The crisp, green hills of James Fenimore Cooper's leather-stocking country glistened in the morning sun of mid-June 1939. Sleek and contented herds grazed the carpeted meadows. The tree-laden summits surrounding mirror-like Lake Otsego crowned a scene of matchless pastoral beauty ....
The chugging train contained baseball players whose skill and daring had carried a simple game to the pinnacle of popularity and national acclaim ....The train had a veritable army of headline-makers [like] the garrulous Dizzy Dean [and] florid-faced Gabby Hartnett .... A Pullman porter said the man he had just whisk-broomed was Ford Frick, youthful president of the National Lague, and lately a baseball reporter [;] a conductor asked for the autograph of Johnny Vander Meer, first pitcher to hurl two successive no-hit games.
....From distant big-league cities to the west and south the conglomerate family of baseball had assembled for the pilgrimage and celebration of this unprecedented Centennial. Gigantic stadia in the eleven big-league cities had been closed for the day. A truce in the exciting pennant races had been called, and two players from each of the sixteen big-league clubs had been dispatched to participate in a special all-star game.
....When the special train scraped to a whistling halt, its load of celebrities poured forth on parade before the inflated population. A holiday spirit, almost like circus day, blanketed the entire scene .... Hundreds of Cooperstown natives and eager visitors ... surged onto the tracks and vied for the chance to identify the baseball dignitaries.
Of course the smiling moonface of Babe Ruth was easily recognizable. His bearlike frame towered above the others in almost dominating fashion, as it had on the diamond. Less noticeable were pint-sized Lloyd Waner, dashing Pepper Martin, gray-haired Casey Stengel, tall and careworn Walter Johnson, Eddie Collins, Grover Cleveland Alexander (Alex the Great), Honus (Hans) Wagner (the Flying Dutchman).
Scouts, more baseball writers, radio announcers and their entourages of engineers and technical helpers, photographers, newsreel cameramen with bulky equipment. Owners of big-league franchises weighted by the responsibility of a two-headed monster -- business and sport, supervisors of baseball officialdom, the umpires, and finally Joe Cook, stage comedian and baseball fan, carrying personally and for all the world to see his prime oddity of sport.
"An authentic copy of my prize possession," he announced, holding up an American League baseball, "exactly like the original in my safe at home: the only souvenir baseball not autographed by Babe Ruth!"
And so began the memorable day in baseball annals that may never quite be equaled for heart throbs and pride in a deep-rooted American institution. Many years from now, when fans and officials of the game observe baseball's birthday ... that June 12, 1939 will be the unmatchable pattern. It was a day when every living member elected to the Hall of Fame, the men who founded the institution and made it a reality, and two teams of great stars returned "home" for a gala centennial cavalcade.
....Long before the festivities began formally at noon the baseball folk had "taken over" their home. They strolled the streets and parks as though they owned the place....
....Usually when ball players assemble, there is horseplay and stinging banter, but that note was missing in this unique roundup. Rather it was a friendly family picnic. An air of nostalgia subordinated the customary jockeying and teasing. Reminiscence caught hold and held on.
Walter Johnson told a group on Chestnut Street, near the Mohican Garage, about the time that he and Ty Cobb were arrested for speeding in Detroit.
"The cop told Ty he might let him off," the Big Train recalled with a sigh, "if he would hit a couple of homers the next day. I made the mistake of ribbing Ty about it, and what a mistake, because, by George, he did hit two against us!"
....American League teams had been scheduled in the West on the previous afternoon, and some of the players and officials hurried to the baseball Mecca by automobile from near-by railroad junctions. More faces were recognized -- Cy Young, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, ... Lefty Grove, Muddy Ruel and Monty Stratton.
....Motor traffic increased to a point of congestion for the baseball county fair. Most everybody carried a souvenir bat, paperweight, pocket piece, pillow, windshield sticker, packet of post cards, centennial emblem, souvenir ashtray. Mel Ott, New York Giants' home-run hitter, carried one of the big bats all the way home to New Orleans. School had recessed at 10 A.M. The stores had closed at noon, and everyone turned out to see the flag-decked streets and pay tribute to baseball immortality.
The United States Government commemorated baseball's birthday with a special issue of three-cent stamps. Pictured thereon was a replica of an early game at Abner Doubleday Field. A total of 65 million stamps comprised the issue, and of this number one million were allotted to the Cooperstown post office ....
