Grand Old Game and the Hall of Fame

Cooperstown, New YorkIt has been nearly a week since battalions of baseball fans marched into the quaint central New York village of Cooperstown, to many a mecca of baseball. It is a storybook town bathed in baseball tradition and the theme is the grand old game everyplace you go, a feel like none other and a must pilgrimage to the Baseball Hall of Fame for any fan of Abner Doubleday’s brilliant idea.

Growing up in the shadows of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Induction weekend was bigger than Christmas to many of us. Up until a few years ago when Major League Baseball sadly decided to end the longtime tradition of the Annual Hall of Fame (exhibition) game pitting two professional teams at historic Doubleday Field in conjunction with induction ceremonies, it was a time we dreamed about.

Fans still flock to the poetic little village throughout the summer, but the legions are less than Induction Weekend when the hall opens its pearly gates to baseball greats who have earned the honor of joining their fellow legends enshrined.

It is a forgone conclusion that those and only those with the credentials are forever immortalized, joining the likes of The Babe, Hammerin Hank, Teddy Ballgame, The Iron Horse, Stan The Man, The Mick, The Say Hey kid among the list of bigger than life legends.

Cincinnatians had to feel a special swell of pride, not only with the induction of Larkin as one of the game’s all-time best, but seeing a hometown hero enshrined, a Cincy kid who made good with his hometown team.

Actually it is a great story, not as much because he followed a list of Reds greats into the hall, but he had to endure the pressures of playing at home, no easy task and he did it for 19 years. This guy didn’t just represent the Reds for all those years, but his hometown too.

Oh the numbers are there. He won nine Silver Slugger awards, which is just the beginning of a deserving resume. But in an era when one has to root for a uniform with no loyalty on either side, players or ownership with the almighty dollar ruling the game, playing his entire career for one team is nothing short of amazing.

This is a far different time then when, well, it was a game. Al Kaline was always a Tiger. Willie Mays forever a Giant, Hank Aaron a Brave, Mickey Mantle a Yankee and Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente always synonymous with the Pirates. Those days are gone.

But as much as I love this made for TV Larkin story, last weekend in Cooperstown  was not only special for me living in the Queen City but satisfying as well, in this Tale of Two Cities class that included the induction of former Chicago Cubs star Ron Santo.

As a former member of the Baseball Writers of America, year after year I was simply ashamed at my brethren for Santo’s exclusion to the shrine. It stuck in my craw like no other player ever on the ballot has or likely ever will.

I always felt he was the best NL third baseman of his era, a damn good era. His number 10 is retired in Wrigley Field and a bronze statue stands outside it. His numbers speak for themselves both offensively as well as his five Gold Glove awards.

He was part of a lethal trio, an order than boasted Billy Williams, Ernie Banks and ….

It was not until Sunday that the lineup was complete, … and Santo, now in the hallowed hall.

I never bought the argument the Cubs never won anything in those years contributing to this dreadful snub, considering both Williams and Banks are well deserving members of the Hall of Fame. Now the trio forever rests together  in Cooperstown as it should be and should have been all along, thanks to the Golden Era committee.

Santo, who 19 months before his named was carved in bronze in Cooperstown is smiling down and an old dude who as a boy knew just how good Santo was, is now smiling in Cincinnati.