On the first floor of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY there is a large room with hundreds of plaques mounted to the walls. On each plaque is a singular, outstanding individual whose contribution to the game of baseball was noteworthy enough to be voted, by at least a 75% margin or by a veterans committee or other designated committee, as one of the greatest of all time. Players, managers, organizational persons must meet strict Hall of Fame guidelines to be eligible. Every year, the Baseball Hall of Fame announces its newest class to be enshrined and a ceremony takes place sometime in the summer months. Recent Hall of Fame members include Derek Jeter, Ted Simmons, Larry Walker, and Marvin Miller. Here are a few plaques that caught my eye as I stepped from column to column, section by section, decade by decade on the first floor of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Providence Greys Outfielder and Catcher Jim O’Rourke
Cranston, RI’s Hugh Duffy – although some articles online suggest his hometown was closer to West Warwick’s Riverpoint area.
The greatest player to come out of Rhode Island and arguably one of the greatest hitters of all time – Woonsocket’s Nap Lajoie.
Charles Hartnett, aka “Gabby,” aka “Old Tomato Face,” Chicago Cubs All Star Catcher from Woonsocket, RI.
Yaz was my baseball hero growing up and of course I had to stop and read up on the LF from the Boston Red Sox. 23 seasons in Boston, took over for some player nicknamed the Splendid Splinter?
Oh yeah, this is the guy Yaz took over LF at Fenway from. Ted Williams was a larger than life figure in his playing days and remains a larger than life figure in the years since he has passed. Note the military service plaque below his HOF plaque.
Jackie Robinson was 28 years old when he made his historic Major League Debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Imagine the career numbers and the even more incredible feats Jackie Robinson could have earned had he been given the chance others had at an earlier age? Again, note the military plaque underneath his illustrious career stats.
He fielded every ground ball, got a single to right field in a close game, stole third when his team needed one run, and seemingly was always in the right place at the right time on the field. Derek Jeter frustrated Red Sox fans for years because he was so DANG Good!!!
Pedro Martinez, all 5’11 and 170 lbs, could strike you out with a blazing fastball or sharp breaking ball or disappearing changeup. Or buzz your nose to move you off the plate, then strike you out with a curveball away. Pedro was a master at changing speeds and locations and was a joy to watch on the mound.
Ken Griffey, Jr made is Major League debut at 19 years old while I was in high school. Which meant he was just about 2 years older then me when he was a rookie, playing center field for the Seattle Mariners. I followed his home run swing and his grace in the outfield for 22 years.
In a previous blog, I noted that, in my opinion, Greg Maddux is the greatest pitcher of all time. He used a variety of pitches to control each at bat. He fielded his position with HOF proficiency. Each time he took the mound, Maddux did his job – get 3 outs. Greg Maddux was must see TV when he was pitching.
I loved the Babe Ruth exhibit (2nd Floor) at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The man, the legend, the Sultan of Swat, The Babe – his place in baseball history has few rivals.
By far, the most impressive set of exhibits were the Henry Aaron pieces at the Hall of Fame. Henry Aaron’s Braves just won the World Series and somewhere upstairs Hank is smiling from ear to ear. What an incredible man, player, mentor, and human being – Henry Aaron.
Rube Foster was a player, manager, executive, and some would say the most influential historical figure in the Negro Leagues. Foster was one of the best pitchers of his era and later went on to manage and organize professional teams in Chicago. Foster is credited with forming the first long lasting professional league for African American baseball players.
True story – when I was a teenager I asked my mother if I could change my name to Nolan Ryan Roby. She laughed and handed me a mop to clean the kitchen floors. Nolan Ryan was a hero of mine growing up and dominated hitters for close to 3 decades. A power pitcher without peer, even to this day.
Like the exhibits upstairs, I could have photographed the entire room, plaque by plaque. Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Tom Seaver, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Buck Leonard, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, Jim Rice, Jim Palmer – the names go on and on. If you were lucky enough to have one of their playing cards, you already know their stats. If you were lucky enough to watch them live or on TV or hear a game on the radio, you already know their greatness. And then there is the great debates…
Who belongs in the Hall of Fame? What constitutes a Hall of Fame career? This player hit 50 home runs one year and 15 the next. This pitcher struck out 250 batters for 2 seasons and then went on the DL for a year and a half. This batter hit .300 for 5 seasons but never over .275 for 10 seasons thereafter. If this player played in the dead ball era, he would have hit .200. If this player played in the game today, he would hit 85 home runs a season. How many wins, home runs, hits, RBI’s do you need to earn enough votes to be enshrined in Cooperstown? What about the steroid era players, do they belong in the Hall of Fame? What about the managers of teams found to have cheated and won World Series titles? What about Pete Rose and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, will they ever find a place on the first floor walls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame? The great debates – I love them!!!
The plaque room at the National Baseball Hall of Fame is a baseball geek/fan’s dream. Were you the one in your group that knew how many doubles Jim Rice hit in 1978 or how many strikeouts Nolan Ryan needed to break Walter Johnson’s all time record or how many hits Roberto Clemente had in his career? The plaque room has player profiles and career stats from Hank Aaron to Robin Yount, managers from Walter Alston to Casey Stengel, and executives from Happy Chandler to Branch Rickey. I loved the military distinction for Hall of Fame players who served their country, cutting short their playing careers to fight for the USA. For the baseball fan, like myself, you could spend an entire day immersed in the plaque room reading up on your favorite players and learning something about others who made substantial impacts on the game of baseball.
For more information on the National Baseball Hall of Fame, including exhibits, visitor guides, tour opportunities, and more go to www.baseballhall.org. Big thanks to Scot Mondore and his Hall of Fame staff for being so welcoming to me and helping me find just what I was looking for. It was a great visit to the Village of Cooperstown, NY and I can’t wait to return in 2022!