what Ted said next. It turned out that the sculptor had also made the same assumption I had in his preliminary work. “He had my hands on the end of the bat,” he said, “and I made him change it.”

Ted talked a lot about hitting that day. He even talked about the necessity of a slight uppercut, what they call a launch angle today.

It happened by accident. It was mesmerizing. It was unforgettable.

Just imagine…Ted Williams admitting he choked up on the bat. That’s my personal favorite Cooperstown memory.

At least for now.

Jim Henneman has covered major league baseball for more than 50 years

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series