Hall of Fame Memories - Free Doodles!

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York is a special place. A magical place. If you’ve never been, put it on your list. I guarantee you’ll have memories that will last a lifetime.

As Hall of Fame Weekend is underway, featuring the induction of Barry Larkin and Ron Santo, I’ve been recalling some of the great memories of Cooperstown.

The first time I visited the mystical town in central New York was during a frigid March in the early 1990’s, when my father and I camped out on the front steps of the Hall of Fame to get tickets for that year’s Hall of Fame game. Tickets were hard to come by, and we were second in line right in front of the main doors to the Hall. We had sleeping bags, folding chairs, coats and blankets to brave the temperatures in the teens. We took turns sitting in the heated car parked up the street, and I also recall an extremely drunken local named Doodles. He came wandering down near the line of fans and was soon arrested for public intoxication. A while later, in the middle of the brutally cold night, a few of his drunken friends came by and began chanting, “Free Doodles! Free Doodles!” This was my first memory of Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

The next morning, after purchasing our tickets, we took a casual stroll through the Hall of Fame. On this March day, the Hall was virtually empty and it seemed like a private tour.

I have returned to Cooperstown a handful of times since that day, first as a fan and then as a broadcaster. While in high school, I corralled a couple friends and drove up during Reggie Jackson’s induction weekend. I walked the back alleys, gathering (and paying for) autographs from some of the game’s greats – Enos Slaughter, Warren Spahn, etc. I didn’t have much cash, but I spent it all on autographs, trinkets and baseball knickknacks.

In 1994, I joined the Hudson Valley Renegades for the team’s day trip to Cooperstown while playing a night game in nearby Oneonta.

“Are you coming with us to the Hall of Fame?” team manager Doug Sisson asked me that morning.

“If I can.” I replied. I was an 18 year old, unpaid broadcaster helping out the team’s full-time voice.

“Of course you can,” he said defiantly. “You’re part of this team!”

That day I stood in the Hall watching Reid Ryan, who was observing a throng of fans who were marveling at a display honoring his father, Nolan. Stephen Larkin, Barry’s younger brother, was also touring the Hall with us that day. As was current Miami Marlins General Manager Michael Hill, then a player.

A few years later, I returned to the Hall of Fame with another Renegades team, and had a chance to see yet another set of displays. I had a picture taken with Greg Harris, in front of a glass case holding his glove. In 1995 he had become the only pitcher in baseball history to throw with both arms in the same inning. The glove displayed at the Hall of Fame could fit either hand.

1999 was the most recent time I’ve visited the Hall of Fame, this time as the Renegades broadcaster. During my pregame interview before the Renegades contest at Doubleday Field, I asked hitting coach Jose Ortiz if he had ever been in the Hall of Fame.

“Well, I guess I’m in there somehow,” he said. “After being around the game so long, I’m sure I have some connection.”

“No,” I responded. “I meant have you ever actually been inside and walked around.” Yes, he had.

After the Renegades won that game, I sat across the street with one of the team’s pitchers, reminiscing about Cooperstown and the remarkable Hall of Fame. The place has been the source of so many terrific memories for so many baseball fans. As you watch this year’s induction ceremonies, I hope you are making plans to visit Cooperstown as well. As a matter of fact, I think I need to do it again sometime soon.