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Having visited many sports halls of fame, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. was long the biggest venue left on my list.

Pro Football (Canton), Hockey (Toronto), Naismith Memorial Basketball (Springfield, Mass.), along with International Swimming (Fort Lauderdale) and Chicagoland Sports … I have been to all of these and others. But the Baseball Hall of Fame never happened.

Hey, Cooperstown is not an easy trip. No matter how many times I was in New York, I never ventured there for a summer-time induction ceremony, though there have been many I really wanted to go to.

I certainly thought about it in 2014 when the honorees included Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Tony LaRussa, Frank Thomas and Joe Torre. And who wouldn’t have wanted to be there in 2007 to cheer Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr.? I’d list 2005 (Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg), 1999 (Robin Yount, George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Orlando Cepeda), 1993 (Reggie Jackson) and 1991 (Rod Carew, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Bill Veeck and Tony Lazzeri) as other inductions I wanted to attend. An induction ceremony is still on my bucket-list.

Thankfully, I now can cross off a visit to Cooperstown. On a chilly Saturday in mid-April that turned into a snowy afternoon, I saw the glory that is the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Let’s start with Cooperstown, a one-stoplight town nestled between the Adirondacks and Catskills in Central New York. It’s near nothing, some will say, and I can’t argue with that. As I approached Cooperstown, I saw a “3 Miles To Go” sign, yet was shocked to think something so special would be where I was driving — near nothing.

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Also See: How the Topps ’52 Mantle became the most iconic card in hobby

Lore has it that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown. In 1936, the inaugural class featured Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. Three years later — on June 12, 1939 — the Hall of Fame building officially opened and the first four classes were inducted.

The first class of the Baseball Hall of Fame included Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner.

The first class of the Baseball Hall of Fame included Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner.

Today, literally everything baseball is showcased inside these hallowed halls, which will host its 2022 induction ceremony on July 24. The collections contain more than 40,000 three-dimensional artifacts — bats, balls, gloves and uniforms — donated by players and fans who want to see history preserved. The museum’s curators use the artifacts — about 400 each year — to tell the story of the National Pastime through exhibits.

The museum itself consists of five buildings melded together via several renovation and expansion projects, with the artifact collection housed in climate-controlled rooms to protect the delicate leather, fabric and wood. It welcomes more than 3,000 visitors per day during its peak season.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame Library contains more than 250,000 photographs and images. The first image I saw was of Roberto Clemente, which was so fitting.

Photo of Roberto Clemente in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Photo of Roberto Clemente in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Also See: The 1959 Home Run Derby and the cards it produced 

The Hall of Fame, to me, is also a journey through time of the sports memorabilia industry, particularly card shows. I never saw Mickey Mantle play. Aside from history and lore, I relate to Mantle through his card show appearances. The same is true for countless others, from Joe DiMaggio and Sandy Koufax to Willie Mays and Ted Williams.

Joe DiMaggio plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Joe DiMaggio plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Clemente’s legacy is long and storied. His autograph is one of the top five baseball autographs I hope to one day add to my collection. (The others: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Cy Young and Jackie Robinson.)

The Hall fills three floors of baseball memories, exhibits, artifacts, autographs, history lessons and so much more. Memories abound around every turn. Tears flow during the 16-minute “Generations Of The Game” welcome film. The star-studded film in the state-of-the-art Grandstand Theater is a must-see.

TOURING THE HALL

Start on the second floor, as suggested by the Hall. Then go to the third floor and finally back to the first floor. Clemente was among the brilliant photos in the Picturing America’s Pastime area.

Next up, baseball’s beginnings in the Taking The Field: The 19th Century area. Think, Baseball History 101. Come to think of it, this was more a master’s level course, as nothing was missed.

Home run heroes Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron were two of the most prominently profiled legends in The Hall. The tribute to Aaron, who passed away last year, was fitting, wide-ranging and emotional.

Be sure to see, read and remember the legacy of the Negro Leagues and women in baseball. There’s “no crying in baseball” when remembering the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Everyone knows about the Rockford Peaches, but it was the Chicago Colleens shirt that I wanted to buy (but didn’t). The Colleens in 1948 were a disastrous team, finishing with a 47-76 record. I should have purchased that green and white shirt that matches the team’s colors.

Exhibit of the All-American Girls Baseball League in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Exhibit of the All-American Girls Baseball League in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Also See: Remembering baseball artist, SCD illustrator Ronnie Joyner 

Another shirt for sale I thought about buying was one honoring Minnie Miñoso with the New York Cubans, with No. 10 on the back. (He was No. 9 with the White Sox and other teams.) This summer, Miñoso joins the Hall along with Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat. Seeing where the Miñoso plaque will land for eternity brought a smile to this White Sox fan’s face. I know Minnie’s son, Charlie Rice-Miñoso, will be all smiles and tears watching the upcoming induction ceremony.

The Hall’s tribute to Latin America baseball is deep, rich and informative. Colorful, too, just like the flags from countries like Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and other Spanish-speaking homes of baseball greats past, present and future.

The Baseball Hall of Fame features many tributes to the Latin American stars of the game.

The Baseball Hall of Fame features many tributes to the Latin American stars of the game.

The 30-minute guided tour through the first floor is a must, both informative and educational. Learn why Yogi Berra is looking to the side on his Hall plaque, why Jim “Catfish” Hunter is wearing a hat with no team logo or why Jackie Robinson’s plaque was changed.

The Hall is all about education, information and entertainment, with tons of amazing memorabilia. Some of the most unique artifacts include:

• Details on the life and career of White Sox/Black Sox star Eddie Cicotte.

• Checkers used years, er, decades ago.

• Track medals won by Ross Youngs when he was in grammar school in San Antonio. (I’m adding another name — for obvious reasons — to my list of autographs I want. Ross, as I’ll call him, played right field for the New York Giants from 1917-1926 and was inducted in 1972.)

• An ash tray given to Mel Ott.

• Rosin bags.

• Wheaties boxes, and a history on baseball players pictured on the cereal boxes.

• Bobbleheads.

• Baseball cards and even past editions of Sports Collectors Digest.

• Info on the history of the seventh-inning stretch.

• Popular songs from various stadiums, such as “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway Park in Boston.

• A life-size replica of the San Diego Chicken.

• Videos aplenty, from George Brett and his infamous pine tar bat incident to Steve Lyons accidentally taking down his pants to clean out the dirt after sliding into first base.

TELLING BASEBALL’S GREATEST STORIES

Pete Rose also is in the Hall — not a plaque, obviously, but rather information on his record hit streak and more, including videos and memorabilia.

The Hall tells and shows all the famous and infamous stories of the game, including Rose and the PED years of Barry Bonds and others.

It also, naturally, highlights the World Series with rings, relics, highlights and more from decades of the Fall Classic. This was my favorite part of the third floor. After all, who doesn’t cherish the magic that is the World Series. It was cool to relive the 2021 champion Atlanta Braves.

Exhibit honoring the 2021 World Series Champion Atlanta Braves at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Exhibit honoring the 2021 World Series Champion Atlanta Braves at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Shoebox Treasures section is a must for everyone who knows the letters SCD or thinks Dr. James Beckett deserves a spot in Cooperstown. So many cards, so many stories, even the option to have your picture taken and set on a vintage trading card that is emailed to you.

The Shoebox Treasures display in the Baseball Hall of Fame pays tribute to baseball cards and collectors.

The Shoebox Treasures display in the Baseball Hall of Fame pays tribute to baseball cards and collectors.

The Baseball Hall of Fame features multiple exhibits on baseball cards.

The Baseball Hall of Fame features multiple exhibits on baseball cards.

One of my favorite photo destinations was the Your Team Today area, with modern game-used artifacts from every major league team.

New York Yankees exhibit featuring a cap and jersey from icon Mickey Mantle.

New York Yankees exhibit featuring a cap and jersey from icon Mickey Mantle.

Another favorite was the area that spotlights the legendary storytellers, broadcasters and writers of the game. Seeing tributes to such writers as Damon Runyon, Shirley Povich and Red Smith was cool, and then I saw Jerome Holtzman (1989 inductee), who I read for years in Chicago newspapers. Holtzman is credited with inventing the save for relief pitchers in 1959, deriving a formula that evolved into the official statistic in 1966. In 1999, Holtzman was named official historian for Major League Baseball.

Baseball movies also have a home at The Hall, led by “Field of Dreams” and “Fear Strikes Out,” the 1957 film about the life and career of Jimmy Piersall.

HONORING THE GREATS

The best-for-last part of the Hall is obviously the Plaque Gallery — the bronze plaques among the oak walls in the beautiful hall. This is the centerpiece of the museum, divided by decades. Every plaque brought memories, whether it was an on-field moment, the player’s off-the-field legacy or appearances over the years at card shows. I took countless pictures in the Plaque Gallery, wanting to always remember the greats.

Statues in the Baseball Hall of Fame of immortals Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

Statues in the Baseball Hall of Fame of immortals Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

My guided tour through the Plaque Gallery told of the cleaning the Hall does (or doesn’t do) in each area, the writing on each plaque and when an inductee sees his plaque. On display in April was the white marble base that Tony Oliva autographed and that will later this summer surround his plaque. The autograph is a new tradition that was cool to see in person.

The marble base for Tony Oliva's Hall of Fame plaque, signed by Oliva.

The marble base for Tony Oliva's Hall of Fame plaque, signed by Oliva.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a must for baseball fans. Wear your favorite team’s hat or a player’s jersey. Heck, bring your glove, as I saw others do during my visit. Just make the trek to Cooperstown. It’s out of the way, but truly an out-of-this-world experience for baseball fans.

NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM

Where: 25 Main Street

Cooperstown, NY 13326

Contact: 1-888-HALL-OF-FAME (607-547-7200); baseballhall.org; @baseballhall; Facebook.com/baseballhall

Hours: 7 days a week (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s). 9am–5pm Labor Day through Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend; 9am–7pm from Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend through the day before Labor Day.

2022 Inductees: Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva, Buck O’Neil and David Ortiz.

2022 Induction Ceremony: Sunday, July 24, 1:30 p.m. ET, Clark Sports Center.

TV: MLB Network.

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