The magic of Induction Weekend endures in times of change
John Steinbeck published "The Grapes of Wrath" on April 14, 1939. Change – as written in this opening of Chapter 14 – was a central theme in Steinbeck’s novel, focusing on western migration and the growth of the western states, and the story of the Joads, their pursuit of change and the hope that spurred them on, resonated with readers the world over.
A lot has, of course, changed since the end of the 1940s, both in baseball and around the world. Wars have been fought, lives lost, countries changed. Thirteen men have served as President of the United States, and nine others have presided over the game as the Commissioner of Baseball.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is the magic of Hall of Fame Weekend itself: A weekend that has come to be treasured by generations of fans, writers and Hall of Famers alike.
“I come up here every year...and it’s an honor and a pleasure to return... [Cooperstown] is the greatest little town in the world, I think,” said Phil Niekro. True to his word, the Hall of Famer and current member of the Board of Directors has been on stage for all but three Induction Ceremonies since his own in 1997.
“If you come once, you want to come every year,” explains Jack O’Connell, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and a longtime sportswriter covering the New York Yankees and Mets.
Since 1994, O’Connell has been the voice at the other end of the phone when Hall of Famers receive their call to Cooperstown, which meant that Hall of Fame Weekend 1995 was his first opportunity to experience the pageantry.
“I’d been to the Hall only twice before, in the winter and in early spring, so I’d never experienced it in that big month of July. It was really eye opening,” O’Connell said.
“I would’ve loved to have had mine out on the stage, but nothing was going to rain on my parade...It’s more about what it is than where it was. It was more about being inducted with these other legends of the game, rather than where they were inducting me.”
The Reds legend and Vice Chairman of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors is already looking ahead to next year’s ceremony.
“I’m looking forward to having the Class of 2020 get fully inducted,” Morgan said. “They’re all Hall of Famers, but until you walk up on that stage there’s just something missing. And that will complete their journeys, when they get up there.
“You’re going back to where the game started. You’re going back to a small town that reminds you of those small communities where the game began, and it hasn’t changed over the years. It’s still an old-fashioned baseball town, an old-fashioned community.”
2020 has been a year of immense, unprecedented change but, as Steinbeck wrote 81 years ago, we keep reaching forward, stumbling ever-onward in our quest for hope. Hall of Fame Weekend may have been postponed, but the game itself – its history, its stories, its characters – and the magic of Cooperstown memories, remain sources of solace and light as they have for generations.
“I believe it will come back strong,” Kernan said. “I think it’s going to become a more special place, if that’s possible.”
This story first appeared in the Hall of Fame's official magazine, Memories and Dreams, in 2020
Isabelle Minasian is the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum