Class of 1974 brought the Big Apple to Cooperstown
The Yankees Dynasty of the 1950s and 60s had aged and retired, and George Steinbrenner had just begun to assemble the New York champions of the late 1970s.
But in between, Cooperstown hosted a Bronx Bombers celebration.
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On Aug. 12, 1974, the newest members of the Hall of Fame took their bows on the Hall of Fame Library steps on a 97-degree day on the shores of Otsego Lake. Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, the owners of 13 World Series rings over a combined 34 big league seasons, were elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America that year.
They were joined in Cooperstown by Veterans Committee electees Jim Bottomley, Jocko Conlan and Sam Thompson – along with Cool Papa Bell, who was the fifth electee by the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues.
“I thought when my daughter got married three weeks ago I was nervous,” Ford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch three days after Gerald Ford was sworn in as the new United States President. “But I have to say that between Washington and Cooperstown, this has been a pretty good week for the Fords.”
Twenty-five Hall of Famers – including living electees Bell, Conlan, Ford and Mantle – were present for the Induction Ceremony, the second-highest total in history to that point.
Bell and Conlan each spent much of their induction speeches thanking friends and family, but it was Mantle – who was elected in his first year of eligibility at the age of 42 – who received the loudest ovation from a crowd filled with Yankees fans.
The last of the inductees to be introduced, Mantle thanked his mother and his late father, along with former Yankees manager Casey Stengel, who at 84 years old made his final trip to Hall of Fame Weekend to honor his former New York stalwarts.
“I’m just lucky my father and grandfather persuaded me to switch-hit,” Mantle said during an off-the-cuff speech delivered after he tore up three pages of notes, “so Casey couldn’t do to me what he did to the rest of the guys: Platoon ’em.”
Mantle’s modesty, however, belied a career that featured 536 home runs, three American League Most Valuable Player Awards and 20 All-Star Game selections.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, while introducing Mantle to the estimated crowd of 2,500, summed up Mantle best, calling him “Simply one of the greatest players the game has ever known.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum