Hall of Famers savor their Cooperstown rituals

Written by: Jeff Idelson

Just before 7 a.m. on Induction Sunday in 2004, I strolled on to the veranda at the Otesaga Resort Hotel with a cup of coffee in my hand, in search of a few moments of tranquility. The only other person on the venerable hotel’s back porch was Yogi Berra, who was sitting in a rocking chair watching a light mist fall over Otsego Lake.

I joined the three-time MVP, who asked quietly, while continuing to look straight ahead, “why does it always seem to rain during our Weekend?” I explained our geography and a few other reasons as to why a passing shower was not unusual, to which he replied, “Why don’t we move it to a weekend when it doesn’t rain?”

Yogi was always the first to call when Hall of Fame invitations hit mail boxes, the first one to be up and about during the Weekend, and of course, the ONLY one full of “Yogi-isms.” These were his rituals. You could count on them like clockwork. And among the returnees to Cooperstown, Hall of Fame Weekend is abound with rituals.

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For the last 37 years, Al Kaline has called one room home at the Otesaga. “Louise and I have stayed in the same hotel room since the year after my induction,” recounted “Mr. Tiger.” “It’s a little off the beaten path, it’s quieter, and it used to have easy access to a nice porch. We love coming back to Cooperstown. It’s such a special place.”

Every Friday morning of Hall of Fame Weekend, Wade Boggs, an avid fisherman, is on Otsego Lake reeling in small and large mouth bass, trout and landlocked salmon. And when Pat Gillick arrives in town, he and his wife Doris walk the entire village. Andre Dawson wanders from the hotel in search of pumpkin bread at Schneider’s Bakery. This has been his laser focus every year since 2010. For Bruce Sutter, a Saturday evening cigar on the side porch of the hotel is his ritual.

Ozzie Smith and Eddie Murray grew up together in Los Angeles. For them, it’s dinner at one of the local restaurants, where they catch up on being 1973 teammates at Locke High School in Los Angeles.

Al Kaline and his wife Louise smile and wave to the crowd at the 2011 Parade of Legends in Cooperstown during Hall of Fame Weekend. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Tom Seaver’s been a Hall of Famer since 1992. “On Saturday night, I always visit the plaques of Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson,” said the 311-game winner. “Good to see you boys,” he says, as he rubs their hats.

Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and Tony Pérez, and their families, can be found in the hotel lobby, late on Saturday night, reminiscing about being among a very small group of Latinos playing in the 1960s and 70s, paving the way for today’s Caribbean stars.

And once the Induction Ceremony is over, and the “team photo” has been completed, the Hall of Fame members laugh and chat while waiting for their annual Hall of Famers Dinner to begin, where the rookies receive their Hall of Fame rings.

It’s then that Johnny Bench will sit the inductees in rocking chairs, on the veranda, overlooking the 18th green of Leatherstocking Golf Course. He reminds them who they are, where they are, and just how special of a fraternity they have just joined. He encourages them to wear the Hall of Fame mantle well, and to enjoy the experience, because there’s nothing like it. For Johnny, it’s another visit to the mound. And for the newest members of the Hall of Fame, it’s the capstone to a new way of life: That of a Hall of Famer.

The Weekend comes to a close and it’s time to go home; but not before Whitey Ford and his wife Joan pick up their Otesaga box lunches to enjoy on their drive back to Long Island, a ritual for years and one they’ll subscribe to again next July in Cooperstown.

Jeff Idelson is the President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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