Some years ago, my parents relocated from the New York area to Tampa, as those over 65 are wont to do. Fortunately for my Yankee-loving family, the move allows them to see plenty of their Yankees every spring, as well as several times a year at Tropicana Field. Last September, in fact, I flew to Florida for one particular Yankees’ series which happened to coincide with my father’s 70th birthday (My mom and I threw him a surprise birthday party in a luxury suite, and the Yankees also scored like 20 runs in the first two innings. It was a great party.). This September, though, my parents came the other direction, visiting friends and family throughout New Jersey and Massachusetts with an eye toward driving to Cooperstown.
My mother actually grew up about fifteen miles from Cooperstown, in a small town called Laurens. She had visited the Hall of Fame as a kid, and had come once with my younger brother around 1990. But even though I’ve been to Cooperstown twice, I’d never made it inside the museum, and my dad had never been at all. So they picked me up in Boston on a Wednesday afternoon and we headed for upstate New York.
We arrived around 6 pm, to a cheery lakeside resort called Belvedere Lake, which meant we had just enough time to settle into our two-bedroom cabin and then get back in the car for the 12 mile trip to Cooperstown. I knew from previous visits to the village that if we walked into the Doubleday CafÅ½ on Main Street at 7 o’clock, there would be food and a television showing the Yankee game.
Actually, all three TVs were showing ESPN when we walked in, but the staff cheerfully changed one to YES, and we sat down to enjoy the game and eat. We had absolutely delicious fresh whole trout, with extremely sweet fresh corn on the cob. Even Cory Lidle’s crummy first inning couldn’t ruin a meal like that, and the fact that he then got his act together and pitched well, and the Yankees hit well, and then Brian Bruney and Scott Proctor… yeah, oh, and did I mention they were playing the Devil Rays again? They won. We ate an absolutely delicious walnut pie (it’s like pecan pie, only with walnuts), and sat at the bar sipping tea, and enjoying the Yankees beating the Devil Rays. I don’t even remember the final score. (My father says it was 8-4, but I have no way to check. I’m typing this in the cabin right now, which has no Internet or phone. Even my cell phone doesn’t work here.)
In the morning we intended to get up early and hit the museum first thing. But it is so quiet and peaceful on Belvedere Lake, and it was so gloomy with rain, that even my pathologically early-rising mother slept until 9:30 in the morning. We finally hit the road about an hour later, and succeeded in tuning in Fox Sports Radio, though the scoreboard report I heard mysteriously omitted the results of the Red Sox game. We ended up returning to the Doubleday CafÅ½ at five minutes before 11am, just in time to get breakfast. We watched ESPN while we ate, awwed in sympathy over Francisco Liriano (done for the season with his elbow tweak), mused about Derek Jeter’s hitting streak (now at 22 games, though he’s still a scoche behind Joe Mauer in the batting race), and watched the previous night’s highlights. Somehow, though, we missed the results of the Boston-Baltimore game again.
We then spent the next five hours at the Hall of Fame. They sell a combination ticket, that includes the Hall of Fame and the other two museums in Cooperstown, the Farmer’s Museum and the James Fenimore Cooper Museum. Thank goodness we didn’t buy it–we never would have had time to see the other places, and as it was, we could have spent longer at the Hall of Fame except we were tired and hungry.
Describing many of the pieces in the Hall of Fame as “memorabilia” is like describing New York City as a municipality. I am not impressed easily. I’ve seen a lot of the historic places of baseball, and a lot of autographed jerseys and game-used balls and things. But nothing compares to artifacts like the actual ball that Jack Chesbro threw wildly in 1904, in the second to last game of the season, to throw away the pennant.
If you don’t know this story, it’s one of the first and best Yankees-Red Sox stories. (Or worst, depending on how you look at it.) Of course, back then, they were the Boston Americans and the New York Highlanders, but the rivalry had already started. In 1904, Chesbro had an unbelievable year, the likes which will never been seen in modern baseball. He pitched two or three times a week–started 51 games, appeared in 4 others, and finished with a 41-12 record. He pitched 48 complete games that year, racking up a total of 454 2/3 innings. Think of Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Sandy Koufax–Chesbro is the only one of them in the Hall of Fame who had a season like that.
But on the season’s final day, the Bostons played a doubleheader in New York, and needed to win only one of the two games to clinch the pennant. In the bottom of the eighth, with the score tied at 2-2. and the go-ahead run for Boston perched on third and two out, Chesbro threw a spitball so wide of the plate that newspaper accounts differed on whether it was high, low, wide, or what–it was so far away from where it should have been that the run scored easily. The Yankees were unable to muster an answer, and the pennant belonged to Boston.
