Stars of base­ball al­ways bright­est in Coop­er­stown

By Pa­trick Saun­ders, The Den­ver Post

The Denver Post - - SPORTS -

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: psaun­ders@den­ver­ or @psaun­der­sdp

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