Stars of baseball always brightest in Cooperstown
By Patrick Saunders, The Denver Post
Aconstellation of stars gathered here this weekend. So many, in fact, that it’s enough to make a baseball fan’s head spin and his heart race.
Over there, having lunch on the patio of the famed Otesaga Resort Hotel, is Cardinals Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, looking like he could still melt a batter with his glowering stare and then strike him out with his slider.
Holding court in the lobby is Hank Aaron, baseball’s true home run king. Hammerin’ Hank is 83 now, but there remains an air of majesty about him.
At a swanky party Friday night, Rod Carew was greeted warmly, and hugged gently, by those friends in baseball who thank God he’s still alive, thanks to a transplanted heart and kidney.
Saturday afternoon, at a ceremony at Doubleday Field, I had the honor of introducing Claire Smith as she was presented the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for her “meritorious contributions to baseball writing.” No other award for a baseball writer is more prestigious, and she became the first woman to receive it.
But a lesser-known star is Tom Shieber, the senior curator for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He looks, and speaks, like a professor of baseball history.
The thousands of fans who flocked to Cooperstown this weekend don’t know Shieber or his co-workers, but they should thank them.
Here, in this quaint hamlet in upstate New York, American’s grandest game is researched, authenticated, preserved and displayed.
My wife, Nancy, and I were fortunate to get a behind-thescenes tour at the Hall of Fame. Shieber was our congenial and most-knowledgeable Hall of Fame host.
We saw a cooled storage vault where thousands of priceless photographs are kept safe from the elements. We saw Lou Gehrig’s scrapbook, complete with newspaper clippings announcing he had the deadly disease that would take his life and take on his name.
Shieber led us into an artifacts room, where baseball treasures are stored until they go on display in the museum.
• Here are the cleats worn by Mike Trout when he hit for the cycle as a rookie in 2013. Trout was the youngest player in American League history — 21 years, nine months, 16 days — to hit for the cycle.
• Shieber allowed me to hoist, but not swing, a bat used by Honus Wagner in the early 1900s.
• I was able to cradle (wearing white gloves, I should add) an autographed Mickey Mantle baseball that was used in the Yankees’ final game of the 1956 season. Mantle won the Triple Crown that year (.353 average, 52 homers, 130 RBIS).
• Knowing that I’m from Colorado, and that I cover the Rockies, Shieber brought out a bat used by Todd Helton in his final game of the 2000 season. To refresh your memory, Helton won the National League batting title that year, batting .372, while slugging 42 home runs, hitting 59 doubles and driving in 147 runs.
• Shieber also showed us items most of us would never think to hang on to, but nonetheless enrich baseball’s tapestry. For example, when Russ Hodges called Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” to give the Giants the 1951 NL pennant in a dramatic playoff against the rival Dodgers — “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” — Hodges was so excited, he never finished filling out his scorecard. In the column where a shaded diamond should denote a home run, there is nothing but a blank space.
So thanks, Mr. Shieber, for a peek inside America’s greatest game.
Patrick Saunders is the president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America: firstname.lastname@example.org or @psaundersdp