On Turning Forty at Cooperstown

Why I don’t mind turning forty.

More than a year ago, my roommate Christopher suggested that we go to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on my 40th birthday. Well, this plan was put into action over the weekend when we drove west from Boston. Before embarking on our journey I went to Leavitt & Peirce in Harvard Square to stock up on mustache wax. I wanted to be prepared in the event I crossed paths with Rollie Fingers just as my Dad did when he went to Cooperstown more than two decades ago. Alas, this did not come to pass, but I did have occasion to wax philosophical.

Although the Hall primarily celebrates the athletic achievements of men in the prime of their youth, it is the words of its inductees that I have long kept in mind and I suspect I will make reference many more times before my epitaph is written. I am, of course, referring to the sage wisdom of Negro Leagues pitching legend Leroy “Satchel” Paige who would make his big league debut with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 42. Paige said, “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Truth be told, I spent little time thinking about the fact I’ve entered my fifth decade. There was so much to see. We were in the confines of the Hall of Fame for seven hours and we still didn’t see everything. During those seven hours I sustained myself with statistics and sticks of red licorice. I could have stayed there for a week. But as the old song goes, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time.”

As knowledgeable as I am about baseball there were things I did not know. For instance, I did not know that Phil Rizzuto, Tommy Henrich, Ralph Branca and Roy Campanella recorded a version of “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” in 1950. Nor was I aware that Boston Red Sox legend Rico Petrocelli played the drums.

While I knew that the lights went on in Wrigley Field in the summer of 1988, I was not aware that there was no night baseball at Tiger Stadium (then known as Briggs Stadium) until 1948. Nor was I aware that the first attempt to play baseball under the lights took place at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts, in September 1880. I must remember to bring a ball and glove the next time I head to the South Shore.

Did you know that Gene Autry (The Singing Cowboy and owner of the California Angels) helped Carl Yastrzemski ride off into the sunset by giving the Red Sox left fielder a Colt .45?

I also didn’t realize that Pete Rose is in the Hall of Fame. Oh, you won’t find him in the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery on the main floor. But you will find Charlie Hustle on the 3rd Floor where he is acknowledged as Major League Baseball’s all-time hit leader. Rose has also played more big league games than any other player who stepped onto the field. This fact is acknowledged with a cap he wore during his half-season with the Montreal Expos in 1984. Yet I am under no illusions that Rose will ever have a plaque on the main floor.

If you should see The Phillie Phanatic at Citizens Bank Park chances are its an impostor. Or should I say a phraud? The real Phillie Phanatic is being held in captivity in Cooperstown. 

Then there was the Hank Aaron Gallery of Records. It included a scouting report by Billy Southworth (himself a Hall of Famer for managing the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Braves to four NL pennants and two World Series titles during the 1940s) that read:

He is a line drive hitter although he has hit a couple of balls out of the park for homeruns.

Needless to say, Billy Southworth was a master of understatement.

The exhibit included Aaron’s locker during his days with the Atlanta Braves. The only picture I had taken of me during my time there was when I stood under the entrance that read AARON. I wish I could have taken the sign home and refurbished the nook in our apartment with it. No matter. I do not require memorabilia to take the Hall of Fame home with me.

Although forty got off to an auspicious beginning, I fully realize that all good things must come to an end. Life can’t always be about walking around the Hall of Fame and scrumptious dinners with a view of Lake Otsego. As my roomie puts it, we must eventually “return to our regularly scheduled programming.” Some of that programming is mundane. Some of this programming creates anger, anxiety, and uncertainty. Even in the tranquility of Upstate New York, the flags at half-mast were a reminder that life isn’t precious to everyone and there are those who would like to once again disrupt that tranquility on our shores. Some of this programming is viewed only by me and rarely shown to others.

Yet I will always have room for baseball regardless of the season. Many of you might believe this passion doesn’t matter, but I don’t mind.

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