Modern baseball was supposedly invented in Cooperstown, New York, a small hamlet on the Otsego River, which once a year draws fans from all over the world to bask in the tranquility of tradition and honor those from the game’s recent and distant past. Today, at long last, it will embrace a large number of different eras and fan bases with the induction of seven players covering more than a century of history and disparate generations.
The diversity of this year’s crop is particularly noteworthy. David Ortiz, the hero of three Boston Red Sox world champions, is arguably the Derek Jeter of his time, and to many passionate Sox fans therefore the most transformational Red Sox player of all time. Those that believe that tend to be younger and less believing of the fact that Ortiz, though never convicted, was arguably impacted by steroid use. The fact that he has been elected in spite of that may now at least rekindle the debate about Roger Clemens or even Barry Bonds finding their way in. That said, none of them had the track record of clutch hits and leadership than did Big Papi.
Cuban-Americans can be proud of both Minnie Minoso and Tony Oliva, stars of the mid-20th century for teams who rarely beat the Yankees but at least had some World Series success. The Twins of the Metropolitan Stadium era will also be represented by Jim “Kitty” Kaat, a durable starter who ultimately played a quarter-century and won 283 games over four different decades. While Minoso has passed, Oliva and Kaat, both in their 80s, are still around to hear their acclaim. There’s something truly special about folks who have waited a long lifetime for this honor to finally get their due.
Negro League afficianados will be overjoyed to see Buck O’Neil, who came to prominence as the de facto narrator of that era for the brilliant Ken Burns PBS documentary “Baseball” get his due, along with 19th century racial barrier breaker Bud Fowler. Not only was O’Neil the first African-American to coach in the major leagues, as one of the mid-60s Chicago Cubs “College of Coaches”–where several different coaches took turns as manager–O’Neil technically beat Frank Robinson to the title of major league baseball’s first black who led a team during a regular season game. O’Neil didn’t live long enough to see this day, but he did live 95 productive years and, thanks to the documentary, is as familiar to today’s fans as he was to the fans who saw him compete before World War II.
Tim Kurkijan, the brilliant and self-depricating Baltimore reporter and ESPN personality, was honored yesterday as a media entrant. I enjoy his writing and his passion, not to mention the joy he brings to every game he covers.
And, of course, Gil Hodges. 50 years after his untimely death, he will finally get his immortilization, with his children on hand and his widow, well into her 90s, watching with joy. Mets and Dodgers fans will be weeping along with her. I wrote back in December about this, and I stand by what I penned then. See the link below.
It’s a great day to reminisce. And a day to savor what it’s like to a lifelong fan. Enjoy.