There it was, in a glass case, it’s bi-colored stitches precise and vivid against the ball’s parchment-colored skin. The ball that Chesbro threw. The cursed ball, that his wife lobbied be changed from a wild pitch to a passed ball to the end of her days. It looked so innocuous there, and yet, that was the ball that had eluded the eyes of the press writers and the glove of Red Kleinow that hit the backstop and allowed Lou Criger to score from third. I felt as though I were looking at a bullet from the Kennedy assassination.
There is, of course, lots of stuff for Yankees fans at the museum. I was interested to see that there was a brisk and lively crowd at the museum and in Cooperstown today. It’s mid-September, you’d think that tourist season would be over, yet business on Main Street seemed busy and we had to look for a parking space. In the museum, I could not help but notice the preponderance of NY logos on customers, but then again, we ARE in New York state.
Babe Ruth gets his own room. There were several display cases of all Yankee artifacts, but only Ruth rated his own display room, with a video documentary, and lots of objects.
I was quite tickled and pleased to see the large section on Women In Baseball, and of course the fact that a “jersey” (actually a T-shirt) from the Pawtucket Slaterettes, the all female-baseball league I play in, is included in the artifacts! I don’t remember the text of the display exactly, but it did note that the Slaterettes are the oldest all-girl’s league in the USA.
Probably the other display that really knocked my socks off was the huge case that showed all the World Series rings in it. Man, the one that the Marlins made in 2003 is so huge, it dwarfs all the others in the case. Of all the Yankee ones we saw, my mother and I agree that the 1996 one is the most tasteful.
I never realized that the actual bronze plaques for the HOF inductees were as small as they are. I guess I figured they were the same size as the ones in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium, but they are actually much smaller than that. The hall where they are now displayed is bright and cathedral-like with a high ceiling and natural light. My mother noticed that the only guy who is wearing glasses in his bronze reproduction is Reggie Jackson.
After a quick stop in Augur’s Bookstore, we had lunch at 4pm in the bar at the T____ Inn. Really, it was dinner, which they started serving at four, and we got to watch Mike & the Mad Dog on YES while we ate. Did I mention that this is a really Yankee-obsessed family? We caught their check-in with Joe Torre, who informed us that he was pushing Chien-Ming Wang’s start to tomorrow because of the rain, and also shuffling the lineup.
We also learned that the magic number was 7. In other words, Baltimore must have beat Boston the night before. We did the math. That meant that if we won tonight, and then beat Boston the next three games, we could clinch. I have tickets to both games on Saturday, and if they clinched on Saturday night, that would just be too cool.
We then took a scenic drive to Laurens to see the house where my mother grew up and other landmarks from her childhood, and then it was back to–where else?–the Doubleday CafÅ½, for our third meal there in 24 hours, to watch the Yankees and Devil Rays again.
Jeff Karstens seemed a bit out of sorts on the mound, but really he pitched well if you don’t count Rocco Baldelli’s two homers and a triple. Meanwhile, the fill-ins like Kevin Thompson really came through, and though the Yankees were down 4-1 when the rain was pouring hardest, they came back to tie it, and then thanks to great relief pitching by Darrell Rasner, who held them to four runs, and a clutch hit by A-rod, the Yankees won it 7-4. We heard the final few outs in the car on our way back to Belvedere Lake, as well as the news that Boston had lost again to the Orioles.
The magic number is now at 5, and oh, I would so love it if the Yankees would win the next three in a row against Boston to clinch while I am at the Stadium. But really, I’ve just had three solid days of excellent baseball indulgence, so perhaps that’s too much to ask for. But that won’t stop me from hoping.
P.S. In a strange aside, I spoke to corwin tonight as the game was ending. He went into one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in Boston with a friend, and they gave him my lost black-on-black Yankee hat! The one that I decided was a jinx, since the night I lost it was the night before the five game sweep of Boston? Yeah, that one. Now I’m conflicted as to whether I can wear it again or not. I think I had best retire that one. It occurs to me that the place to buy a new hat was probably Cooperstown but… oh well. Perhaps we’ll do a little shopping tomorrow before we leave the area.
P.P.S. Update as of mid-day Saturday. Last night’s game was rained out, and they lost the afternoon contest. It’s the hat. I’m sure of it. If they lose the nightcap, I may have to burn it when I get home.