Across the street from the post office, the crowd was congregating before the Hall of Fame and National Baseball Museum for the dedication ceremonies. A large, high platform had been erected directly in front of the museum door which opens off the street sidewalk. As noon approached, Judge Landis, committeemen, and the game's dignitaries assembled on the platform. Some 15,000 spectators thronged Main Street and crowded toward the platform....
At the stroke of noon, the picnic instantly became formal pageantry ....Landis, Mr. Baseball himself, stepped forward. The door to the Hall of Fame was about to open.
"Nowhere, other than at its birthplace, could this museum be appropriately situated," spoke the white-haired patriarch, who was named to the hall five years later. "To the pioneers who were the moving spirits of the game in its infancy and to the players who have been nominated into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association, we pay just tribute. But I should like to dedicate this museum to all America..."
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" burst forth through the trumpets and trombones ... as Will Harridge and Ford Frick, armed with scissors, snipped the red, white and blue ribbons across the door to the museum .... A ruffle of drums and Master of Ceremonies Doyle announced: "George Wright!"
Wright, star of the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869, the earliest professional team, was one of the first men chosen for the Hall of Fame. With the drum rolling between the reading of each name -- Morgan G. Bulkeley, Ban Johnson, John J. McGraw, Albert G. Spalding, Buck Ewing, Candy Cummings, "Hoss" Radbourne, Cap Anson, Charles A. Comiskey, Alexander Cartwright and "Father" Henry Chadwick, the other immortal ancestors of today's recruits were announced ....
With the introduction of Connie Mack, the door of the Hall of Fame swung open and the spare figure of the Tall Tactician himself stepped onto the speaker's platform. The sight touched the heart of every one of the 15,000 Americans massed on that Cooperstown Main Street ....
Then, through the Hall of Fame portal, one by one as they were presented, walked the mightiest stars of the twentieth century -- heroes whose deeds on the diamond were still fresh in the memory of the audience.
Honus Wagner. The Flying Dutchman, gray, wrinkled, and more bow-legged than ever, but barrel-chested and sturdy .... "I used to walk fourteen miles to see 'Coney' Mack play ball in Pittsburgh, but it was worth it," spoke the man who towers so far above every shortstop that no one ever dares compare another with him ....
Walter Johnson. What writer or painter could possibly envision a better picture of an athletic idol for old and young to admire than this bronzed, curly-haired, stalwart American citizen? His simple, spoken response reflected a deep and matchless humility which only the truly great know: "I am glad I was able to do enough to merit an honor of this magnitude."
Napoleon Lajoie. Though he had turned sixty, the big Frenchman, who thrilled thousands at the turn of the century, stepped forth with the graceful stride of an athlete .... When he said, "If you are having as good a time as I am, you are having the time of your life," he expressed for all the dead, living and future members of the Hall of Fame, the joy that comes to a man who is singled out from his fellows as a star.
Tris Speaker, next of the living statues to emerge from the Hall of Fame, spoke briefly of his happiness at being in Cooperstown. And then two distinct personalities -- Cy Young, oldest of the modern group, whose chin was high as though he still challenged any team to beat him in a ball game; and the wiry, quiet George Sisler, the youngest -- took their bows and made short speeches of thanks ....
Grover Alexander. Abandoning his usual slouch, sorrel-topped Alexander the Great stood tall and erect and strode forth to accept his honor like a thoroughbred champion, just as he had aroused himself from the bullpen in Yankee Stadium on the memorable October afternoon in 1926, and walked in to fan Tony Lazzeri and go on to win the World Series ....
Eddie Collins. "I've had some great times since coming to baseball," spoke the patrician second baseman. "It isn't easy to forget my first big-league game and those World Series battles. But, standing up here today on the same platform with these men, I had the biggest thrill of my life. Why, I'd have been happy as a bat boy for this crowd."
As the names of Willie Keeler and Christy Mathewson were read, taps were sounded ....
Babe Ruth! Out he came, the great hulk of the mighty Bambino. The black, tousled hair, the round face and dancing brown eyes, the incongruous short steps and the inevitable grunt of good nature at the uproar that greeted him. From Judge Landis to the barefoot boy perched on a telegraph pole, everybody cheered the Sultan of Swat. When the Babe talked, everybody listened .... He could chat into a mike or in front of thousands, with the utter simplicity of a fellow passing the time of day with a neighbor over a back-yard fence .... Oblivious of honors, reverence to traditions or fame, he was thinking down to the very cornerstone of the Hall of Fame. Without youngsters to aspire to a niche, the Hall of Fame would be a hollow mausoleum rather than a friendly room beyond a white, open door with a big welcome mat for ambitious boys.
