A Few Hours in Cooperstown

A big part of our recent road trip vacation took us through central New York. Over a period of two days, we drove from Albany, where we visited friends, to Niagara Falls. On the way, we stopped in several places, the first of which was Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I’d been to the Hall on three previous occasions, twice as kid, and once, 15 years ago with my brother. As not just a baseball fan, but an aficionado of the history of the game, it is a great place to visit.

My family humored me on this stop. I’m not sure any of them were excited to visit the Hall of Fame.

From Albany, we tried to stay off the interstate highways, sticking to the blue highways, and driving through some beautiful farm country. It always amazes me how quickly the urban turns into the rural. There were long stretches of two lane highway where we didn’t see another vehicle in either direction. Occasionally, we were slowed down by a truck, but this was good because it forced me to slow my pace and get a better look at the country we passed through.

We arrived in Cooperstown around 11 am and after failing in our first attempt to find parking, we realized that there are parking lots on the outskirts of the town from which a trolley will take you in. We are all walkers and the free lot we parked in (the Red Lot) was only half a mile from the Hall of Fame, so rather than wait for the trolley, we walked. Currently, the Hall of Fame has timed entrances and our tickets were for 11:30 am. I figured a Monday was a good day to visit since I couldn’t imagine it would be crowded. It never had been on my previous visits. But I was wrong. The place was packed. I mean really packed.

The Hall of Fame has a scavenger hunt game for kids and so I felt like I spent much of my time helping our youngest daughter find the things she needed to complete her scavenger hunt. I tried to focus on the displays when I could, but there were so many people there, it was difficult. I felt rushed. I was also disappointed that my favorite exhibit no longer exists: this was a wall that contained baseballs from every no-hitter (and perfect game) ever thrown. I asked a museum staff member about it and he told me that they occasionally change exhibits to keep things fresh. I was sorry to see that one go.

The Littlest Miss really seemed to get into the exhibits. She was particularly taken with displays of prizes: medals, silver bats, bronzed baseballs. She also enjoyed the old baseball gloves and catchers mitts.

Throughout the museum, touchscreens were setup to poll visitors on various questions. Two stand out in my mind. The first had to do with the way the game was changing and if those changes were good or not. My response to the poll indicated that I was a “baseball purist,” which no doubt I am. Interestingly, the same was true of more than 70% of the visitors to the Hall of Fame. A second poll asked about gambling in baseball and PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs, e.g. steroids). A final question asked whether the all-time hit king, Pete Rose, deserved to be in the Hall of Fame (he was banned for life from baseball because he gambled while he was as player/manager). I think it is time he should be let into the Hall, and I said so on the poll. 79% of Hall of Fame visitors agreed with me:

results of a hall of fame poll

This is a good example of a selection bias. It seems to me that (a) people who take the time and money to visit the Hall of Fame are real fans of the game and more likely to be baseball purists than the general population; and (b) they also probably know more about the history of the game, how the game was tainted by the Black Sox scandal and steroids. Many probably came to the same conclusions that I did about Pete Rose. Comparing these poll results to similar polls of the general population would probably look a bit different.

The actually Hall for which the Hall of Fame is named is a place of reverence for baseball fans, and I looked forward to wandering its quiet spaces, reading the plaques. But even the Hall was crowded and noisy. Still, I managed to see where Derek Jeter’s plaque would be installed in about a month. Still, I found a few of the plaques I was interested in looking at, and I made due with those.

This was the first time I’d been back to the Hall of Fame since I’d written a story that took place there. It was also the first time I’d been back since reading dozens of books on the history of the game. I was looking forward to browsing the library, but it was closed to the public on the day we were there. I did manage to get myself a new hat and t-shirt from the Hall of Fame gift shop, however.

I knew that the family was humoring me for this particular stop, and I didn’t want to keep them there longer than necessary, so we left the Hall after two hours. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day in Cooperstown, and we spent some time wandering the streets, dipping into and out of various shops. The small town is like many tourist towns, with one twist: most of the shops are geared toward baseball.

looking north from the shore of Otsego lake.

I bought the only book I purchased on this road trip in a shop called Willis Monie Books. What an amazing shop. They had narrow aisles just packed to the gills with used books. I could have spent hours in there. They even had a wall of baseball books, and I could have spent an hour just browsing those titles. Rushed, as I felt, I picked out just one book, The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House by H. R. Haldeman. It was the “diaries” that attracted me to that one. It would be worth a trip back to Cooperstown just to spend a day browsing the shelves in that store.

We had ice cream, did a little more window shopping, and then departed for Auburn, New York, which is where we were staying that night. I’m glad we got to go to the Hall of Fame. I just wish it wasn’t as crowded as it was.

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