Inductions Becoming a Tourist Attraction


Midsummer travel plans are being made. Taverns, social clubs, restaurants and assorted admirers of Jim Palmer have organized excursions and arranged tour buses for what they know is going to be a trip they'll never forget. Destination: Cooperstown, N.Y., and the baseball Hall of Fame. The date circled on the calendar is Aug. 5.

The only discouraging development to contend with is a lack of space. Hotels, motels, tourist houses and campgrounds are booked solid. There's, literally, no room at the inn. Cooperstown has all but run out of rooming accommodations, and the ceremony is still six months away.

Palmer and Joe Morgan will become the 205th and 206th members to be enshrined in the elite body of former players, managers, coaches and executives when they receive the most lasting distinction the sport has to offer.

Baltimore in 1983 was responsible for establishing a new trend at the Hall of Fame. Because of what Brooks Robinson meant as a performer and individual, a sizable number of natives, a force estimated at 10,000 strong, made the pilgrimage to the picture postcard village of Cooperstown. They caused noise and attention but demonstrated a dignity befitting the event.

Before Robinson's entry into the Hall of Fame, the crowds had been coming every year for the annual festivities, but the turnout was modest. The proceedings were staged in front of the Hall of Fame building. Bands played and emotional speeches brought both cheers and tears. The recipients and spectators were impressed. But the numbers weren't there.

Cooperstown, rimmed with the beauty of a pristine countryside and reflections from the clear waters of Ostego Lake, was read about by millions of interested fans in newspaper dispatches and linked with the origin of baseball. But, in truth, the masses didn't necessarily lend a physical presence. All that has changed. Now it's more of a social and athletic happening--the place to be the first weekend of August.

The Robinson visit touched off a celebration the likes of which Cooperstown had never expected. And, in each summer since, the crowds have at least matched the Robinson assemblage. Some estimates had from 20,000 to 50,000 present for the installation last year when Carl Yastrzemski and Johnny Bench headlined the program.

A company Yastrzemski represented took over the Cooperstown Motel, which offers 37 units. Downtown Cooperstown (population 2,304) was tied in a traffic knot. The function has taken on such importance to the fans that they now play guessing games and project when their special heroes are going to become eligible. Then they make advance reservations.

In 1994, Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies is presumed to be an almost automatic selection. So the Cooperstown Motel, according to owner Al O'Brien, has been booked solid in anticipation of a Schmidt election. And outside Cooperstown, in all directions, there's a desire to find accommodations in such cities as Oneonta, Utica, Binghamton, Syracuse, Albany and points in between.

The good mayor of Cooperstown, the former editor of the town newspaper, is Harold H. Hollis, who also serves as the area's official U.S. weather observer. An amicable, helpful individual, he is enthusiastic over the economic impact that results. "Isn't it reasonable to expect that you can't have a big crowd without people opening their pocketbooks?" he asked.

Mayor Hollis wonders out loud if Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer is going to make the trip, as he did in 1983 for Robinson's "coronation."

"I would sure like to have another invitation to the kind of crab cake reception the Baltimore and Maryland delegation put on that time," Mayor Hollis said.

Meanwhile, Joseph Collins, president of the Chamber of Commerce, is all aglow and ready to accept the host responsibility. "We're going to have what we call a 'Molley Trolley,' a conveyance that you ride from some point outside the village, where we have perimeter parking. You park your car, say at the school grounds, and jump on the 'Molley Trolley.'

"We're gearing up as best we can. You've got to remember that a big place here is 10 or 12 rooms. Last year, fans were sleeping in cars all over the place. That's not good. Where are we going to put all the people? You have to remember, too, that this is a village; not a city."

But what does Collins advise? As the leader of the Chamber of Commerce, he suggests you write for an area housing and points-of-interest guide, at a cost of $1, which offers a list of options. The appeal of Cooperstown is its natural beauty, like turning a history book page back to a time before commercial enterprises took over and brought an almost universal look of sameness to almost every city, town and village in the country.

Cooperstown has fought off all attempted invasions by fast-food franchises. It has vigorously battled to retain its quaintness and distinctive style. There's only one red light, at Main and Chestnut streets, so hustle and bustle is for city folk. Not in Cooperstown.

The Hall of Fame installation is admission free. An exhibition game between the Orioles and Montreal Expos is the next afternoon, Aug. 6, but tickets don't go on sale until May 7.

Cooperstown will extend warm hospitality to all. It just can't assure you of a place to sleep.

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