"They started something here," boomed the Babe. "And the kids are keeping the ball rolling. I hope some of you kids will be in the Hall of Fame ...."
During the hour-long interlude before the ball game between current big-league stars, the Hall of Fame members remained on the platform, greeting the press of well-wishers and autograph hunters. The favorite articles for signatures was post cards bearing a photograph of a Hall of Fame plaque, one for each member.
But the star of the hour was now Tyrus Raymond Cobb, the most electrifying figure ever seen on a baseball diamond, a veritable eagle of prey in his determination to win. Cobb ... arrived just too late to make his appearance through the door of the Hall of Fame. But the great Ty soon made up for lost time, joining in the congratulations, handshaking and autographing on the platform ....
....With the door to the shrine now officially open, crowds entered quietly, reverently.
The brief tour of the museum was followed by a pause for lunch .... After lunch came the parade to Doubleday Field, just a few steps down the lane from Main Street .... The players dressed in the gymnasium of the Knox Girls' School near by, donning the varicolored uniforms of their respective teams. Ty Cobb, reverting to type momentarily, stuck a note in Babe Ruth's shoe that said, "I can beat you any day in the week and twice on Sunday ...."
Walter Johnson, who, in addition to being one of baseball's greatest pitchers, was a fine pinch hitter, batted "fungo" grounders for the all-star practice. American and National Leaguers were mixed for a picnic-style game, and then the two Hall of Famers, Eddie Collins and Hans Wagner, "chose up" for first licks by gripping hand-over-hand up the bat handle. Babe Ruth was playing catch with Cookie Lavagetto. Mel Ott warmed up with Tris Speaker. Ty Cobb enjoyed the sun and a seat behind third base.
The game itself was just a clambake affair, with skill and precision tossed to the four winds. Players were there to be seen and have fun. Line-up changes were frequent, and here is the way the big-leaguers appeared:
COLLINS: Lloyd Waner (Pirates) cf, Rupert Thompson (Braves) cf, Billy Herman (Cubs) 2b, Mel Ott (Giants rf, Hank Greenberg (Tigers) 1b, Taft Wright (Senators) lf, George Selkirk (Yankees) lf, Arndt Jorgens (Yankees) c, Stan Hack (Cubs) 3b, Cecil Travis (Senators) ss, Eddie Miller (Braves) ss, Dizzy Dean (Cubs) p, Johnny Vander Meer (Reds) p, Sylvester Johnson (Phillies) p, John Schilling (Indians) ph.
WAGNER: Wally Moses (Athletics) rf, Terry Moore (Cardinals) rf, Arky Vaughan (Pirates) ss, Charley Gehringer (Tigers) 2b, Joe Medwick (Cardinals) lf, Moe Berg (Red Sox) c, Frank Hayes (Athletics) c, Muddy Ruel (White Sox) c, Morris Arnovich (Phillies) cf, Jimmy Wilson (Reds) 1b, Cookie Lavagetto (Dodgers) 1b, Marvin Owen (White Sox) 3b, Billy Jurges (Giants) 3b, Lefty Grove (Red Sox) p, Danny McFayden (Braves) p, Johnny Allen (Indians) p, Babe Ruth ph.
Dizzy Dean pitched two innings for the Collins team, yielding no hits and fashioning two strikeouts. VanderMeer, who relieved, fumbled Wilson's bounder, after which Owen and MacFayden doubled for two runs. The large moment for the crowd, however, was when Babe Ruth strode to the plate to pinch hit for MacFayden. Easy to identify from the old "No. 3" across his broad back, the Babe drew a din of applause, and then, swinging with all his might, disappointed his well-wishers by popping weakly to the catcher.
The Collins team tied the score in the sixth when Greenberg, Wright and Jorgens singled for one run, and scored another on an infield out. But the Wagners came back with two in the sixth on doubles by Vaughan and Hayes, and a single by Arnovich.
The game was called in the seventh, enabling the baseball people to catch special trains to distant points in the nation. They streamed from the now-historic field and down the tracks in joyous groups, hastily scrawling autographs, waving goodbyes, exchanging last-minute handshakes and expressing regret that the great pilgrimage was finally ended....
-- Ken Smith
Baseball's Hall of Fame
Baseball's Hall of Fame, Ken Smith
Copyright 1952 by Ken Smith
Published by Grosset & Dunlap (New York), 1958
available at ABEBOOKS