This Philadelphia story takes place in Cooperstown


COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- They didn't bring the Liberty Bell with them -- nor did they try to turn the headwaters of the Susquehanna into the Schuylkill -- but Cooperstown, for one day, became Philadelphiatown. And the visitors, maybe upward of 20,000, were on their best behavior, with not a boo among them.

Philadelphians have an almost ceremonial tradition of jeering without even the slightest provocation. . . . but not this time. They were wearing their finest Sunday manners.

Richie Ashburn and Mike Schmidt, one an artist at hitting singles and the other a producer of power, were being formally received into baseball's most exclusive club, the Hall of Fame, along with three posthumous recipients -- Leon Day, Vic Willis and William Hulbert.

Meanwhile, another former Philadelphia Phil, who was absent, one Pete Rose, was praised by Schmidt and extolled at one point by the gathering with cries of "We Want Pete." It could have gotten out of hand but didn't.

Ashburn introduced his 91-year-old mother for a bow and also pointed to the "greatest manager I ever played for, Eddie Sawyer," who changed him from a catcher to an outfielder in 1945 with the Utica Blue Sox of the Eastern League and then was his leader with the Phils' "Whiz Kids" of 1950.

Ashburn and Schmidt addressed the present turmoil in the sport. "The greatest thing about baseball are the fans," exclaimed Ashburn. "They aren't here today to see fireworks or for a giveaway or even a ballgame. I can't believe this mess. As we sit here, baseball is without a commissioner."

Ashburn said he wasn't attempting to be a crusader, but he thought Vada Pinson, Jim Bunning, Ron Santo and Nelson Fox merited the same Hall of Fame recognition he was receiving.

Ashburn concluded by simply saying, "You have made this the greatest day of my life."

Schmidt then delivered an articulate and well-thought-out message. "I'm totally humbled by the magnitude of the entire experience," he said.

Schmidt went on to relate how his grandmother in Dayton, Ohio, tailored his Little League uniform similar to the one her hero, Pete Rose, was then wearing with the Cincinnati Reds.

"I join thousands of fans around the world with the hope that someday Pete will be standing right here," he said in boosting the candidacy of Rose, who is banished from baseball and thus ineligible for the Hall.

Schmidt, after saying "Pete stood for winning," went on to recite the names of all the managers who had guided him on his way -- from the sandlots to the major leagues. He even included Danny Ozark, who early in Schmidt's career with the Phils said he would "trade him for a load of pumpkins."

He even thanked the team's trainers and its public relations director.

Schmidt said he hoped that at long last he and the fans of Philadelphia could put to rest their hostilities.

"Me and my family hope we can," he said. "If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would do it in Philadelphia. I also would be less sensitive and more appreciative of you."

Mike even had a message for the children, saying that success or failure depended on their own actions even if they had been taught properly, loved and supported.

He mentioned that four players -- Dave Cash, Dick Allen, Bob Boone and Rose -- had influenced him immeasurably. Schmidt also told the audience, including the two league presidents and numerous club owners, that baseball had to make the fans No. 1. "Do that and they will come," he assured them.

Philadelphia citizens came to applaud Ashburn and Schmidt and provided a spectacular salute. As Schmidt remarked to the crowd, "You've stretched the city limits from Philadelphia to Cooperstown."

They didn't exactly paint the place Philadelphia red with all their exuberance but came close to it. At 9 a.m., there was a string band, wearing remnants of baseball uniforms, parading past the Hall of Fame playing their own version of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game." It gave the morning a perfect touch for what was to come later.

All of the speakers expressed themselves with effectiveness and enough feeling to transmit their gratitude, without coming apart at the seams. But it was especially difficult for Mrs. Leon Day, widow of the Baltimore resident who died six days after he was notified of his Hall of Fame acceptance.

She mentioned what an emotional year it has been for the Day family and said how elated Leon had been to become the 12th black player to enter the Hall of Fame. She used her allotted time to push for other blacks to receive the same honor.

"He always said," referring to her late husband, "there are so many of our boys that should be there. For the sake of Leon and all the players of the Negro leagues, I pray that one day this wrong will be made right."

The first mention that the Hall of Fame should consider black players, along with those from the white major leagues, came from Ted Williams, who on the occasion of his election in 1966 made a strong appeal that blacks should be included.

There was cause to wonder if Cooperstown, whose regular population is 2,300, could have found space to accommodate another single visitor. Estimates for the Hall of Fame attendance varied from 20,000 to 40,000. At any rate, the crowd far surpassed the previous estimate of 12,000 who came to applaud and revere the Baltimore Orioles' Brooks Robinson when he was trumpeted into the Hall in 1983.

The incoming foursome pushes the overall total of Hall inductees to 224, which breaks down to 172 former major league players, 12 Negro leaguers, 22 executives, 11 managers and seven umpires. A most revealing statistic is that only 1.2 percent of players reaching the major leagues receives eventual Hall of Fame distinction.

One who belongs but is banned from even being voted on for the honor is the aforementioned Rose. He had a presence over the weekend in Cooperstown while making a reported $20,000 for six hours of autograph signings.

Atop the Doubleday Cafe on Main Street was a huge banner that read: "Pete Rose For Commish." A pickup truck circled the business area with a sign that asked, "What's A Hall Without A Rose?"

If it were up to the public, Rose, no doubt, would already be in the Hall of Fame. But, unlike with the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there's a clause pertaining to citizenship, which is why Rose has been excluded for allegations he bet on games while managing the Reds.

"Of the thousands of people who came by our store to get his autograph, I heard only one negative comment," explained Vincent Russo, a co-owner of a memorabilia business called Mickey's Place. "Pete was extremely polite and got a tremendous ovation when he prepared to leave Cooperstown on Saturday for an appointment in Boston."

Despite the empathy expressed for Rose, it seems doubtful that anything is going to change his persona non grata status. In fact, Bob Feller, a proud Hall of Fame member, doesn't want Rose included.

"It may happen, taking into consideration the way morals and ethics continue to erode in our society," Feller said. "Rose lied to the investigators 100 times. All I think he had to do was say he was sorry and admit he was wrong, but he didn't do that. And it didn't do him any good being here this weekend."

There was concern that Rose's presence might detract from the program, but the central focus remained on Schmidt and Ashburn.

The Baseball Hall of Fame produced another superb show amid the beauty of a green mountain backdrop in a village where time seems to have stopped.

Still, true baseball heroes and their attendant glory march on, despite what players and owners have contributed to damage the finest of all American games.

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