General

Road trip to Cooperstown: A Haul of Fame

Today’s column from the Kankakee Daily Journal and The (Ottawa, Ill.) Times

Road trip to Cooperstown: A Haul of Fame

The WISCH LIST

July 31, 2010

From the tip of Maine to the base of Baja, it’s pretty much accepted as gospel these days that professional football has surpassed Major League baseball as America’s favorite sport.

But earlier this week, during the haul home from a fantastic trip to Cooperstown for former Cubs MVP Andre Dawson’s Hall of Fame induction, I found myself pondering this:

Can you imagine the demand for baseball tickets if MLB teams played only 16 games a season?

The waiting list at Wrigley Field alone would extend for centuries.

(During which the Cubs probably still wouldn’t have won.)

As “The Hawk” said last Sunday during his classy induction speech, “There’s nothing wrong with baseball … There never has been.”

Even if its players aren’t, baseball is still America’s most perfect sport. And Cooperstown bills itself as “America’s Most Perfect Village.”

It gets no argument from me. If you’re a baseball fan and haven’t yet visited Cooperstown, do it. Just plan the trip and go. You can thank me later.

1 Percent ilk

More than 17,000 men have played Major League baseball, but just 203 of them (a mere 1 percent) have been enshrined at the Hall of Fame since its establishment in 1936. That’s an average of 2.7 inductions a year.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, meanwhile, has inducted 139 players since 1959 – also an average of 2.7 per year – while the Pro Football Hall of Fame has enshrined 260 since 1963, an average of 5.5.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame is the most cherished by fans. In 2008, 301,755 visitors entered Cooperstown, compared to 196,351 for the Football Hall of Fame. The Basketball Hall of Fame, mired in a budget crisis, has not publicly released recent attendance figures.

21-Team Salute

The lawn at Sunday’s induction ceremony was dominated by Cubs, Cardinals and Expos fans in attendance to celebrate Dawson and former St. Louis (and Kansas City) manager Whitey Herzog.

But Cooperstown draws baseball lovers from all over, and I counted fans of at least 21 franchises among the estimated crowd of 10,000. The only teams I didn’t see represented were the Angels, Diamondbacks, Giants, Indians, Mariners, Padres, Rangers, Rockies, Twins … and White Sox.

Guess you guys are waiting for Frank Thomas to become eligible in 2014.

The same year that ex-Cub Greg Maddux will be.

Now that could be an interesting Induction Day in Cooperstown.

Baseball, Bonjour!

One of the most interesting parts of last weekend was seeing all the Montreal Expos fans roaming around – and listening to them.

A sizable number of devotees of Les Expos – who left Montreal in 2005 to become the Washington Nationals – were chattering in French as they explored the Hall of Fame.

On the lawn before Sunday’s induction, I approached a group of Expos fans to ask them whom they root for these days.

“Honestly, I root for whomever I’m betting on, or for my fantasy league guys,” explained Dave, a 29-year-old Montreal native and former Expos season ticket holder. “If anything, the Nationals are the one team that I root against … We’re baseball fans. We’re purists. We like the National League and seeing pitchers hit. And we miss the Expos.”

One of Dave’s friends then asked me what I thought about Dawson entering the Hall of Fame as an Expo.

“I think he should be going in as a Cub,” I said.

Why?

“Well, for one thing, because the Cubs are still around,” I replied.

Flashing a sheepish grin, Dave confessed: “This is too good for us.”

Ah, but it’s also fitting.

Only the Cubs could get beat by a team that no longer exists.