VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
MAS can now put a check in that box as well.
He recently completed a personal Hall of Fame hat trick by journeying north to that lovely burg in the Catskill Mountains of the Empire State where America’s national pastime got its start and it’s creme de la creme are honored.
This triumvirate represents MAS’ own special Triple Crown of Hall of Fames.
Oh, there are other similarly impressive shrines to various sports and other areas of activity. But to MAS these were the three, in no particular order, that mattered most.
MAS has been enamored with the game Abner Doubleday invented even before MAS would spend his boyhood summers playing ball in three leagues — daily Little League in the morning, a playground softball loop in the afternoon and yet another youth baseball circuit in the evening.
Maybe his love of baseball was born that day in 1950 when, as a mere squirt, he beheld the strange sight of his macho man Dad laying on his bed listening to a ballgame on the radio and then suddenly wildly kicking his legs and flailing his arms like an excited baby because our hometown Philadelphia Phillies had just won their first National League pennant in 35 years.
Gee, there must be something to this game if his great Pop likes it so much, Li’l MAS thought to himself.
Visiting the hallowed halls of Cooperstown in a sense was the cherry on top of the sundae that is MAS’ lifetime baseball experience. (Though there is still ample room for extra whipped cream.)
Every display area inside the handsome colonial brick edifice, either educates visitors on the diamond sport or evokes wonderful baseball memories.
Or both at once.
MAS reveled in enjoying a direct connection or one involving varying degrees of separation to many of the exhibits and honorees inside.
Indeed, every one of the descending horde brings their own special frame of reference when they make the pilgrimage to the shrine in the town named after James Fenimore Cooper, author of the American literary classic, “The Last of the Mohicans.”
(By the way, how’d you like to be Cooper? He writes a superb tale set in New York state during the French and Indian War when America was still a British colony and, in the remembrance department anyway, he’s upstaged by a kid’s game!)
The Hall’s museum exhibits cover almost everything about the grand ol’ game from soup to nuts, baby chick to fully grown ready-for-the-Colonel clucker.
The history of the game is chronicled, all the way from its origins at Abner Doubleday Field, just up the main street in C-Town, to the Mike Trout jersey worn when he recently became the youngest player to ever do this and that.
There are exhibits with such varying themes as the dead ball era of the pre- and post-turn of the century years, dynasties that have come and gone (including the St. Louis Cardinals’ colorful Gas House Gang of the 1930s, the New York Yankees of the 1920s through to the Bronx Bombers of the ’50s, the fabled Brooklyn Dodgers Boys of Summer of the late 1940s and ’50s to name just a few), stadium architecture through the years, music in baseball and on and on.
Too many — and different type — exhibits to even begin to recount here.
Also on display: bats, gloves, hats, jerseys, shoes, etc. — everything except protective cups, it seemed — used in some of the most memorable games in baseball lore.
Suffice to say, there’s something for everyone.
Japanese fans can enjoy seeing the bat Ichiro used to stroke his 2,000th MLB hit and photos of Babe Ruth and his band of globetrotting All-Star teammates lined up smartly for pre-game ceremonies in Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
There is an entire room set aside for the many chapters of the Ruth story and also one tracing Hank Aaron’s remarkable climb from segregated Mobile, Alabama, to breaking the Bambino’s cherished career home run mark.
But don’t look for a mention of the exploits of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa.
That trio is conspicuous by their absence.
There are, however, rooms dedicated to contributions by Latinos through the years in MLB.
And, of course, an outstanding tribute to the Negro Leagues and the great black ballplayers shamefully denied entry to the lily white big leagues for so long.
MASbro took Pop to the Hall in Dad’s latter years and MASPop pointed out numerous black Hall enshrinees that he had played against after he had completed a stint in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system.
A Philly area semi-pro standout, Dad would play for select teams in the offseason against barnstorming Negro League players seeking to pick up extra dough.
Once at Bushwick Park in Brooklyn, New York — the Negro League equivalent of Yankee Stadium — Pop went 7-for-8 in a doubleheader against some of the finest Negro League pitching around.
Later, while viewing the legendary Leroy “Satchel” Paige’s HoF plaque, Dad told MASbro, “As good as Satchel was, there were at least 10 other black pitchers who were even better.”
Speaking of Negro Leaguers in the Hall, MAS spied the plaque honoring Judy Johnson, said to be the premier “colored” third sacker.
Johnson later became a scout for the Milwaukee Braves and once took in a game to have a look at young MAS, a career .300 hitter and decent fielding second sacker.
Judy came, saw . . . and passed.
But Judy, what was MAS lacking?
I mean, besides bat power, foot speed and a strong arm?
Like I said, everyone brings their own background of experience and interests to the Hall.
And there is something for everyone. It is truly a one-size-fits-all deal for baseball aficionados.
But the piece de resistance at the Hall of Fame has to be the magnificent, high-ceilinged grand hall area.
Mounted on its walls are the inductees’ breathtaking bronze likenesses mounted on plaques which also contain descriptions of their accomplishments.
The faces and writing are not presented like the glass-encased busts in Canton. You can actually reach up and touch greatness in Cooperstown.
But you start to do so, you find yourself quickly pulling your hand back, lest you be guilty of irreverence.
Maybe that’s why there was nary a scratch on any of them.
Viewing the plaques one by one, it hit MAS how fortunate he was to have interviewed, by his quick count, at least 20 of those who achieved baseball’s highest honor, including the likes of Henry Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, Mike Schmidt, Yogi Berra, Willie McCovey and Steve Carlton.
When MAS spotted the plaque of Richie Ashburn, the center fielder for the famed Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids” of that memorable 1950 championship year, he was reminded of the old adage “Sometimes heroes are best admired from afar.”
Y’see, Richie was Li’l MAS’ biggest baseball idol as a youngster. Years later he would cross paths with Ashburn when MAS hooked up with HoF Phils’ announcer Harry “That ball is OUTTA here!” Kalas in the press box at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
Harry and MAS were waxing nostalgic about their starts in Hawaii radio and TV, when Richie —also a Phils announcer — approached.
Harry introduced Richie to MAS. But Ashburn couldn’t have been more disinterested.
Instead, he began muttering something about a lady from the Pacific Northwest and bing cherries.
“Have you seen Mary, Harry?” mumbled Richie. “She ALWAYS brings us some of those delicious Washington state bing cherries when we’re here.”
“But I haven’t seen her. Wonder where she is?”
Shaking his head, MAS’ boyhood idol then turned and walked away without even acknowledging MAS’ presence.
That’s OK, Richie. MAS forgives you. You’re still his favorite ballplayer ever.
And to prove it, MAS reached up and gently tapped the top of your Phillies cap for good luck — the only HoF likeness he dared touch.
No doubt the Hall will stir up a wide range of emotions if and when you too visit it.
MAS strongly recommends you add it to your bucket list.
With HIS Hall of Fame Bucket List now complete, MAS got to thinking. (Can you smell the wood burning?)
In baseball parlance, when a batter strikes out four times in one game it’s called a “Golden Sombrero.”
HoF hat trick notched, MAS now has set his sights on achieving his own particular variety of a Mexican chapeau foursome.
Look out Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, MAS is headed your way.
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