Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Back to the Hall of Fame

Continuing my discussion of the Hall of Fame, which inducts Goose Gossage and a bunch of old-timers later this month, I want to talk about Cooperstown, the small town in New York in which the Hall of Fame sits.

Cooperstown is supposedly the place where Abner Doubleday invented the game in 1839. We know now that the Doubleday Myth is a lie, but that shouldn’t detract from a fan’s appreciation of Cooperstown as a tourist attraction.

The place is named after its most famous resident, James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans. The story of how Cooperstown got the Hall of Fame is interesting because it illustrates once again (as if such illustration is necessary anymore) how the simple desire for money can affect history.

The idea belonged to a man named Alexander Cleland, who worked for a nonprofit foundation established by the heirs to the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Cooperstown had long been a resort community, but it, like the rest of the world, was hit hard by the Great Depression. Cleland suggested to the Clark Foundation, whose namesake lived in the town, that a museum based on baseball history would be a great way to attract tourists and spice up the local economy.

As author Bill James points out in his book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, Cleland projected that such an establishment could draw “hundreds of visitors a year.”

He was only off by a factor of a thousand.

With the backing of major league baseball and some money from the Clark Foundation, the Hall of Fame opened in 1939, steadily gaining in popularity so that today, 350,000 fans (well, about 300,000 fans and 50,000 bored spouses and children) pass through its gates. Which is no easy task, by the way, because the town is in a remote part of New York—at least four hours from New York City.

The Baseball Hall of Fame website makes it easy to plan your trip. Do it.

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